Though it is commonly found in milk products and many organic foods, some people don’t seem to understand and they keep on asking the question: what is Carrageenan. In simpler terms, Carrageenan is a substance which is extracted from purple and red seaweed and consists a mixture of polysaccharides. It is mainly used to emulsify or thicken food products. Carrageenan is not digestible and has no nutritional value to the food apart from its thickening properties. Though it is found from a seaweed, it is at times shocking to learn what it does to the body. If taken in large quantity for a long period of time, it seems to affect the digestive system just like the way the Salmonella virus does. It causes inflammation, which at the end of the day, leads to bleeding and ulceration. Carrageenan irritates through activating an immune response which auto causes inflammation. This is not a new finding as researchers in the 1960s, also linked gastrointestinal disease which includes colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, and intestinal lesions to this ingredient.
There are two forms of Carrageenan; under-graded and degraded. Under-graded is the one which is approved for use in food while degraded is a banned substance. The other name for degraded Carrageenan is Poligeenan. According to a researcher by the name Chris Kresser, most of the research which has been carried out on animals were done using Poligeenan, thus leaving unanswered questions about the under-graded because it has not been tested on animals.
The finding that Poligeenan can cause cancer on its own when in high concentration, the under-graded doesn’t show any signs of giving out cancer, unless it is combined with a carcinogen. This might be a relief to users of Carrageenan, the manufacturers and consumers, as it gives an indication that, it is safe.
Leaving research behind, both under-graded and Poligeenan are linked to increased leaky gut, colon ulcers, and intestinal irritation. There is a limited human study which has shown that, as of the Carrageenan causes cell arrest and inflammation.
When you start checking out on labels at the stores, your question of what is Carrageenan will be answered as you will find it on most labels. Most store bought milk, infant formulas, creams and creamers,have this ingredient.
In conclusion, we can say, Carrageenan is a common food additive which is consumed in an average diet and if consumed in a high quantity, it can cause biological effects. Due to its ability to improve texture and good solubility of ingredients, it is used in pharmaceuticals as an excipient; it is used in air fresheners, pet food, puddings,infant formulas, ice cream, deli meats, whipped cream, sour cream and many more. The three common Carrageenan in use are kappa, lambda and iota.
As of now, the FDA has not yet banned Carrageenan, meaning, its side effects are not as bad as the internet articles make us to believe. Anything done in moderation is good, but whatever you do in excess will end up harming you. Do Carrageenan in moderation for good health.