Upper Menu

Natural Canine Health Symposium

Carrageenan Just Don’t Do It

Although it is a little bit of a challenge to find a canned dog food or cat food without the ingredient carrageenan, when you read the research done on this ingredient, you’ll probably feel the search for a carrageenan free pet food is worth the effort.
Right now – the end of May 2012 – the National Organic Standards Board will be deciding on whether to continue to allow carrageenan as an approved ingredient in organic foods (human as well as animal foods). Supporters of carrageenan argue it is a ‘natural’ ingredient sourced from seaweed. However significant research has found carrageenan to be far from ‘natural’ and has linked the ingredient to serious health concerns.

Cornucopia.org states “The International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes degraded carrageenan as a “possible human carcinogen,” based on research showing that it leads to higher rates of colon cancer in lab animals. There are two kinds of carrageenan – degraded and undegraded. Carrageenan processors claim that food-grade carrageenan falls entirely in the undegraded category; however, a 2005 study showed that not a single sample of food-grade carrageenan could confidently claim to be entirely free of the potential cancer-causing material.”

Science has determined that ‘degraded carrageenan’ poses the most risk, yet undegraded carrageenan or food grade carrageenan poses similar risks as well. With the FDA allowance of other wastes into pet foods – non (human) food grade ingredients such as by-product meal and animal fat – for starters we have to question whether pet food manufacturers using carrageenan are using food grade or the riskiest degraded (non food grade) carrageenan.

But, if we give pet food manufacturers the benefit of the doubt and assume they use food grade carrageenan, the risks are still high. In the paper titled “Carrageenan-Induced Innate Immune Response is Modified by Enzymes that Hydrolyze Distinct Galactosidic Bonds” the first sentence in the abstract says it all…”The common food additive carrageenan predictably induces intestinal inflammation in animal models.” Of huge significance, this paper also states that Carrageenan (CGN) “has been used for decades, to induce inflammation” in laboratory animals to study the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory medications.

A more recent paper published found that the exposure to carrageenan may compromise the effectiveness of treatments, even the body’s own natural defenses for disease. The 2010 paper “Tumor Necrosis factor alpha-induced inflammation is increased but apoptosis is inhibited by common food additive carrageenan” found that carrageenan increased inflammation instead of the body’s normal response of infected/sick cell death. “These findings demonstrate that exposure to CGN (carrageenan) drives TNF-α-stimulated cells toward inflammation rather than toward apoptotic cell death and suggest that CGN exposure may compromise the effectiveness of anti-TNF-α therapy.” In other words, this study found exposure to carrageenan causes infected cells to inflame rather than to die as part of the body’s natural healing process.

There is too much science to prove that carrageenan is of no benefit for use in pet foods. Take the time to scan the ingredients in your canned foods to look for the ingredient carrageenan — Just Don’t Do It.

You may also like to read:

  • Sharing is cool …

    Tweet about this on Twitter8Share on Facebook219Google+0Share on LinkedIn1Pin on Pinterest2Email to someone
  • ...
  • Shop the DNM Store

  • 5 Responses to Carrageenan Just Don’t Do It

    1. Dr. Harris J. Bixler ScD


      Q. What is Carrageenan??

      A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.

      Q. Why the controversy?

      A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.

      Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?

      A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.

      Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?

      A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.

      Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?

      A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.

      Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?

      A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.

      Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?

      A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.

      Carrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.

      Closing Remarks
      The consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.

      • Dogs Naturally Magazine

        Per Dr. Ray Peat, PhD, It has been found to cause colitis (inflammation of the large intestine/colon) and anaphylaxis (life threatening allergic reaction) in humans.

        Dr. Andrew Weil says, “Carrageenan can cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.”

        Dr. Russell Blaylock in his book “Health and Nutrition Secrets that can save your life” Pg. 196 writes “Carrageenan is a complex polysaccaride made from seaweed and is used as a binding agent. Experimentally carrageenan is used as an agent to induce, intense inflammation in experimental animals. A recent study found that when carrageenan was injected in animals along with a cancer causing chemical, tumors appeared more rapidly…than in control animals injected with the carcinogen alone. The same was seen when human breast cancers were implanted in animals along with carrageenan. The combination made the tumors grow faster and spread more rapidly than in control animals. As a result carrageenan is classified as a tumor promoter.” Dr Blaylock named carrageenan as an additive that may contain MSG.

        Dr. Joann Tobacman, M.D., University of Iowa Assistant Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine did a number of studies on carrageenan. She said, “Evidence from animal models has demonstrated that degraded carrageenan causes ulcerations and malignancies in the gastro intestinal tract.” After conducting epidemiological and laboratory research on carrageenan, Dr. Tobacman published an extensive review of 45 investigations on harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. The article was published in an issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. In the studies she found that carrageenan is taken up by the intestinal cells rather easily, but the cells are unable to metabolize it. As carrageenan accumulates in cells, it may cause them to break down, and over time this process could lead to ulceration.

        Dr. Mercola writes: “A number of studies have found that the widely used food additive carrageenan causes cancer in food animals and its use in human foods should be reconsidered…enough evidence exists about the cancer-causing effects of carrageenan to limit the use of this food additive.

        In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed limiting the type of carrageenan that could be used in food. But the regulatory effort was rescinded in 1979.

        There is evidently plenty to be concerned about according to these scientists and one more reason why processed foods and their ingredients should be avoided whenever possible. Unfortunately, we are also in an era where consumers have no idea what is in their food and where it comes from and large companies are working hard to keep it that way. We are doing a great service to consumers by opening their eyes to the health consequences of the cheap additives that processed foods require.

      • I am sorry…but I have to say I have to agree with this magazines article………………I just spent hrs at the emergency vets last night due to my dog trying a food with carrageenan in it. I did not know about the studies until after the emergency I decided to research.. …

        My poor dog only had a tsp bc I was introducing new food…………..My dog only weighs 7 lbs she was in terrible pain with severe bloating and gas burping, pacing the floors due to being restless……whining due to pain. It was awful seeing her suffer……………My dog Pixie is NEVER sick and the Carrageenan made her DEATHLY ILL and could of killed her. I will never buy dog food that contains Carrageenan in it.
        TRUTH of it all……these dog food co. are making our dogs sick unnecessarily. They need to do their studies before they put this toxic stuff in our dog food!

        Thank you Dogs Naturally Magazine for educating us!!!!! I am sure with this article you will save some dogs some sever pain and even Death by being honest about what is in our dog food!~~~Joyce

    2. Debbie Daniel

      Thanks for this article. I have been wandering about this ingredient and seen mixed reviews..like you mentioned. Thanks for setting the record straight.


    1. Dog licking her feet - YorkieTalk.com Forums - Yorkshire Terrier Community - July 1, 2013

      [...] will help her. If she continues to lick and bite she will get hot spots and start losing hair. Carrageenan Just Don’t Do It | Dogs Naturally Magazine __________________ My sunshine doesn't come from the skies, it comes from the love in my dogs [...]

    Leave a Reply

    Current ye@r *