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Carrageenan Allergy Symptoms, Foods and Products With Carrageenan



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What Is Carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a food additive. It is an indigestible polysaccharide extracted from red algae (seaweed), added to foods as a gelling agent or emulsifier (a substance that helps to mix fluids together). On the food labels, carrageenan may be listed as carrageenan (E407 in Europe) or Processed Eucheuma Seaweed or PES (E407a in Europe).

Carrageenan Dangers

FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has declared undegraded or food-grade carrageenan as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) to use as a food additive (1). In some animal studies, degraded (chemically changed) carrageenan has caused gastrointestinal ulcers and cancers. Some investigators think that during the digestion process undegraded carrageenan may become partly degraded, so its GRAS status should be reconsidered (2). Cancerogenic (cancer-forming) or ulcerative effect of carrageenan on the human intestine has not been proven so far, though.

Some people experience abdominal cramps after ingesting carrageenan, but this is more likely due to carrageenan allergy than ulcers.

Symptoms of Carrageenan Allergy

Sensitive individuals may develop one or more of the following symptoms within few minutes after getting into contact (ingesting, inhaling, skin contact) with carrageenan (3,4):

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea

Skin Symptoms

  • Skin itch (pruritus)
  • Hives (urticaria): pinkish bumpy or patchy skin rash
  • Dyshydrotic eczema (chronic recurring translucent blisters on palms and soles)

Respiratory Symptoms

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing

Anaphylactic Reaction

Severe immune response may trigger the release of substances that dilate vessels and thus cause a drop in blood pressure and resulting impaired perfusion of skin and brain. Symptoms of anaphylactic reaction include:

  • Pale or bluish skin (cyanosis)
  • Confusion or loss of consciousness

List of Foods With Carrageenan

Examples of foods that may contain carrageenan (4,5,6):

  • Dairy products: chocolate milk, eggnog, condensed milk, evaporated (canned) milk, milk powder, cheeses (such as cottage cheese, cream cheese), yogurts, spreads, whipping cream substitutes, puddings, whey
  • Dried nuts and seeds, nut spreads, almond milk
  • Fat spreads and fat-based desserts
  • Custard (frozen)
  • Sherbets, sorbets, ice creams
  • Dessert gels, fruit jellies
  • Processed fruits, jams, pie filling
  • Dried mushrooms, seaweeds
  • Soybean products, such as soy milk
  • Canned vegetables, legumes, fruits, meats and fish
  • Pimento olive stuffing
  • Processed meats, edible sausage casings
  • Confectionery: chocolate
  • Ready-to-eat cereals
  • Pre-cooked pasta, soups
  • Rice pudding, rice cake, tapioca pudding
  • Pizza
  • Savouries
  • Batters
  • Processed egg products
  • Vinegars, mustards, sauces (like barbecue), salad dressings, relishes and other condiments
  • Dietetic foods for weight loss
  • Infant formulas
  • Dietary supplements
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: energy and sport drinks, syrups
  • Alcoholic drinks: apple cider, perry (from fermented pears), mead, beer, distilled beverages, aromatized alcoholic drinks

Other Products Containing Carrageenan

  • Pills and syrups (like cough syrup)
  • Toothpastes
  • Laxatives
  • Air freshener gels
  • Cosmetic products
  • Dog foods and other pet foods
  • Lubricants
  • Paints (water-based)
  • Pesticides
  • Shoe polish

References:

  1. Carrageenan is GRAS, according to FDA (fda.gov)
  2. Carrageenan has caused cancers and ulcers in animal studies (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc)
  3. Anaphylactic reaction after barium enema (jacionline.org)
  4. Foods with carrageenan (codexalimentarius.net)
  5. Foods with carrageenan (fao.org)
  6. Foods containing carrageenan (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc)
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