Carrageenan Allergy Symptoms
Carrageenan is a thickener made from red seaweed that can be found in a wide variety of common foods and beverages such as milk, coffee creamer, almond and soy milk, ice cream, sherbet, soup, pudding, salad dressing, and infant formula.
It’s also used in some vegetarian and vegan foods as a non-animal-source substitute for gelatin.
Carrageenan is not only used in foods. It can also be found in some toothpastes, medications, cosmetics, shoe polishes, and even weight loss products. Because of its laxative effect, some laxative medications contain it.(1)
Although the FDA has labeled carrageenan as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), there have been studies linking carrageenan to stomach ulcers and tumor promotion in animal testing.(2) Europe has even banned carrageenan from all types of infant formula because of the potential health concerns.(2)
Besides the possible safety issues with carrageenan, many people experience allergy or intolerance symptoms when they eat foods or beverages containing carrageenan.
Gastrointestinal complaints tend to be the most common symptom of a carrageenan allergy or intolerance, but other allergy symptoms are possible too.
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Carrageenan Allergy or Intolerance—Typical Gastrointestinal Symptoms:
- Abdominal cramping
Other Carrageenan Allergy Symptoms Can Include:
- Skin allergy (such as itching, hives or rash)
- Anaphylaxis (3)
What Is Anaphylaxis?
Anaphylaxis is a sudden extreme form of an allergic reaction that affects the whole body. This reaction can include some, but not necessarily all of the following symptoms:
Swelling of the mouth, throat, or tongue
Change in heart rate
If you believe someone is having this type of reaction, seek immediate medical attention or call 911. (4)
Some Other Names for Carrageenan
- Irish moss
- Red marine algae
- Chondrus extract
- Chondrus crispus
These are just a few of many. If you're ever unsure of a specific ingredient, look it up.
- Chocolate milk
- Almond milk
- Soy milk
- Liquid coffee creamers
- Ice cream
- Sour cream
- Snack dips (like chip or veggie dips)
- Nut spreads
- Whipped cream substitutes
- Salad dressings
- Egg-based desserts
- Diet drinks, like Slim Fast
- Baby formulas
Is It a Carrageenan Allergy or a Carrageenan Intolerance?
It may be difficult to tell the difference between a true carrageenan allergy and intolerance because many of the symptoms may be similar. If your symptoms are bothersome or severe, see a doctor or allergist to be tested so you can know for sure.
Other Ways to Know if You’re Allergic to or Intolerant of Carrageenan
Keep track of what you eat and drink and note any symptoms. See if they occur after you consume products containing carrageenan. If you’re sensitive to carrageenan, you will likely see a pattern.
For example, I notice that every time I drink certain brands of diet shakes, soy milk, or almond milk or eat any ice cream with carrageenan in the ingredient list, I have gastrointestinal problems. I’m not lactose intolerant, so I can rule that out. When I eat brands of these same products that are carrageenan-free, I have no symptoms.
You may not have symptoms from every food containing carrageenan even if you have an allergy or intolerance because some products contain too small of an amount to cause a reaction.
Other Conditions with Similar Symptoms
It’s common for people to be unaware they have a carrageenan allergy or intolerance because the gastrointestinal symptoms can be easily mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lactose intolerance, other food allergies, stomach flu, or even food poisoning. This is where a doctor or allergist can be helpful in determining the accurate cause of symptoms.
What to Do if You Have a Carrageenan Allergy or Intolerance?
Become an ingredient label reader and avoid foods and beverages with carrageenan. I’ve listed some helpful websites in the "Tips to Avoid Carrageenan" section below.
If your symptoms are severe, seek medical attention.
Tips to Avoid Carrageenan
- Carefully read the ingredient labels of everything you buy. Carrageenan is often hiding in a long list of ingredients.
- If you find carrageenan listed in some of your favorite products, consider contacting the manufacturer to request they make a carrageenan-free formula. When manufacturers get feedback from enough people, many will change their formula. Several large manufacturers of dairy products are already working on carrageenan-free formulas because of consumer demand.
- Check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Shopping Guide for a comprehensive listing of foods with and without carrageenan. You’ll find brand names to look for and avoid.
- Try to avoid processed foods whenever possible. You won't have to worry about carrageenan in whole and natural foods.
Carrageenan Allergy Resources
© 2013 carolynkaye
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