This common emulsifier and thickening agent has been linked to severe digestive conditions.
Manufacturers have been adding “carrageenan” to products like yogurt, milk and ice cream to give food a thicker, creamier texture. It has also been added as an agent in low-fat and dairy replacement products, like soy and coconut milk, to avoid natural separation of ingredients during shelf life.
Carrageenan is a natural ingredient derived from red seaweed. According to Prevention, 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.”
Research finds that carrageenan causes inflammation, and has been indicated as a carcinogen and connected with diabetes, malignant tumours, fetal toxicity, birth defects, polyps and ulcerative colitis. Joanne Tobacman, MD, from University of Illinois School of Medicine, linked carrageenan to gastrointestinal cancer in lab animals.
Concerns over the safety of carrageenan were originally raised in the 1960s, and for decades activists have been seeking to ban carrageenan from the list of FDA approved ingredients.
Organic food watchdog activist group Cornucopia is currently gathering signatures in a petition to ban carrageenan. Still, seaweed derived carrageenan is a $250 million dollar industry and corporate-funded research continues to testify the ingredient is safe.
Last November, the National Organic Standards Board voted to remove carrageenan from its list of approved additives in organic food. The decision came after Cornucopia presented over 40,000 signatures on a petition pleading National Organic Standards to acknowledge the dangers of carrageenan.
Aside from dairy products, carrageenan also known to be a common ingredient in infant formula, deli meats, vegan gel capsules, frozen dinners, chocolate, tofu, soups, broths and nutritional shakes. It has been found in personal care products including toothpaste.
Furthermore, Dr. Axe reports carrageenan is used in conventional medicine “used to treat everything from coughs to intestinal problems. Known to decrease pain and swelling, it has even been reported that the acidic form is commonly used as a bulk laxative and to treat peptic ulcers.”
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