Carrageenan is a “natural” food additive derived from red seaweed and processed with a chemical to neutralize its acidity. Introduced to the food industry in the 1930s, carrageenan is a popular ingredient added to foods as a thickening agent to improve the texture and solubility of products. This product has been shown to alter the gut microflora and weaken the body’s immune system.
The chemical structure of carrageenan can contain up to 40 percent of a sulfur compound. For this reason the degraded form of carrageenan is not allowed for use in the food industry due its known inflammatory effects in animal testing. Once the natural form of carrageenan is degraded, by contact with an acid for example, the sulfur component of carrageenan becomes unstable and reactive.
You may be asking yourself, if an acid will alter the natural form of carrageenan so that it becomes reactive, wouldn’t stomach acid trigger this same effect? That is a great question that one would hope the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would have already accounted for. Carrageenan has been listed as a substance generally recognized as safe (GRAS) since 1973.
Although the biological pathways by which carrageenan disrupts normal and health sustaining functions, such as regulating insulin, consistent findings support that it results in a harmful immune response.
Carrageenan resembles a naturally occurring sulfate compound in our bodies that is involved with enzyme function in our intestines. With carrageenan receiving all of the attention, normal cell function and regulation is altered when normal activity by our very own enzymes becomes inhibited.
Possibly due to its high reactivity, carrageenan can interfere with a healthy immune response by altering the body’s natural army front of antibodies. Antibodies send signals warning our immune system that a foreign invader has entered and to attack. An unhealthy immune response can lead to inflammation of the gastrointestinal system causing a variety of complications.
Due to the variations in people’s intestinal microflora, or bacteria contained in the gut, researchers suggests that the additive may promote inflammation by altering the type of bacteria present following the consumption of carrageenan. Symptoms associated with altered bacteria concentrations within the gut include inflammatory colon polyps and abnormal tissue growth which can be signs of a more serious health problem.
Studies even propose that the body exhibits the same response to carrageenan as it does to a bacterial infection from Salmonella and its development of disease.
Carrageenan does not add nutritional content or flavor to products. Most foods that contain the suspicious additive are nonfat, low fat or fat free foods lacking the manufacturer’s desired texture for the food product.
The following is a list of food sources that commonly contain carrageenan. Which foods did you find list the additive in your kitchen?
• Milk products including almond, rice, soy and even coconut milk
• Cottage cheese
• Frozen dinners
• Organic Juice
• Frozen pizza
• Deli meats such as sliced turkey
• Canned soups
• Sour cream
• Processed sauces and dip mixes
• Infant formula
• Nutritional shakes