Posted on Mon, 3 Jul 17
A remarkable new dietary study suggests that avoiding a common food additive, carrageenan, could help people with inflammatory bowel disease.
Carrageenan is a seaweed derived food additive widely used as a thickener and stabilizer.
Although approved for use in foods, some years ago, associate Professor of Clinical Medicine Joanne Tobacman MD, from the University of Illinois, Chicago, proposed that there was reason for concern around the industrial food use of cargeenan.
In Dr Tobacman’s early analysis she warned that “the widespread use of carrageenan in the Western diet should be reconsidered .” Her review of animal studies found that this common food additive induces colonic inflammation, with development of inflammatory infiltrates, ulcerations, and evidence of inflammatory bowel disease.
In the journal Nutrition and Healthy Aging, March 2017 a remarkable clinical study appeared from Dr Tobacman and her research group; in people with ulcerative colitis in remission they tested the effects of a no-carrageenan diet to see if it would help prevent disease relapse .
The study design ingeniously involved two study arms, a no-carrageenan diet (see list) with either placebo capsules or carrageenan capsules (200 mg/day), to tease out the effects of carrageenan exposure.
Despite being a relatively small study group of twelve people, and the carrageenan capsules providing less than average daily dietary exposures, the results were striking. At the end of the study three patients who received carrageenan-containing capsules relapsed, while none of those who received placebo-containing capsules had a relapse. And laboratory tests showed increases in the inflammatory markers interleukin-6 and fecal calprotectin in the carrageenan-exposed group, but not in the placebo-group.
Foods avoided on the no-carrageenan diet
- Almond milk
- Bakery products with glazes, frostings
- Candy; chocolate candies
- Canned fish, meats
- Chocolate milk mixes/powders, condensed milk, evaporated milk powders
- Cottage cheese
- Dietetic beverages
- Deli meat
- Evaporated milk, condensed milk, powdered milk, flavored milk, flax milk
- Frosting base mix, canned frostings
- Gelled fruit snacks
- Ice cream, frozen custard, frozen yogurt, sherbets, etc.
- Infant formulas
- Liquid coffee whitener
- Maple Syrups
- Meal Replacements
- Nutritional drinks
- Pie filling
- Processed meats, fish or cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- Soy Milks
- Whipped cream (canned)
This is the first clinical study to clearly show benefits of removing a specific food additive in people with inflammatory bowel disease, and adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests several common industrial food additives are unsafe .
- Tobacman JK. Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Oct;109(10):983-94.
- Bhattacharyya S, et al. A randomized trial of the effects of the no-carrageenan diet on ulcerative colitis disease activity. Nutr Healthy Aging. 2017 Mar 31;4(2):181-192.
- Lerner A, Matthias T. Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmun Rev. 2015 Jun;14(6):479-89.