Is it a time to reformulate food products?
The National Organic Standards Board recommended recently that Carrageenan should be eliminated from organic food. It means that if any food containing Carrageenan cannot be considered as organic. (1) But a whole situation around Carrageenan is not clear.
In 2000’s some publications indicates that Carrageenan may cause intestinal inflammation. (2) These cautions raised after publication the research conclusions by Dr Joanne Tobacman in Environmental Health Perspectives in October 2001. (3)
Despite this fact, in 2003 the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that there was no concern to the continued consumption of carrageenan and assigned it to the group "Acceptable Daily Intake - not specified"(This classification is used when the JECFA has determined that a food additive does not represent a hazard to health). This decision allows for the use of Carrageenan at the level necessary to achieve the technical or functional effect in the food. (4)
In 2003-2016, publications with results of extensive research programmes at the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, School of Medicine at Chicago and others, indicate that Carrageenan may cause intestinal inflammation, reduce protein and peptide bioavailability and glucose intolerance. (5-9)
However, new research published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology in 2016, partly funded by the International Food Additives Council (IFAC), seems to confirm the safety of Carrageenan as a food additive. This group of researchers suggest this also earlier. (10-12)
What is going on?
The problem is that there been differences in both studies. These include, amongst others, the solution in which the carrageenan was dissolved, the observation of the effect of prolonged exposure and the cell lines used in experiments (cells derived from normal human colon and colonic epithelial cells have been used by Tobacman’s team, and intestinal cancer cells by McKim’s group). (13) Because both studies give contrary results, probably experiments have to be replicated with a use of the same cell lines and the same assays in work.
The situation in the food industry.
What is important for the food industry, we still haven’t clear answer, if Carrageenan is safe and, if it will stay longer on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances of The United States Department of Agriculture. (14)
Carrageenan’s latest five-year exemption on the National List of the National Organic Program ends in 2018. So, any new information will provide motivation for carrageenan’s reapproval or ban by the USDA. A decision will be made in November 2018. If they remove Carrageenan from allowed substances list, the ban would take about two years to go into effect.
The food organisations agree that alternative additives do not work as well as Carrageenan, especially organic ones. However, Carrageenan has already been removed by some companies from many products in recent years. They are using alternatives such as gellan gum, xanthan gum, guar gum or just are not adding any agent.
This year and in 2018 seem to the very interesting in the area of Carrageenan.
- National Organic Standards Board Meeting Agenda – November 2016
- Cohen SM, Ito N., A Critical Review of the Toxicological Effects of Carrageenan and Processed Eucheuma Seaweed on the Gastrointestinal Tract., Crit Rev Toxicol, 2002, 32, 413-44.
- Tobacman JK. Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Environ Health Perspect, 2001, 109, 983-94
- Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), Safety evaluation of certain food additives. WHO Food Additive Series: 70, World Health Organization, Geneva, 2015, 3-44
- Tobacman JK. The Carrageenan Diet: Not Recommended. Science 2008, 321, 1040-41.
- Bhattacharyya S, Dudeja P, Tobacman JK. Tumor Necrosis Factor α-induced Inflammation Is Increased but Apoptosis Is Inhibited by Common Food Additive Carrageenan. J Biol Chem, 2010, 285, 39511-22.
- Bhattacharyya S, O-Sullivan I, Katyal S, Unterman T, Tobacman JK., Exposure to the common food additive carrageenan leads to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and inhibition of insulin signalling in HepG2 cells and C57BL/6J mice., Diabetologia, 2012, 55(1), 194-203.
- Bhattacharyya S, Feferman L, Tobacman JK. Carrageenan Inhibits Insulin Signaling through GRB10-mediated Decrease in Tyr(P)-IRS1 and through Inflammationinduced Increase in Ser(P)307-IRS1. J Biol Chem, 2015, 290, 10764-74.
- Bhattacharyya S, Feferman L, Unterman T, Tobacman JK. Exposure to Common Food Additive Carrageenan Alone Leads to Fasting Hyperglycemia and in Combination with High Fat Diet Exacerbates Glucose Intolerance and Hyperlipidemia without Effect on Weight., J Diab Res, 2015a, 513429.
- McKim JM. Food additive carrageenan: Part I: A critical review of carrageenan in vitro studies, potential pitfalls, and implications for human health and safety., Crit Rev Toxicol, 2014, 44, 211-43.
- McKim Jr JM, Wilga PC, Pregenzer JF, Blakemore WR. The common food additive carrageenan is not a ligand for Toll-Like-Receptor 4 (TLR4) in an HEK293-TLR4 reporter cell-line model., Food Chem Toxicol, 2015, 78, 153-58.
- James M. McKim, Jr., Heidi Baas, Gabriel P. Rice, Jamin A. Willoughby Sr., Myra L. Weiner, William Blakemore, Effects of carrageenan on cell permeability, cytotoxicity, and cytokine gene expression in human intestinal and hepatic cell lines., Food and Chemical Toxicology, 96, 2016, 1–10.
- Weiner ML. Parameters and pitfalls to consider in the conduct of food additive research, Carrageenan as a case study., Food Chem Toxicol, 2016, 87, 31-44.