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Pain From Carrageenan

Daniel Stanfill of Carlisle, Massachusetts <> wrote a letter to me with this title: 

"Pains from Carageenan" 

In past NotMilk columns, I have written about people who blame their inabilty to tolerate soy products on the soybean itself, while I know that there is another factor. To each individual, I offer this challenge: Allow me to make you a glass of fresh soymilk to which I will add two heaping tablespoons of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. Would you drink it? That is figuratively just what you are doing to your digestive system when you drink soymilk containing a hard-to-digest emulsifier that is extracted from red algae by using powerful petrochemical alkali solvents, carrageenan. 

Dan's letter: 

Dear Mr. Cohen. 

I visited the Web site 

and saw that you are the author of "MILK A-Z" and the Executive Director of the Dairy Education Board. 

Perhaps my own experience with carrageenan will contribute to the elimination of this substance from our food. 

I am 71 years old, and have been experiencing these symptoms for several years. At some point along the way, I was able to trace my problems to the ingestion of carageenan, and have been able to pinpoint this substance as the definite cause of my symptoms. 

If I eat ice cream containing carrageenan for supper (or any other food containing carrageenan, such as sherbet), I will wake up around 5 AM with severe pains in my lower chest. As long as I remain horizontal, these pains will persist. If I sit up, I begin to emit a series of burps. The problem is obviously gas, and the pains are produced by the gas in my stomach. If I stand, and walk about, the burping is even more pronounced, and I began to feel immediate relief. Taking a drink of cold water puts the final fix on the problem, and I am able to go back to bed and go back to sleep with no further problem. This "ritual" is all very predictable. It only happens when I eat food containing carrageenan. 

I tend to associate this problem with ice cream, because that has been the principal culprit. But there have been other "surprise" occasions when I did not eat ice cream, and experienced the early morning pains. Inevitably, it turns out to have been some other prepared food or dessert. When I check the label, I always find carrageenan among the ingredients of the prepared food. The sole exception among ice cream brands is Breyer's. They do not use carageenan, and I never experience any early morning pains after eating Breyer's. 

The bottom line is that I try to avoid foods -- particularly ice cream -- that contain carrageenan. I wish the manufacturers would wake up to this problem, and stop putting carrageenan in their products. It's awful stuff, it interferes with normal digestion, and may possibly do harm beyond the mechanical 
(gas) distress that it produces. 


Daniel F. Stanfill III 

Robert Cohen

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