Just A Little Carageenan

Do you ever get the feeling scientific studies are being designed and interpreted to protect the products, rather than to protect the people? Carrageenan looks like a perfect example of this, especially after you find out it's what is often used in the study of inflammation, to cause the inflammation being studied.

Even though carrageenan is pretty great at being able to consistently cause inflammation in animal studies and human cell studies, there is a shortage of studies looking at the effects of consumption inside whole living human beings. So guess what, the officials have decided it is perfectly safe to add it to all of your food.

Prolongation of Carrageenan-induced Inflammation in Human Colonic Epithelial Cells by Activation of an NFκB – BCL10 Loop; Biochim Biophys Acta. 2012 Aug; 1822(8): 1300–1307. 

Multiple studies in mammals have demonstrated that carrageenan exposure predictably causes inflammation, including development of ulcerations, polyps, colitis, and colorectal tumors, and carrageenan has been used in thousands of cell-based and animal experiments to cause inflammation, primarily to study mediators of inflammation and anti-inflammatory therapeutics…Carrageenan due to its unique chemical structure stimulates innate immune responses and evokes sustained activation of NF-κB…Given the central role of NF-κB in the pathogenesis and maintenance of chronic inflammatory states, examination of mechanisms that contribute to the prolonged activation of NF-κB is of considerable relevance to human disease.

It is pretty common to hear about foods like dairy products and other foods with sugar and saturated fat inside, being blamed for diseases like diabetes, but what most people don’t realize is that there are harmful ingredients being added into products, that are largely given a free pass. Carrageenan is one of them, and it might be more to blame than you think.

Carrageenan-Free Diet Shows Improved Glucose Tolerance and Insulin Signaling in Prediabetes: A Randomized, Pilot Clinical Trial; J Diabetes Res. 2020; 2020: 8267980. 

Study results indicate that participants on the no-carrageenan study diet had declines in HbA1c and HOMA-IR…participants who received…carrageenan…did not have any significant declines in HbA1c or HOMA-IR….in individuals with prediabetes removal from the diet of the common food additive carrageenan…may help prevent T2D…the overwhelming evidence in the literature and that reported on PubMed indicates that carrageenan exposure predictably causes inflammation and leads to significant physiological consequences…

Most people are aware of the role played by inflammation in the progression of disease states, in particular cancer and diabetes. Apart from being known to be inflammatory, the degradation of carrageenan, for instance as a result of digestion, turns it into something even more dangerous, which has been shown to be able to promote cancer.

Bacterial endotoxin (LPS) is well known to be able to directly cause inflammation, as well as being a promoter of cancer and other inflammatory diseases, and it looks like one of the things carrageenan can do is make endotoxin even more of a problem. That’s not something you want to do.

Degraded λ-carrageenan activates NF-κB and AP-1 pathways in macrophages and enhances LPS-induced TNF-α secretion through AP-1; Biochim Biophys Acta. 2014 Jul;1840(7):2162-70. 

Carrageenan (CGN)…is a traditional ingredient used in food industry. Its degraded forms have been identified as potential carcinogens…λ-dCGN [degraded λ-carrageenan] induced an inflammatory reaction via both NF-κB and AP-1, and enhanced the inflammatory effect of LPS through AP-1 activation…The study demonstrated the role of λ-dCGN to induce the inflammatory reaction and to aggravate the effect of LPS on macrophages, suggesting that λ-dCGN produced during food processing and gastric digestion may be a safety concern.

Basically what this means is that you might be able to get away with eating foods with carrageenan added into them, without really noticing any serious effects, but that is all likely to change when you have metabolic and inflammatory issues developing, which is very common as you age. And then the foods that would otherwise be very protective and therapeutic, will become a big part of the problem.

κ-Carrageenan Enhances Lipopolysaccharide-Induced Interleukin-8 Secretion by Stimulating the Bcl10-NF-κB Pathway in HT-29 Cells and Aggravates C. freundii-Induced Inflammation in Mice; Mediators Inflamm. 2017; 2017: 8634865. 

The dietary usage of carrageenan as common food additive has increased observably over the last 50 years. But there is substantial controversy about its safety. We investigated whether the κ-carrageenan could enhance lipopolysaccharide-induced IL-8 expression by studying its actions on the TLR4-NF-κB pathway….In addition, κ-carrageenan, together with C. freundii DBS100, enhanced the transcription and secretion of TLR4 and NF-κB…Collectively, our results suggest that κ-carrageenan serves as a potential inflammatory agent that magnifies existing intestinal inflammation.

Inflammatory issues inside the intestines become a bigger issue as a result of the inflammation promoting substances, like for example endotoxin, being able to pass through into the main system and damage the organs. Guess what has also been shown to interfere with proper intestinal barrier function. That’s right, carrageenan.

Digestive fate of dietary carrageenan: Evidence of interference with digestive proteolysis and disruption of gut epithelial function; Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Mar.

This work raises the possibility that CGN may reduce protein and peptide bioaccessibility, disrupt normal epithelial function, promote intestinal inflammation, and consequently compromise consumer health.

The polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are a major factor in the development of inflammation and endotoxin issues, blood sugar dysregulation, and cancer. The PUFAs and endotoxin also promote nitric oxide excess, and high levels of nitric oxide have been shown to play a major role in the development of inflammatory disease, especially cancer.

It looks like carrageenan is more harmful in the presence of nitric oxide and the breakdown products of the PUFAs, and so removing the PUFAs from the diet and from fat stores over time, and avoiding carrageenan consumption, is likely to have a powerful and positive impact on health.

Protective effect of melatonin in carrageenan-induced acute local inflammation; Pharmacol Res. 2002 Aug;46(2):133-9. 

The intraplantar injection of carrageenan elicited an inflammatory response that was characterised by a time-dependent increase in paw oedema, increased level of nitrite/nitrate and MDA, a lipid peroxidation product and decreased glutathione levels in the paw tissue…carrageenan-induced paw oedema was significantly reduced in a dose-dependent manner by treatment with melatonin…Melatonin treatment also caused a significant reduction of the NO and MDA levels, while increasing glutathione level in the paw tissue.

Avoiding stress, and getting enough sugar in the diet, is also very important here, helping to keep the PUFAs stored in tissue from being released into circulation, where they further promote inflammation, endotoxin, and nitric oxide excess, and interact with other harmful things in the diet, like carrageenan.

Like with all issues relating to stress and metabolism, it helps to know a bit about how the inflammatory stress substances work together, from a big picture standpoint. That way, when you’re trying to figure out whether the scientific studies you are looking at make sense, or when you just want to know if something like carrageenan is dangerous, everything is clearer.


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2 Responses

  1. Avatar Syrah says:

    It is so hard to find dairy products – ice cream and chocolate milk – without carrageenan. Really bumming me out.

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