Is Carrageenan Safe?

Carrageenan is a substance extracted from red seaweed and is commonly used as a food additive. In this article, we will learn more about carrageenan, and its overall safety for human consumption and usage.

Milk and Ice Cream May Contain Carrageenan

Carrageenan is extracted from red seaweed and is commonly used as an additive to certain food items. Some experts associate Carrageenan to the development of certain diseases such as colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome (IBD), certain digestive problems, and possible inflammation.

Carrageenan: A Brief Overview

Most manufacturers use carrageenan as a form of thickening agent, and the FDA has approved the use of this food additive. However, its overall safety still subject to queries and doubts. Some experts went as far as associating it to the development of certain diseases such as colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), digestive problems, and possible inflammation. These claims are still being questioned, as the said findings are retrieved mostly from studies that dealt with animal subjects and cells.

Is Carrageenan Bad For The Health?

There are many different types of carrageenan, and each one has a different purpose and different sets of risks. Carrageenan that is considered food-grade is taken from red seaweed and mixed in with other alkaline compounds.

On the other hand, when carrageenan is mixed with acid, it will result in what is called degraded carrageenan, which is referred to as poligeenan. Poligeenan may pose certain adverse health risks, and should be used with caution. That is because poligeenan is a potent inflammatory substance that experts utilize to test out new anti-inflammatory products. As such, poligeenan is not recommended for use as an additive to food items.

What Does The Evidence Say About Carrageenan?

As stated earlier, poligeenan is not safe for consumption. It is also not recommended as a food additive. Evidence shows poligeenan can result in the development of ulcers, colon cancer, and tumors. Due to the said risks, experts have refrained from using poligeenan and carrageenan on human test subjects. Health organizations such as the Agency for Research in Cancer included poligeenan to the list of items that are possibly carcinogenic to humans. Other scientists have also regarded carrageenan that is food grade as possibly harmful to individuals. This is because studies conducted in the 1960s indicate that carrageenan once consumed, it may increase in toxicity once degraded or digested by acids in the stomach.

Unfortunately, the same experts are still not certain as to how much carrageenan can be degraded inside the digestive system and the extent of the possible damage it can inflict. Also, experts have no direct way to determine the actual effect of poligeenan on humans as there have currently been no tests conducted yet on human subjects.

Recent studies, as recently as 2017, actually support the findings that there are possible adverse effects of Carrageenan on the human body even for non-degraded or food-grade types of the said additive. These adverse effects include the development of bowel disorders, the increased risk of developing ulcers, and the occurrence of irritable bowel syndrome. More recent research also pointed out that there is no way to conclusively link the said negative effects of carrageenan consumption on an individual’s health.

Some data support the idea that the elimination of Carrageenan from an individual’s diet may lessen or reduce the risk of developing problems with the digestive system, irritable bowel disease, or IBD and bloating.

How Carrageenan Is Used?

This food additive has a lot of possible uses. While it is a substance with no nutritional content and actual flavor, it can be used as:

  • Stabilizer or thickener
  • Used in the production of chocolate milk to prevent the milk from being separated from the chocolate base.
  • Fat substitute and dairy replacement for vegan or vegetarian food items
  • Binder for processed deli meats
  • Injected to pre-cooked poultry products to make it tender and juicy
  • Gelatin substitute for vegans
  • Used as an ingredient for canned pet food

Other non-food products contain carrageenan which includes toothpaste and air fresheners. The Food and Drug Administration or the FDA requires that labels of items containing carrageenan be stated by the manufacturers upfront.

Certain food products that may contain this substance include prepared foods such as canned goods, frozen grocery pizza, and microwave meals, dairy alternatives such as soy puddings, coconut milk, hemp milk, almond milk, and soy milk, and actual dairy items like yogurt, cottage cheese, sour cream, ice cream, and chocolate milk.

Side Effects and Dangers

Some studies point to several possible side effects for carrageenan. These include certain allergies to food items, development of colon cancer, glucose intolerance, IBD or irritable bowel syndrome, the feeling of being bloated, and increased risk of inflammation.

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