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Danger of Carrageenan

Some folks can eat just about anything. Some people might have no problem producing a tall glass of homemade soymilk, then converting it to chocolate milk by adding the following ingredients: Three teaspoons of sugar. One teaspoon of chocolate powder. Two tablespoons of Vaseline petroleum jelly. The Vaseline might produce gastric distress, and the soymilk drinkers would erroneously conclude that they are "allergic" to soy. Some people do not experience gastric discomfort caused by the Vaseline-like food additive, carrageenan. Many people do.

Carrageenan is a commonly used food additive that is extracted from red seaweed by using powerful alkali solvents. These solvents would remove the tissues and skin from your hands as readily as would any acid.

Carrageenan is a thickening agent. It's the vegetarian equivalent of casein, the same protein that is isolated from milk and used to thicken foods. Casein is also used to produce paints, and is the glue used to hold a label to a bottle of beer. Carrageenan is the magic ingredient used to de-ice frozen airplanes sitting on tarmacs during winter storms.

Is Carrageenan Really Natural?

Carrageenan is about as wholesome as monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is extracted from rice, and can equally be considered natural. Aspartame (NutraPoison) is also natural, as it is extracted from decayed plant matter that has been underground for millions of years (oil). So too are many other substances such as carrageenan that can also be classified by FDA and USDA as wholesome and natural food additives.

Just because something comes from a natural source does not mean that it is safe. The small black dots in the eyes of potatoes contain substances that are instantly fatal if eaten. Got poison? You will if you eat the black dots on the "eyes" of potatoes.

Carrageenan is a gel. It coats the insides of a stomach, like gooey honey or massage oil. Digestive problems often ensue. Quite often, soy eaters or soymilk drinkers react negatively to carrageenen, and blame their discomforting stomachaches on the soy.

High weight molecular carrageenans are considered to be safe, and were given GRAS status (safe for human consumption) by the FDA. Low weight carrageenans are considered to be dangerous. Even SILK admits this.

In order to get more information about carrageenan from a scientist, I spoke with one of America carrageenan experts, Joanne Tobacman, M.D. Dr. Tobacman teaches clinical internal medicine at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. I explained to Dr. Tobacman that I rejected animal studies (we discussed valid concerns about animal research, and why they never produce reliable results for humans). I requested evidence of human trials that might show carrageenan to be a danger for human consumption.

Dr. Tobacman shared studies with me that demonstrate that digestive enzymes and bacterial action convert high weight carrageenans to dangerous low molecular weight carrageenans and poligeenans in the human gut. These carrageenans have been linked to various human cancers and digestive disorders. Again, I remind you that Tobacman's evidence and conclusions are based upon human tissue samples, not animal studies.

I will cite additional information from four studies:

  1. Filament Disassembly and Loss of Mammary Myoepithelial Cells after Exposure to Carrageenan, Joanne obacman, Cancer Research, 57, 2823-2826, July 15, 1997

  2. Carrageenan-Induced Inclusions in Mammary Mycoepithelial Cells, Joanne Tobacman, MD, and Katherine Walters, BS, Cancer Detection and Prevention, 25(6): 520-526 (2001)

  3. Consumption of Carrageenan and Other Water-soluble Polymers Used as Food Additives and Incidence of Mammary Carcinoma, J. K. Tobacman, R. B. Wallace, M. B. Zimmerman, Medical Hypothesis (2001), 56(5), 589-598

  4. Structural Studies on Carrageenan Derived Oligisaccharides, Guangli Yu, Huashi Guan, Alexandra Ioanviciu, Sulthan Sikkander, Charuwan Thanawiroon, Joanne Tobacman, Toshihiko Toida, Robert Linhardt, Carbohydrate Research, 337 (2002), 433-440

In her 1997 publication (1), Tobacman studied the effect of carrageenan on the growth of cultured human mammary epithelial cells over a two week period. She found that extremely low doses of carrageenan disrupted the internal cellular architecture of healthy breast tissue, leading her to conclude:

"The widely used food additive, carrageenan has marked effects on the growth and characteristics of human mammarr myoepithelial cells in tissue cultures at concentrations much less than those frequently used in food products to improve solubility."

Tobacman continued her work by exposing low concentrations of carrageenan for short intervals to human breast tissue (2), and observed pathological alterations in cellular membranes and intracellular tissues. Tobacman wrote:

"These changes included prominence of membrane-associated vesicles that coalesced to form unusual petal-like arrays...and development of stacked rigid-appearing inclusions in the lysosomes that arose from the membranes of the petal-like arrays and from smaller, dense spherical bodies that formed clumps."

In reporting a historical perspective, Tobacman revealed that carrageenan has been found to destroy other human cells in tissue cultures, including epithelial intestinal cells and prostate cells. She concludes:

"The association between exposure to low concentrations of carrageenan in tissue culture and destruction of mammary myoepithelial cells may be relevant to the occurrance of invasive mammary malignancy in vivo and provides another approach to investigation of mammary carcinoma."

Tobacman's third paper (3) explored the increased incidence of mammary carcinoma to the increased consumption of stabilizers and additives such as guar gum, pectin, xanthan, and carrageenan. While no relationship between the either above named additives and cancer was observed, carrageenan showed a strong positive.

Although high molecular weight carrageenans are considered to be safe, Tobacman demonstrates that low molecular weight carrageenans are carcinogenic. She writes:

"Acid hydrolysis (digestion) leads to shortening of the carrageenan polymer to the degraded form, poligeenan. It is not unreasonable to speculate that normal gastric acid...may act upon ingested carrageenan and convert some of which is ingested to the lower molecular weight poligeenan during the actual process of digestion. Also, some intestinal bacteria possess the enzyme carrageenase that degrades carrageenan."

Tobacman's 2002 publication (4) proves her earlier hypothesis. She writes:

"Mild-acid hydrolytic depolymerization of carrageenan affords poligeenan, a mixture of lower molecular weight polysaccharides and oligosaccharide products."

Tobacman is currently preparing and characterizing low molecular weight poligeenans (carcinogenic) that have been extracted from human digestion modalities. Her yet-to-be published data suggest that carrageenans are dangerous for human consumption.

My advice: Read labels. If there is carrageenan in a product, select an alternative.

This morning, I checked my local supermarket (ShopRite, Emerson, NJ) to see which soymilk manufacturers added carrageenan to their formulas.

Refrigerated Soymilks

The largest selling soymilk in America is SILK. Do I pick on the industry leader? Damned right I do. SILK sets the standard. You deserve to know the truth. Just for the record, when SILK changes their formula they will become my hero. In my opinion, SILK tastes better than any of the commercially available soymilks. Unfortunately, consumers sacrifice good health for good taste. That is not a fair trade, particularly for our children.

SILK uses carrageenan. SILK plain, SILK chocolate. SunSoy also uses carrageenan. Hershey's real chocolate is not so real. They use it too. So does Nesquik.

These Companies Do Not Use Carrageenan

VitaSoy does not have carrageenan! they use barley flower as a thickener. 8th Continent does not use carrageenan either. Their choice is to use cellulose gel and soy lecithin to create a smoother soymilk.

Shelf Stable

On the shelf (non-refrigerated), I found Rice Dream. They do not use carrageenan. They use xantham gum. Soy Dream (made by Imagine Foods) does not use it either. Their emulsifier is rice syrup. Eden Soy does not use it. They use barley extract.

Do a little experiment. Drink a quart of SILK. Pay careful attention to your carrageenen-induced tummy ache and intestinal discomfort. Many consumers unfairly blame that on soy. Now you know the truth. Drink a quart of VitaSoy, 8th Continent, Soy Dream, or Eden Soy, and you will not get the garrageenan-blues.

Why do some manufacturers "get it," while others remain clueless?

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