Carregeenan is an alternative food additive which is extracted from red edible seaweeds. It has a huge usability in the food industry due to its thickening, stabilizing and gelling nature. However it has been a vast topic of discussion over time due to its adverse effects on the human body and prevailing carrageenan dangers.
Carrageenan is most widely used in the production non dairy milks such as almond milk and coconut milk. It is also used to thicken low fat foods and to stabilize emulsified drinks such as chocolate milk and it can also be found in frozen food as a stabilizer. They have a diverse list of usage in the food industry, however, its harmful nature has alarmed the experts and it is advised to reduce its usage to minimum and several requests have even been made on banning the “natural” additive.
Let us have a look at the dangers that carrageenan can cause. Several scientific experiments have raised concern for years on usage of carrageenan in food products. The “natural” additive can be converted into what is known as the “degraded” carrageenan which is also listed as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. A study also found out that excessive use of carrageenans caused lesions, ulcers and malignant tumors due to harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan. Carrageenan has also been found to cause inflammation and elevated blood sugar and lipid levels in experiments on animals. However, there have been insufficient case studies on human to exactly say its effect on the human body.
However, a few experiments on the isolated cells from the human intestinal system found out that exposure of human cells to even low concentration of undegraded carrageenans caused cell cycle arrest, reduced cell proliferation and ultimately an increased rate of cell death. There is another concern over the use of carrageenans that is that it may also produce poligeenan, which has no use in the food industry but can cause cancer if consumed in high quantities. Technically, there are two types to carrageenans: degraded and undegraded, most of the harm inducing factors are caused due to the degraded carrageenans, however, only the undegraded carrageenans are permitted to be used in food products.
But several observations have shown that even undegraded carrageenans may turn into degraded carrageenans after it has been used in the production or manufacture of a food product. The biggest concern is that it is even used in frozen products such as pizzas and other fast food products which are abundantly being consumed by every age group. Many people have even reported the problems of indigestion and other health problems due to its continuous consumption.
As a conclusion, it might not be as dangerous as several resources portray but the evidences of its harmful effects cannot be neglected and it is highly advised not to use carrageenas on a regular basis and the only solution to that is to use only the products that are carrageenan free, specially in the case of dietary dairy products.