There are many questionable ingredients in the food system … including carrageenan in dog food. It’s used as a thickener to give foods a “loaf-like” appearance … but does your dog really need it? And is carrageenan safe for dogs?
Let’s take a closer look at carrageenan.
What Is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan comes from Irish moss, which is an edible red seaweed. It’s a thickener in many foods, including dog food. Carrageenan is plant-based so it offers a vegan alternative to thickeners like gelatin from animals. You’ll also find it in organic foods. More about that a bit later on.
But there have been warnings about carrageenan as a food additive.
What’s Wrong With Carrageenan In Dog Food?
There has been controversy about carrageenan. Much of the concern isn’t related to the natural derivative from seaweed … but to the industrially-produced carrageenan. It’s extracted by strong alkaline solvents, so it’s highly processed.
But that’s not all. Researchers discovered that carrageenan triggers the body to produce a cytokine (an intercellular messenger molecule). It’s called Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-⍺) (1).
It provides 2 opposing functions:
- Stimulates inflammation
- Causes apoptosis (cell death)
These combined functions create balance in the immune system, as it defends the body against pathogenic organisms like bacteria. This sounds like a good thing. But TNF-⍺ is considered a factor in many chronic inflammatory diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), asthma, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
Is Carrageenan In Dog Food Safe?
No, not really. As mentioned above, TNF-⍺ may be linked to a number of chronic diseases. And all types of carrageenan stimulate the production of TNF-⍺.
One type of carrageenan is poligeenan carrogeenan. It’s a type to avoid … so it’s not permitted in food (2). This variety of carrageenan induces intentional inflammation in animal experiments. And it’s known to cause cancer.
Some say food-grade carrageenan is safe for dogs to eat. They include carrageenan producers, veterinary nutritionists and pet food manufacturers. But even food-grade carrageenan contains a small percentage of the more damaging fragments. And that might explain why food-grade carrageenan can cause problems.
Another consideration is how the digestive process affects carrageenan. Heat, digestive enzymes, acid and bacteria can convert carrageenans to dangerous poligeenans in the human (and presumably animal) gut (3). And, even though we’re focused on carrageenan in dog food, it’s worth noting that the feline stomach environment is even more acidic than a dog’s. That might make carrageenan especially dangerous for cats. Carrageenan might be a factor in IBD, food intolerance, and the skyrocketing rates of cancer and diabetes in cats. More research is needed.
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Possible Radioactive Contamination
There’s a possibility that carrageenan may become contaminated by the radioactivity from the Fukushima nuclear reactor site. However, most carrageenan comes from South American countries such as Peru, Chile, and Argentina. Because these countries are south of the equator, they’re protected from the radioactive plume circulating in the northern hemisphere by ocean currents. But any seaweed products harvested in the north are likely to be contaminated into the foreseeable future.
Here’s some other compelling information about carrageenan.
Research into Carrageenan For Dogs
One leading researcher has studied the effects of carrageenan on the intestinal epithelium (the lining of the gut) in animals.
Dr Joanne Tobacman has been doing research into carrageenan for 20 years (4). She holds steadfast in her results that carrageenan is not good. She’s convinced that both native (food grade) and degraded (poligeenan) forms cause inflammatory and carcinogenic effects. She has shown that carrageenan increases free radicals. They directly cause intestinal inflammation and disrupt insulin metabolism … which can lead to diabetes (5). And there is growing evidence for its role in the development of cancer.
The carrageenan industry has highly criticized her research.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) categorizes carrageenan as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). And the American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines it as an acceptable emulsifier, stabilizer, and thickener.
Warnings About Carrageenan
Carrageenan is in pet food and hundreds of other products for people These range from beer, ice cream, jelly, diet soda and yogurt to toothpaste, shampoo and gel air fresheners.
However, the European Union prohibits its use in infant formulas. And in 2016, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommended that carrageenan be removed from its list of approved organic ingredients. It cited proof that there are alternative, safer ingredients than carrageenan.
But in 2018, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)
The best way to avoid feeding questionable ingredients like carrageenan, is to feed your dog a fresh whole food, raw diet. Then your dog will be getting vitamins and minerals in their natural state for better digestion and health benefits.
1. Bhattacharyya S, Dudeja PK, Tobacman JK. Tumor necrosis factor alpha-induced inflammation is increased but apoptosis is inhibited by common food additive carrageenan. J Biol Chem. 2010 Dec 10;285(50):39511-22.
2. Cohen S, Ito N. A critical review of the toxicological effects of carrageenan and processed eucheuma seaweed on the gastrointestinal tract. Crit Rev in Toxicol. 2002;32(5) 413-444.
3. Bhattacharyyaa S, Liu H, Zhang Z, et al. Carrageenan-induced innate immune response is modified by enzymes that hydrolyze distinct galactosidic bonds. J Nutr Biochem. 2010 October ; 21(10): 906–913.
4. Tobacman JK. Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Oct;109(10):983-94.
5. Bhattacharyya S, O-Sullivan I, Katyal S, Unterman T, Tobacman JK. Exposure to the common food additive carrageenan leads to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and inhibition of insulin signaling in HepG2 cells and C57BL/6J mice. Diabetologia. 2012 Jan;55(1):194-203.