Safety of a common food additive questioned

October 16, 2001 in Cancer Prevention, Healthy Eating

Safety of a common food additive questioned

A number of studies have found that a widely used food additive called carrageenan causes cancer in laboratory animals, and, according to a new report, its use in human food should be reconsidered. Carrageenan, an extract from red seaweed, is used in a variety of foods such as milk products and processed meat as a thickener, stabilizer and texturizer. It can be found in products such as ice cream, whipped cream, pudding and yogurt.

Although the studies have been conducted only in animals, researchers from the University of Iowa Health Care in Iowa City say that enough evidence exists about the cancer-causing effects of carrageenan to limit the use of the food additive. They reviewed 45 previously published animal studies and found that carrageenan is associated with the formation of ulcers in the intestines and cancerous tumors in the gut.

Intestinal cells take up carrageenan but the cells are unable to metabolize it. As carrageenan accumulates in these cells it may cause them to breakdown, and over time this process could lead to ulceration, which appears to be associated with the development of malignancies."

In 1972, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed limiting the type of carrageenan that could be used in food. But the regulatory effort was rescinded in 1979. There has been no substantive review by the FDA of carrageenan since the studies undertaken more than two decades ago.

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