Carrageenan Allergy Symptoms
Carrageenan allergy and intolerance symptoms can be a real problem for those sensitive to this common food ingredient. In this article, I’ll explain how to recognize symptoms of this allergy, how to know which foods and beverages contain carrageenan and how to keep them out of your diet.
What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is a thickener made from red seaweed that can be found in a wide variety of common foods and beverages such as milk, infant formula, ice cream, almond and soy milk, soup, chip dip and salad dressing.
It’s also an ingredient in some toothpastes, medications, cosmetics and certain weight loss products. Because of its laxative effect, some laxative medications contain carrageenan.1
Although the FDA has labeled carrageenan as ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ (GRAS), there have been studies linking carrageenan to gastrointestinal ulcers and tumor formation in animal testing.2,3
The European Union has even banned carrageenan from all types of infant formula because of the potential health concerns.4
Besides the possible safety issues with carrageenan, many people experience different levels of allergy or intolerance symptoms when they consume products containing carrageenan.
Do you have a carrageenan allergy or intolerance?
My Experience with Carrageenan
Carrageenan first came to my attention several years ago when I started getting various gastrointestinal problems after eating certain foods. The most problematic for me were ice cream, soy milk and liquid coffee creamer.
At first, I thought I could be developing lactose intolerance because many of the foods that were making me sick were dairy products. That didn’t however, explain why I had stomach problems after drinking non-dairy milks like almond or soy.
Fed up with feeling bad, I started reading ingredient labels and noticed carrageenan was in everything that I experienced stomach symptoms with. I began avoiding all foods and beverages with carrageenan and my symptoms disappeared. My doctor didn’t feel my symptoms weren’t bad enough to need allergy testing, but it’s an ingredient I try to keep out of my diet.
Because of my experience with carrageenan, it’s a topic I’ve spent time researching and have learned how to avoid this ingredient in the foods and beverages I buy.
Carrageenan Allergy Symptoms
Like other food allergies, carrageenan allergy symptoms can vary from person to person and range from mild to severe.
Here are some possible symptoms of a carrageenan allergy5:
- Abdominal Cramping
- Sinus Pain
- Tingling or Itchy Mouth
While rare, it is possible to have anaphylactic reaction to carrageenan.6
Anaphylaxis is a sudden, extreme form of an allergic reaction that affects the whole body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “anaphylaxis symptoms usually occur within minutes of exposure to an allergen. Sometimes, however, it can occur a half-hour or longer after exposure.”7
Symptoms of Anaphylaxis can include: 8
- Skin hives, itching or flushing
- Shortness of breath, wheezing, difficulty breathing or swallowing, a cough
- A rapid or slow heart rate
- Abdominal pain or cramping, diarrhea or vomiting
If you believe you or someone else is having this type of reaction, seek immediate medical attention or call emergency services.
For a full list of carrageenan allergy symptoms, see Symptoms of Food Allergy -- Carrageenan Gum.
Some Common Foods that May Contain Carrageenan
- Chocolate Milk
- Almond Milk
- Soy Milk
- Rice Milk
- Infant Formula
- Liquid Coffee Creamer
- Ice Cream
- Sour Cream
- Cottage Cheese
- Processed Meat
- Cereal Bars
- Snack Dips (Chip Dip, Veggie Dip, etc.)
- Nut Spreads
- Candied Fruit
- Whipped Cream Substitute
- Salad Dressing
- Egg-Based Desserts
- Diet Shakes
Carrageenan Intolerance vs. Carrageenan Allergy
Except for an anaphylactic reaction to carrageenan, symptoms of carrageenan intolerance can be similar to those of a carrageenan allergy.
A doctor or allergist can determine the cause of your symptoms and tell you if allergy testing is necessary.
Conditions with Similar Symptoms to a Carrageenan Allergy
It’s common for people to be unaware they have a carrageenan allergy or intolerance because some symptoms can be mistaken for many other conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, other food allergies or sensitivities, the stomach flu, or even food poisoning.
If You Think You Have a Carrageenan Allergy or Intolerance
If your symptoms are serious, seek immediate medical attention.
Discuss your symptoms and concerns with your doctor. They’ll likely want to know what foods you ate and all the symptoms you experienced.
If you do have a carrageenan allergy or intolerance, a healthcare provider can advise you of your next steps.
Tips for Avoiding Products with Carrageenan
- If you have a carrageenan allergy, list it on your phone’s medical ID app, wallet card or medical alert bracelet/necklace. Also have it noted in your medical and pharmacy records since some medications contain carrageenan.
- Carefully read ingredient labels on foods, beverages, cosmetics and medications. Carrageenan is often hiding in a long list of ingredients.
- It’s important to note that carrageenan isn’t always listed as ‘carrageenan’ on ingredient labels, which could make it easy to miss.
Other Names for Carrageenan, according to WebMD1:
- Algue Rouge Marine
- Chondrus crispus
- Chondrus Extract
- Euchema species
- Extrait de Mousse d’Irlande
- Gigartina chamissoi
- Gigartina mamillosa
- Gigartina skottsbergii
- Irish Moss Algae
- Irish Moss Extract
- Mousse d'Irlande
- Red Marine Algae
These are just some of many. If you're ever unsure of a specific ingredient, look it up to be safe.
Look for Carrageenan-Free Food and Beverages
The Cornucopia Institute Shopping Guide to Avoid Organic Foods with Carrageenan is a great resource with comprehensive listings of products that do and don’t contain carrageenan.
Request Carrageenan-Free Foods from Manufacturers
If you find carrageenan listed in some of your favorite products, consider contacting the manufacturer to request they offer a carrageenan-free formula. When manufacturers get feedback from enough consumers, they might consider changing their formula.
Several large manufacturers of dairy products are already offering carrageenan-free formulas as a response to consumer demand.9
Look for a customer service number on the product packaging or send a message through the company’s website to voice your opinion.
Avoid Processed Foods
One way to keep carrageenan out of your diet is to avoid processed foods whenever possible. You won’t have to worry about carrageenan in whole and natural foods.
It’s not easy to remember all the specific products and brands that contain carrageenan. I’ve found it helpful to keep a running list on my phone of what items to avoid as I shop.
1 - CARRAGEENAN: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings - WebMD. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-710-CARRAGEENAN.aspx?activeIngredientId=710&activeIngredientName=CARRAGEENAN
2 - Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS) Opinion: Carrageenan. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GRAS/SCOGS/ucm261246.htm
3 - Tobacman, J. K. (2001, October). Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242073/
4 - Berkeley Wellness. (2013, March 19). Can Carrageenan Cause Intestinal Disorders and Even Cancer? | Berkeley Wellness. Retrieved from http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/carrageenan-safety
5 - Right Diagnosis from Healthgrades. (n.d.). Symptoms of Food Additive Allergy -- carageenan gum - RightDiagnosis.com. Retrieved from http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/f/food_additive_allergy_carageenan_gum/symptoms.htm
6 - Tarlo, MBBS, S., Dolovich, MD, J., & Listgarten, MD, C. (1995, May). Anaphylaxis to Carrageenan: A pseudo-latex allergy. Retrieved from www.jacionline.org/article/S0091-6749(95)70091-9/pdf
7 - Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Anaphylaxis - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anaphylaxis/symptoms-causes/dxc-20307213
8 - Anaphylaxis - Wikipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaphylaxis
9 - Baden-Mayer, Esq., A. (2012, June 5). Stonyfield Farm & Organic Valley Respond to Consumer Concerns About Carrageenan. Retrieved from https://www.organicconsumers.org/essays/stonyfield-farm-organic-valley-respond-consumer-concerns-about-carrageenan
Have you found this article helpful?
Please feel free to leave comments below. Also, don’t forget to take the Carrageenan Poll near the top of this page.
© 2013 carolynkaye