The Hidden Food Ingredient Linked to Pain and Inflammation - RiseEarth

The Hidden Food Ingredient Linked to Pain and Inflammation


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by Michelle Schoffro Cook; Care2

There’s a food additive so ubiquitous in the food industry it is found in most packaged foods, restaurant sauces and even many foods that have been “certified organic.” That ingredient is carrageenan. While the additive starts out harmless enough (it comes from the seaweed known as Irish moss) it is then processed to extract the ingredient known as carrageenan, which acts as a thickener or emulsifier for many prepared foods.

Like most people, I originally thought that carrageenan was a harmless extract from seaweed, so I didn’t give it much consideration. Then I heard that researchers were giving animals carrageenan to induce pain and inflammation as a way to prepare the animals for scientific studies exploring anti-pain drugs. That was the first I’d heard of carrageenan being used for harm. So I began to investigate.


Dr. Joanne Tobacman has conducted many studies on the effects of carrageenan consumption, including one in the Journal of Diabetes Research. After eating carrageenan for only six days, animals fed carrageenan developed glucose intolerance, an umbrella term used to describe impaired metabolism involving excessively high blood sugar levels. Dr. Tobacman found that the food additive caused blood sugar levels to skyrocket, indicating that it may lead to the development of diabetes. She indicates that carrageenan used in animals’ diets so commonly cause diabetes that the additive could be used for mouse models of the study of diabetes.

She also found that carrageenan causes intestinal and systemic inflammation in animal studies. Considering that inflammation is a well-established factor in most chronic disease, including: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, pain disorders and many others, any food additive in common use is a serious concern. Dr. Tobacman also indicates that the amount of carrageenan found in most peoples’ diets is sufficient to cause inflammation.

Sources of Carrageenan

Carrageenan is found in common foods, including:
  • infant formula
  • ice cream
  • cream
  • butter
  • soy milk
  • almond milk
  • rice milk
  • cottage cheese
  • sour cream
  • yogurt
  • coffee creamers
  • vegan cheese alternatives
  • egg nog
  • protein supplements
  • aloe vera gel
  • deli meats
  • juices
  • puddings
  • pizzas
  • chocolate bars
  • coffee beverages
  • many packaged foods
Additionally, some supplements, particularly those involving gel caps, commonly contain carrageenan. And, most grocery store rotisserie chickens typically contain the additive.

The Cornucopia Institute has compiled a comprehensive list of organic foods that contain carrageenan, since the ingredient is legally allowed in foods bearing the label “organic” or “certified organic.”
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