A study commissioned by the International Food Additives Council (IFAC) has claimed that when used as a gelling or thickening agent in foods, carrageenan (CGN) causes no adverse effects in human cells. James McKim, Jr., et al., “Effects of carrageenan on cell permeability, cytotoxicity, and cytokine gene expression in human intestinal and hepatic cell lines,” Food and Chemical Toxicology, July 2016. After testing three forms of carrageenan in vitro to evaluate “intestinal permeability, cytotoxicity, and CGN-mediated induction of proinflammatory cytokines,” researchers evidently concluded that intestinal cells did not absorb CGN, which, in turn, was not cytotoxic and did not induce oxidative stress or inflammation.

“This study was unable to reproduce any of the previously reported in vitro findings. As a result, it is unlikely that CGN causes inflammation or that it disrupts insulin signaling pathways reported by Bhattacharyya et al. (2012),” note the study’s authors. “This work also demonstrates that when in vitro systems are used to identify potential hazards for humans, the results should be reproducible outside of the discovery laboratory prior to using the data for risk assessment, [regulatory] decisions, or policy statements.”

“Dr. McKim’s research confirms what we have known for decades—carrageenan has no impact on the human body when consumed in food,” said IFAC Executive Director Robert Rankin in an August 10, 2016, press release. “Carrageenan producers have taken very seriously claims that the ingredient is unsafe, thoroughly investigated the research supporting those claims and found them to be baseless.”