Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Results of my Carrageenan-Free Diet

Certain things should be left in the aquarium.
Readers may recall my ordeal last Saturday with a migraine headache and a trip by ambulance back to my parents' house. Thanks to one of the paramedics jogging my memory, I researched the almond milk I'd started drinking around the time I quit dairy. One of the ingredients was carrageenan, a substance used to induce inflammation, sensitivity to pain and other problems in laboratory animals. Supposedly, the "undegraded" form is safe for human consumption, but undegraded carrageenan has been found to be contaminated with degraded carrageenan, and there are ways that the digestive system could degrade carrageenan itself.

For the past few months, I've felt a little bloated, and was starting to have some mild pain in my lower stomach. I thought it might have been the effects of the antibiotics, oral steroids or decongestant (which gave me an allergic reaction) from back in February. I didn't connect it to the severe headache I had Memorial Day weekend. I've also had occasional sinus pain, which I haven't had since I quit wheat over two years ago. I thought that was from allergies.

Since Sunday morning, I haven't had any almond milk or other products with carrageenan. I've been taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D because of its anti-inflammatory value. Result: no more stomach pain or bloating. My stomach is still a little delicate. There's no more stuffed feeling after meals.

Coincidentally, the Cornucopia Institute came out with a carrageenan-free shopping guide just a few weeks ago. Like reader Suzie_B, biologist Ray Peat of Oregon noticed that carrageenan was listed as an ingredient in cream. He avoids carrageenan as well, since he's had serious allergic symptoms from it. He adds:

Carrageenan enters even the intact, uninflamed gut, and damages both chemical defenses and immunological defenses. When it has produced inflammatory bowel damage, the amount absorbed will be greater, as will the absorption of bacterial endotoxin. Carrageenan and endotoxin synergize in many ways, including their effects on nitric oxide, prostaglandins, toxic free radicals, and the defensive enzyme systems.(1)

Even if you think that food-grade (undegraded) carrageenan is fine and there's no way it could harm you, it may be contaminated with degraded carrageenan. (See table 5 on page 11.) The link is to a paper by JoAnne Tobacman, a physician-scientist who has researched carrageenan for almost 20 years. In a nutshell, ample evidence shows that carrageenan causes or is associated with cancer, inflammation, and ulcerative colitis. (2)

I'm not one to get excited about food additives and I'm not neurotic about eating. But even if you don't have any immediate reaction to carrageenan, it looks like something well worth avoiding.


1.  "Food-junk and some mystery ailments: Fatigue, Alzheimer's, Colitis, Immunodeficiency" by Ray Peat, accessed June 26, 2012. http://raypeat.com/articles/nutrition/carrageenan.shtml
2. "Review of Harmful Gastrointestinal Effects of Carrageenan in Animal Experiments by Joanne K. Tobacman," Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2001, p. 983. http://www.cornucopia.org/DrTobacmanComment_toNOSB.pdf


Unknown said...

Thanks for posting your experience with carrageenan. I gave up dairy and then started drinking soy milk with carrageenan in it. I have suffered for months with a sinus problem after recovering from a sinus infection. I'm hoping this is the answer ...because I have given up everything but nothing so far has helped.

Paul said...

Luckily I've been aware of my severe allergy to carageenan/alginate for the last 10 years. It gives me an instant migraine and aggrevates my Occipital Neuralgia. Since I haven't had it in years I can get sick from kissing or sharing a drink with a person who has eaten it recently. I highly suggest anyone with chronic migraines to try a detox from it and see if their migraines stop. Remember though, carageenan can even be found in toothpaste and body lotions. And alginate is another name for the additive. You should also stay away from algae and seaweed since that's what carageenan and alginate is made from.

CO Fan said...

I was diagnosed with IBS over 20 yrs ago and went through life just trying to control the symptoms. Finally narrowed it to dairy about 4 yrs ago and but was confused when almond milk gave me even worse stomach problems! Tried it again several years later. Same thing! I contacted the maker of Almond Milk concerning carrageenan. They stated it was not harmful, but that as of Jan 2016, it would no longer be added to their product. Today,I bought coconut milk, thinking this was the solution. No! I had about 4 - 6 oz. Within an hour or so, I had the same cramping and multiple bathroom trips. No more carrageenan for me after reading this and several others articles on this! Thanks for your very informative posts.

Lori Miller said...

I get canned coconut milk--I've never seen carrageenan on the label.

Good luck to you.

DeanD said...

I've lost my gall bladder. I was diagnosed with IBD. I've been avoiding most fats for about fifteen years. Now I know that carrageenan has been the culprit behind all my troubles. I now read all labels for ingredients and am avoiding anything with side effects. Just avoiding carrageenan alone has made my life much easier.
Someone should start a class action law suit towards all companies still using in their foods!

Lori Miller said...

Glad you're doing better...and hopefully enjoying some fatty foods again.

Jennifer said...

Help! I realized last week that I have a horrible gut sensitivity to Carageenan. I am GF as of a year ago, and there have been 3-4 times, that I ate something and thought it must have had gluten because of how awful I felt after. But, when I checked the ingredients, I found 'Carageenan" as a mystery ingredient, which info said was GF. Recently, I accidentally bought Fat Free Half and Half, I had that for about 5 days, before reading the ingredients when I began feeling unwell. Eventhough I haven't had any for 3 days, my upper stomach hurts after eating anything, and most of the time regardless and intestinally I have been extremely distressed. I started taking Probiotics a few days ago and 'ParaGone" yesterday, which seems to be helping intestinally. However, my stomach still hurts. Is this normal for a highly carageenan sensitive individual, and any answers ot when it might subside? Thanks so much

Lori Miller said...

Hi, Jennifer. Sorry for the late response, but I've had a lot going on. It just takes time for your stomach to heal; it's probably better by now.