Carrageenan Seaweed in Infant Formula  
- Should This Additive Be Finally

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Last updated August 24, 2017

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered
Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial

Hands up if you have ever eaten seaweed. No? Perhaps you
can’t be so sure of that fact. Have you ever eaten ice
cream, or deli meat, or drank milk as an infant? Yes? If so,
you’ve eaten seaweed.

A red seaweed derivative called "carrageenan" is
everywhere, from dairy products to infant formula. But the
bad news is carrageenan is linked to all kinds of health
problems from ulcerative colitis to cancer.

The National Organics Board in the US voted in 2016 to
take carrageenan off the list of substances permitted in
organic-certified food. Europe doesn’t allow the ingredient
in infant formula. But the World Health Orangization, US
Food and Drug Administration and the European Union
have set so-called "safe" levels of carrageenan for use in
other foods.

A recent news programs on France TV highlighted that
many foods on grocery shelves in Europe include "E407",
the additive name for carrageenan. So is carrageenan safe?
Why does every food manufacturer seem to use
carrageenan and should it be in baby milk? Should you
avoid products that contain "E407"?

What Is Carrageenan?

On the surface, carrageenan is a natural ingredient and
therefore seems to be safe. It is seaweed, after all, and
seaweed has been shown to have many health benefits.
But carrageenan is not all that it appears.

Carrageenan is a substance taken from red algae. When it
is processed using an alkaline procedure it is claimed to be
natural, and used in foods.

But when carrageenan is processed through an acidic
pathway it results in "degraded carrageenan", which is so
good at creating inflammation and disease that scientists
actually use it on lab animals in experiments to induce
inflammation and diseases.

Let that sink in --- carrageenan is the tool-of-choice that
scientists use to create inflammation and disease in lab

So how can a food substance be completely safe when it is
just a few PH points away from causing disease?

What Is the Purpose of Carrageenan?

Carrageenan, produced the alkaline way, is used as a food
additive and in medicines.

In the past, people on the seacoasts of Ireland and
Brittany would boil carrageenan, also known as "Irish
moss", in milk to thicken it into a cream.

You can't taste carrageenan and it doesn't have any
nutritional value, but it does act as a very useful stabilizer,
binder, and thickening agent in foods. It is also used in
medicines to treat all kinds of ailments like coughs, pain,
and intestinal issues.

Foods that commonly include carrageenan in their list of
ingredients are infant formula, ice cream, sour cream,
cottage cheese, whipping cream, soy milk, almond milk, soy
puddings, sliced turkey and prepared chicken, slimming
shakes and drinks, canned soup, microwave dinners, and
frozen pizza.

Are There Any Health Problems Linked to Carrageenan?

In 1981, Dr. J. Watt and Dr. R. Marcus wrote in the Journal
of Cancer Detection and Prevention that “an increased
number of reports have appeared in the literature
describing the harmful effects of degraded and undegraded
carrageenan supplied to several animal species in their diet
or drinking fluid.”

These harmful effects, the authors state, include fetal
toxicity, birth defects, pulmonary lesions, ulcerative disease
of the large bowel, and colorectal cancer.

The authors say “there is a need for extreme caution in the
use of carrageenan or carrageenan-like products as food
additives in our diet, and particularly in slimming recipes.”

Carrageenan causes health problems, experts say, by
affecting the immune response and causing inflammation.
Inflammation and enhanced immune response lead to, over
time, serious diseases like cancer.

A 2013 study from the Cornucopia Institute states that
"the unique chemical structure of carrageenan triggers an
innate immune response in the body, which recognizes it as
a dangerous invader. This immune response leads to
inflammation. For individuals who consume carrageenan on
a regular or daily basis the inflammation will be prolonged
and constant, which is a serious health concern since
prolonged inflammation is a precursor to more serious

Animal studies show that carrageenan causes inflammation.
A 2013 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago
demonstrates that carrageenan is a “known activator of
inflammation in mammalian tissues”.

The researchers say that exposure to low levels of
carrageenan in drinking water causes glucose intolerance
insulin resistance. A 1984 study from Dr. S. Nicklin and
Dr. K. Miller stated that carrageenan in the water supply of
rats suppressed antibody response.

Should Carrageenan Be In Infant Formula?

Given that inflammatory conditions are most dangerous
when they persist for a long period of time, should an
ingredient that possibly causes inflammation be present in a
food product specifically designed for the youngest people
in society?

According to the authorities, carrageenan is safe for use in
baby milk and formula. At its 79th meeting in June 2014,
the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives
(JECFA) concluded that carrageenan was safe for use in
infant formula at concentrations up to 1000 mg/L,
including formula for special medical purposes.
The FDA rejected a claim by Joanne Tobacman, Ph.D. at the
University of Illinois College of Medicine in 2012 asking the
agency to stop carrageenan being used as a food additive
and in infant formula.

But carrageenan remains linked with several problematic,
long-term health conditions like bowel problems and

Carrageenan and Bowel Problems

Carrageenan has been linked with creating ulcers in your
intestines (large bowel ulceration), including in a 1973
study from the British Industrial Biological Research
Association, in Carshalton, Surrey, England. In this study,
the administration of carrageenan to guinea pigs and
rabbits resulted in ulceration in the large intestine.

A 1976 study from Albany Medical College, Albany, New
York also showed the same thing happening to guinea pigs.

Anecdotal reports from the 2013 study from the
Cornucopia Institute say that "individuals who suffered for
years from gastrointestinal symptoms—abdominal bloating,
“spastic colon,” irritable bowel syndrome, and diagnosed
disease such as ulcerative colitis—found relief when they
eliminated carrageenan from their diet.”

The Cornucopia Institute created a questionnaire for
individuals to find out if they had eliminated carrageenan
from their diet to try and get rid of bowel and digestive

In five months, 120 people said they had done so and said
that “gastrointestinal symptoms completely disappeared”
or “gastrointestinal symptoms improved” after eliminating
carrageenan from their diet.

Can Carrageenan Cause Cancer?

Reports have suggested that carrageenan can cause colon
cancer in animals. A 1988 study from the Experimental
Nutrition Branch, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
demonstrates that carrageenan induces colon cancer in
rats, with markers of the disease markedly raised in the
group of rats consuming carrageenan fiber.

Carrageenan has also been linked to liver cancer in a 2000
study from Michigan State University. The researchers
looked at rat liver cells and decided that carrageenan may
influence the development of liver cancer by being a tumor

Insulin Resistance and Carrageenan

A 2012 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago
states that exposure to the food additive carrageenan leads
to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and inhibition of
insulin signaling in mice.

In the study male mice where given carrageenan in their
drinking water and then underwent a glucose tolerance
test and an insulin tolerance test. Glucose tolerance was
significantly impaired in the mice ingesting carrageenan and
insulin resistance was increased. The authors state that
“These effects may result from carrageenan-induced
inflammation. The results demonstrate extra-colonic
manifestations of ingested carrageenan and suggest that
carrageenan in the human diet may contribute to the
development of diabetes.”

Is Carrageenan Harmful to Humans?

In all of the above studies, the results indicated that
carrageenan affected the health of animal subjects. But
there have been limited studies into the effect of this food
additive on humans.

In the case of bowel ulceration, the researchers indicated
that carrageenan was unlikely to have the same effect in
humans, and that it was not likely to be involved in the
development of human ulcerative colitis.

A 2014 study from Toxpertise, LLC , Princeton stated that
“review of several studies from numerous species indicates
that food grade carrageenan does not produce intestinal
ulceration at doses up to 5% in the diet.”

The report stated that carrageenan is not significantly
absorbed by your body due to its molecular weight, which
means that it continues through your digestive tract
without affecting it. Researchers stated that carrageenan
does not affect nutrient absorption, and that the only
possible side effect of consuming carrageenan in the diet is
possible diarrhea or soft stools.

They said that in the animal studies, “animals consumed
carrageenan at orders of magnitude above levels of
carrageenan in the human diet: ≥1000 mg/kg/d in animals
compared to 18-40 mg/kg/d estimated in the human diet.
Dietary carrageenan has been shown to lack carcinogenic,
tumor promoter, genotoxic, developmental, and
reproductive effects in animal studies. Carrageenan in
infant formula has been shown to be safe in infant baboons
and in an epidemiology study on human infants at current
use levels.”

However, in the 2012 study from the University of Illinois
at Chicago the researchers found that “carrageenan in the
human diet may contribute to the development of diabetes.”

A 2001 study from the University of Iowa concluded that
“The widespread use of carrageenan in the Western diet
should be reconsidered” due to evidence that “exposure to
undegraded as well as to degraded carrageenan was
associated with the occurrence of intestinal ulcerations and

Evidence of the safety or otherwise of carrageenan in
infant formula and food remains conflicted.

There is significant controversy surrounding this key food
additive and many experts caution against eating products
containing carrageenan, at least on a regular basis. While
human studies continue to take place, it is always a good
idea to eat as natural a diet as possible, avoiding foods that
have been overly processed and picking foods that contain
whole ingredients and minimum levels of additives –
including carrageenan.

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