Carrageenan: Innocent or Poison?

December 07, 2015

Carrageenen: Innocent Poison 

 Published Dec 6, 2015 

 Reference: Fed. Proc, Plos One, Plos One 

 Ever looked on the ingredients on a granola bar that you had in your purse for a snack?   See the ingredient “carrageenan”. Ever wonder what it was? Ever bought coconut milk because you thought it was a better source of milk because you were anxious about A1 milk? Did you read the label? If you look up the source of carrageenan on Wikipedia, you will learn that they are extracted from edible red seaweeds and are widely used in the food industry for their thickening abilities.   Particularly in milk products like cheeses and ice cream. 

Carrageenan is a complex polysaccharide family that the human body can’t digest, and stick strongly to proteins to make them agglomerate. That makes milk shakes thick, ice cream creamy, It also makes “healthy foods” like almond milk feel more “milk like”. So, you switch to a diet with less animal protein thinking you are being helpful to yourself, and you buy coconut or almond milk. But you didn’t read the label. Do yourself a favor. Read the labels.  

 Carrageenan should be one of the items that pops out at you and leads you to saying, “No thanks!” Why?   Because carrageenan turns out to be a funny sort of poison. It induces inflammation.   In fact, it has now become the defacto lab chemical for creating inflammation to see what happens experimentally.   If you look up on Pubmed for carrageenan inflammation, you will find 3778 references. If you want to create an experimental model of cancer invasion so that you can figure out how to block it, you will use carrageenan injected into the paw of a lab rat to make the inflammation. 

There is some complexity to the varieties of carrageenan that are used. Supposedly “un-degraded” carrageenan is ok to add to food, but degrades isn’t.   Degraded carrageenan should really be called poligeenan, as that is likely the worse actor of the two. A recent review of all the animal effects of poligeenan was published in Research Reviews that shows the majority of damage from poligeenan comes from intestinal ulcerations in the colon of lab animals.   Poligeenan has been shown to cause cancer, all by itself when given in high enough doses. 

Carrageenan just makes inflammation.   Interestingly enough, poligeenan is used to make barium nice and easy to swallow for GI studies.   Hmmm. Problem? Have studies been done in humans? Well yes, but very few and not in the whole human, just in human cells in lab petri dishes. With GI cells growing in a lab, you can prove the up-regulation of inflammatory markers. Another study in human colon cells showed cell cycle arrest.   That does suggest that the animal studies might be on to something, and we aren’t so different. What’s a person to do? It looks to me like carrageenan isn’t the demon some web sites have claimed it to be, as it doesn’t cause cancer directly. However, it fits the bill perfectly for one of those food ingredients that tip the scales towards inflammation, which is the root cause of all of our long latency diseases.   

Cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease are all based on low grade, long standing inflammation.   If that is the case, it just makes sense to avoid it. WWW. What will work for me. This is as simple as just knowing about it and having it rise to the threshold of understanding. Read the label. Choose something else. I’m not letting carrageenan into my diet.   You shouldn’t either. If you are starving on a desert island, oh well. Go ahead and have the candy bar. Otherwise, there are other choices.   

 Pop Quiz

1.  Carrageenan comes from natural food sources, which makes it safe. T or F.             Answer: True but not true. Just because it comes from red seaweed and is a natural plant source doesn’t make it safe.

2.  The real danger is probably the degraded form of carrageenan called, poligeenan.   T or F          Answer:   True, in short term but both may be problematic is we have a long enough time horizon.

3.   I can find carrageenan in many milk products to make them thicker and creamier, like Half and Half or Coconut milk. T or F                       Answer:  True

4.    Carrageenan has become the standard for inducing lab inflammation. T or F               Answer:   True.

5.  Humans are still being exposed to poligeenan when we have barium studies. T or F.          Answer:   True.

6.   There may be no smoking gun for absolute toxicity, but considering that all our modern “long latency illnesses” are caused by inflammation, and carrageenan turns on inflammation. T or F                   Answer:   That’s it in a nutshell, so avoid it.