Carrageanan - Food Additive Analysys
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a polysaccharide derived from red algae and has been traditionally used in food as a thickener and stabilizer. In modern processed foods, however, the refined isolated form of carrageenan has become a source of concern among those who focus on alternative health solutions. It is most commonly found in non-dairy milks like almond milk and coconut milk, which means that people on Paleo diets might be consuming more of it than they realize. This has led to much debate and discussion in the health community over the potential risks associated with regular use of this additive.
Despite its long history of being used in food products, some research suggests that carrageenan may cause inflammation in the digestive tract for certain individuals. Additionally, animal studies have linked carrageenan to increased risk for colon cancer and ulcerative colitis. These studies are still ongoing, but one thing is certain: further research needs to be done to determine the exact effects that carrageenan may have on human health.
At this time, it is difficult to recommend avoiding or using carrageenan outright—the evidence simply isn't there yet. The best approach would be to recognize it for what it is: an additive with uncertain safety implications and make an informed decision about adding it into your diet according to your own risk profile.
Degraded vs Undegraded Carrageenan
It's also important to understand that not all types of carrageenan are equal—some forms may pose fewer risks than others depending on the processing methods used during production. The most important difference is between degraded and undegraded varieties. Degraded carrageenan often goes by the name poligeenan and has a lower molecular weight than undegraded varieties. From a practical standpoint, only undegraded carrageenan can be used in food products, as degraded varieties are not approved for this purpose.
The different types of carrageenan vary in their chemical properties, meaning they should be treated as separate compounds. Undegraded carrageenan has higher molecular weight compared to degraded carrageenan, with much larger molecules made up of long-chain polysaccharides that have numerous functional groups for binding with other molecules. Because of its high degree of polymerization and ability to form gels, undegraded carrageenans are often used as emulsifiers or stabilizers in food products. On the other hand, degraded carrageenans (poligeanans) do not form gels so they cannot be used in foods even though they still contain some thickening properties which may make them useful in some industries.
So, it is necessary to distinguish between degraded and undegraded carrageenans since only the latter can be used in food products while degraded poligeenans are not allowed.
The Science on Carrageenan and Poligeenan
Carrageenan has been featured in many foods since the 1950s, and some people have raised concerns that it could have negative health effects. Many of these worries were sparked by animal studies that seemed to suggest carrageenan could cause cancer and other health problems. Tt’s important to note that it was poligeenan (also known as degraded carrageenan), which was used in these studies.
To be absolutely certain, however, further research is needed to analyze carrageenan’s effects on humans, and research is constantly underway, however experimental research on its effects in humans is limited due to ethical constraints.
So far, several in vitro studies have been conducted on isolated human intestinal cells to better understand how carrageenan might affect us. One such study found that exposure to carrageenan caused an increase in the expression of two pro-inflammatory transcription factors. Two similar studies also found that carrageenan up regulated inflammation. Another study observed reduced activity of sulfatase enzymes, and a final study noted increased cell death, reduced cell proliferation, and cell cycle arrest when exposed to undegraded carrageenan at concentrations lower than what would be found in a typical diet. These studies provide some evidence to suggest that carrageenan could be linked to intestinal inflammation. Future research is needed to understand the full implications of carrageenan on human health.
Furthermore, there is also the risk that even though degraded carrageenan is not used in food products, the potentially harmful undegraded carrageenan can still turn into the even more harmful and carcinogenic degraded carrageenan once inside our bodies.
Much more research is needed to conclusively determine this synthetic compound’s safety profile, but there definitely is cause for caution. This is why we believe that a natural diet is safer than one that includes this potentially dangerous ingredient.