Should We Care About Carrageenan? 8 Points to Ponder

Almond Milk

I learn from my patients every day. This week I was asked by one if the carrageenan in her almond milk was a concern. She suffered from arthritis, obesity, and heart disease. Although I was aware of a health issue regarding this food additive, I needed to read up on the topic before I responded to her concerns. Here is what I learned.

  1. Carrageenan is extracted from red seaweed and is added to many foods to thicken nonfat or low-fat foods or dairy replacements. It can also stabilize beverages that may otherwise separate, like chocolate milk. It is also used in meats like deli meats and chicken as a binder or for juiciness. It is found in many processed foods like frozen pizzas and food bars.
  2. This “natural” food ingredient can be transformed in acid to poligeenan or “degraded” carrageenan. In animal models degraded carrageenan is a potent inflammatory agent and is used in experiments to create inflammation to test new therapies. Degraded carrageenan is also listed as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the United Nations.
  3. Degraded carrageenan can be found in food products and is supposed to be kept <5% of the total. It has been reported that up to 25% of carrageenan in foods may be degraded but the industry producing it has taken exception with this (http://www.marinalg.org/misinterpreted-science-used-against-carrageenan/).
  4. Scientific reports have raised concerns about the health effects of carrageenan for years. A report in 2001 reviewed the literature on the harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in experimental animals. Higher rates of lesions, ulcerations and malignant tumors were described.

  1. In human intestinal cells, lab studies have defined in detail the pathway by which carrageenan induces inflammation (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18252714).
  2. In animal studies, carrageenan leads to elevated blood sugars and lipid levels even when there is no weight gain (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25883986).
  3. The Cornucopia Institute has an extensive review of the scientific studies on the safety of carrageenan and a list of products that contain it as an additive (cornucopia.org).
  4. There are insufficient case studies or series in humans to conclude whether and with what frequency carrageenan is causing clinical disease (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24467586).

So what did I tell my patient? I told her that the issue on the safety of carrageenan has not been resolved but there is reason to be concerned. I told her that one of the leading researchers in the field, Dr. Joanne Tobacman, has concluded that “carrageenan exposure clearly causes inflammation; the amount of carrageenan in food products is sufficient to cause inflammation; and degraded carrageenan and food-grade carrageenan are both harmful”. So what to do? In my opinion the majority of frozen pizzas, ice cream, and prepared chicken are not healthy choices whether they have carrageenan or not and should be avoided. But what about almond milk? For my family I have decided to purchase products that are free of carrageenan in order to avoid even a remote chance that they are pro-inflammatory and raise blood sugar.

  • Kat ACMilanista

    Thank you for explaining this clearly. I’ve known to avoid it for years but haven’t been sure exactly why. It’s even commonly used in good quality canned cat foods. Pretty much anything milky or saucy you buy premade needs a thickener so you have to check the labels to see what they use. Guar gum is a common substitute for carrageenan that seems safe as far as I know except that it can exacerbate digestive issues in people who already have some type of issue.

  • Kat ACMilanista

    Thank you for explaining this clearly. I’ve known to avoid it for years but haven’t been sure exactly why. It’s even commonly used in good quality canned cat foods. Pretty much anything milky or saucy you buy premade needs a thickener so you have to check the labels to see what they use. Guar gum is a common substitute for carrageenan that seems safe as far as I know except that it can exacerbate digestive issues in people who already have some type of issue.

  • Cia

    It’s so easy, cheaper and tastier to make your own almond-milk (or oat, rice, hazelnut for that matter). And with just almonds (organic), water, himalayan salt and maybe a pinch of cinnamon or vanilla you always know what you get. Yummy!!

    Carrageenan is also found in hygiene products like toothpaste f.ex. =(

  • Anne Manzo

    I was having major gastrointestinal issues to the point of having to undergo a diagnostic colonoscopy, only to get no resolution to my problem and a “catchall” diagnosis of IBS. However, I in trying to educate myself, I read a random post on the internet by someone having similar issues who suggested that once he started avoiding carrageenan, his issues went away – same here! I had been buying a brand of almond milk which contained carrageenan. Once I switched to the other leading brand, which has none, my issue dissolved. I’ve since moved on to that same (good) brand’s coconut milk, which I loveF! I remain issue-free, but always check product labels for carrageenan. I would say STAY CLEAR!

  • Virginia M DeYoung

    Anne Manzo, can you please tell me which brand of almond milk contains carrageenan? I use almond milk in my morning protein smoothie and I already have leaky gut issues from autoimmune Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I appreciate the information.
    Thanks,
    Virginia

  • Lisa

    For the many other brands available besides those mentioned by Anne, carrageenan is easily found in the ingredients. It takes only a quick peek to find those without it. :)

  • Lonny R Hurley

    After a remission of Colitis I drank some almond milk with carrageenan in it, that resulted in a flare up. I now avoid it like the plague. Cia, is right about cheaper and tastier to make your own.

  • Lisa

    Hey all, good to know about the carrageenan in almond milk cuz that’s what I drink now that I’m off all gluten and dairy. I have to say that it was the GLUTEN that was really killing me. I had such bad digestive issues I was ready to cash in my chips for good. I found a functional medicine doctor who told me that his first criteria for any treatment from him would be to cut out DAIRY & GLUTEN. He said that they literally poison the brain thus degrading all of our bodily functions. I feel like a new person, like I’m young again. I can’t recommend trying it at least. You might be surprised like I was.

  • Rachel Osborn

    It is hard to find almond milks without this ingredient, but it is getting easier!! I have made my own once or twice, but I don’t have time to make EVERYTHING homemade!!

  • Lisa

    Thank you for your article. I had fed my young cat canned food containing carrageenan and after much investigation, I have realized his death was text book for carrageenan inflammation. Food grade un-degraded Carrageenan gets “degraded” in stomach acid under certain conditions. (My cat ate his toys apart, like pieces of feather etc., and Japanese beetles, irritating his digestive lining, creating a perfect host for Carrageenan Inflammation) As well, research and studies have found food grade un-degraded Carrageenan is contaminated with degraded Carrageenan more often than not.

    Google PubMed for MOUSE PAW EDEMA: This is a laboratory process that injects un-degraded carrageen into limbs of rodents to induce inflammation for screening anti-inflammatory drugs.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3690058

    Carrageenan slowly killed my 2 year 10 month old cat, over a period of two years. Onset of loose stool, over time into diarrhea, vomiting, passing of bright bloody mucus, surgery to his intestine (10″ between small and large). Intestine ulcerated with large non-cancerous growth. Continued to be sick not recovering. Effected left eye, went blind in left eye with detached retina. Ended his life when he could also no longer pass urine without great pain, and it was suspected he had developed diabetes although Vet did not test for it; TOO MANY OTHER TEST WERE IN MOTION. Cause: “Inflammation from unknown source”. Not Cancer, Not Infection, No disease. I kept him on anti-anxiety medication to cope with the chronic pain, control vomiting and encourage him to eat because the Vet told me he should “recover”. Any other cat would have stopped eating and passed away, the anti-anxiety gave him the will to live, only to suffer the ravages of Carrageenan. Thousands of dollars given to the Vet over two years time, of whom still defends “Carrageenan”! They get away with it because your government has approved this monster stuff, AND IT IS LUCRATIVE FOR THEIR CLINIC TO DO SO. There is a reason you see so many ads all over for IBD in humans. READ THE RESEARCH AVAILABLE IF YOU LOVE YOUR PET LIKE A FAMILY MEMBER. I WISH I KNEW THEN, WHAT I KNOW NOW AND YES, I MISS SWAYZE PROFOUNDLY.