Controversy about Carrageen (also called carrageenan gum)

carrageenan400There have been health concerns with the food additive called “carrageenan gum” which is derived from Irish moss and other types of red seaweeds.  This additive is found in many commercially, highly processed foods. Carrageenan extract is an emulsifier, thickener & stabiliser that has been used in the commercial food industry for decades in foods like yogurt, ice cream, dairy milk, and even organic boxed vegan milks to enhance the textures of these packaged products. It is also a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toothpastes.

The use of carrageenan extract has been the subject of much debate among health conscious consumers for its studied links to a variety of gastrointestinal disorders including inflammatory bowel syndrome, intestinal ulcerations and tumour growths. There has been quite a lobby of people, including the Cornucopia Institute, protesting the FDA’s approval of carrageenan as a safe food additive for these reasons.

Manufactured carrageenan, also called “food grade” carrageenan, is an isolated compound extracted from red seaweeds and treated with harsh alkali solutions, like potassium hydroxide. During processing the all-important cellulose is removed from the seaweed and the use of 5–8% potassium hydroxide is employed. (Potassium hydroxide solutions with concentrations of approximately 0.5 to 2.0% are irritating when coming in contact with the skin, while concentrations higher than 2% are corrosive). In an article provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, potassium hydroxide is refered to as a toxic poisonous chemical that can have serious health effects if ingested. The amounts of potassium hydroxide present in carrageenan extract remains to be proven, but is a factor to take into consideration regarding its given side-effects.

Moreover, another important concern is that food-grade carrageenan can be degraded by acids in the stomach, turning it into poligeenan, a potential carcinogenic substance. According to the Cornucopia Institute and their Carrageenan Report, “Degraded carrageenan (poligeenan) is such a potent inflammatory agent that scientists routinely use it to induce inflammation and other disease in laboratory animals, to test anti-inflammation drugs and other pharmaceuticals.”   see 3.2.1

So to summarise, yes, carrageenan gum does come from Irish Moss & other red seaweeds.  But it has been highly processed into a chemical compound that is nutritionally diminished and that is not the same substance as whole Irish Moss seaweed.  Carrageenan gum is indeed a health hazard according to the information we have gathered on the subject from respected sources, but it is important to do your own research if you are at all concerned.

Irish Moss, has been used for generations in Ireland as a nourishing tonic and energizing food source. Consumed in its complete form as a broth or gel, it actually “aids/soothes” gastrointestinal issues and inflammation in the body, contrary to isolated carrageenan extracts that can do quite the opposite. Historically speaking, many cultures around the world have, in fact, used the Irish Moss seaweed for its beneficial properties specific to the digestive tract.

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