What is carrageenan and why should you care?
First of all- it is a common food additive. It acts as a stabilizer or thickener, though it is not digestible and has no nutritional value. It is commonly added to dairy products, milk flavorings (cocoa, nesquick), and packaged foods. If you drink chocolate milk, eat ice cream or add heavy cream to your coffee; chances are you are ingesting carrageenan.
‘Ok, but what is it?’ Carrageenan is actually natural and derived from seaweed. The seaweed is grown, harvested, dried, and then highly processed. 80% of the World’s supply comes from the Philippines. As of 2011, global sales of carrageenan were estimated at $640 million.
‘Ok, so it is kind of weird that there is seawood in my McDonalds shake, but what it the big deal?” Well, so glad you asked. First of all, scientists have known about the harmful effects of ingesting carrageenan for roughly 70 years. Europe has banned it from infant formulas. The FDA claims it is safe. *insert dramatic eyeroll* It is so ‘safe’ it is added to infant formula here in North America.
“In the 1940s, carrageenan, a polysaccharide made from a type of seaweed, was recognized as a dangerous allergen. Since then it has become a standard laboratory material to use to produce in-flammatory tumors (granulomas), immunodeficiency, arthritis, and other in-flammations. It has also become an increasingly common material in the food industry.” Ray Peat P.H.D.
In fact, when scientists were studying anti-inflammatory drugs in human test subjects back in the 1940’s they utilized carrageenan to trigger inflammation in their subjects.
“Carrageenan has been found to cause colitis and anaphylaxis in humans, but it is often present in baby “formulas” and a wide range of milk products, with the result that many people have come to believe that it was the milk-product that was responsible for their allergic symptoms.”
“When the bowel is inflamed, toxins are absorbed. The natural bacterial endotoxin produces many of the same inflammatory effects as the food additive, carrageenan. Like inflammatory bowel disease, the incidence of liver tumors and cirrhosis has increased rapidly. Liver damage leads to hormonal imbalance. Carrageenan produces inflammation and immunodeficiency, synergizing with estrogen, endotoxin and unsaturated fatty acids.” Ray Peat
“Although derived from a natural source, carrageenan appears to be particularly destructive to the digestive system, triggering an immune response similar to that your body has when invaded by pathogens like Salmonella. The result: “Carrageenan predictably causes inflammation, which can lead to ulcerations and bleeding,” explains veteran carrageenan researcher Joanne Tobacman, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Illinois School of Medicine at Chicago. She says the food ingredient irritates by activating an immune response that dials up inflammation. Her previous work showed a concerning connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer in lab animals, and she’s involved with ongoing research funded through the National Institutes of Health that is investigating carrageenan’s effect on ulcerative colitis and other diseases like diabetes. The concern over food-grade carrageenan isn’t new. Beginning in the 1960s, researchers started linking the ingredient to gastrointestinal disease in lab animals, including ulcerative colitis, intestinal lesions, and colon cancer.”
So that so-called harmless common additive may be contributing to everything from rheumatoid arthritis, nutritional deficiencies, chronic fatigue syndrome, the gamut of auto-immune disorders, heartburn, obviously digestive problems and even cancer.
I personally noticed an immediate and dramatic improvement in my health when I became aware of it’s harmful effects and cut it out of my diet. We have the right to know if we are being ‘fed’ something that is so harmful. Read labels, take charge of your health. Eat less processed food. Your body will thank you.