By Robert Cohen Executive Director Text Only

Silk sludge = Sick from sludge?


Some folks can eat just about anything. Some people might
have no problem producing a tall glass of homemade soymilk,
then converting it to chocolate milk by adding the
following ingredients: Three teaspoons of sugar. One
teaspoon of chocolate powder. Two tablespoons of Vaseline
petroleum jelly. The Vaseline might produce gastric
distress, and the soymilk drinkers would erroneously
conclude that they are "allergic" to soy. Some people
do not experience gastric discomfort caused by the
Vaseline-like  food additive, carrageenan. Many people do.

Carrageenan is a commonly used food additive that is
extracted from red seaweed by using powerful alkali
solvents. These solvents would remove the tissues
and skin from your hands as readily as would any acid.

Carrageenan is a thickening agent. It's the vegetarian
equivalent of casein, the same protein that is isolated
from milk and used to thicken foods. Casein is also
used to produce paints, and is the glue used to hold
a label to a bottle of beer. Carrageenan is the magic
ingredient used to de-ice frozen airplanes sitting on
tarmacs during winter storms.


Carrageenan is about as wholesome as monosodium glutamate
(MSG), which is extracted from rice, and can equally be
considered natural. Aspartame (NutraPoison) is also natural,
as it is extracted from decayed plant matter that has been
underground for millions of years (oil). So too are many
other substances such as carrageenan that can also be
classified by FDA and USDA as wholesome and natural
food additives.

Just because something comes from a natural source does
not mean that it is safe. The small black dots in the
eyes of potatoes contain substances that are instantly
fatal if eaten. Got poison? You will if you eat the
black dots on the "eyes" of potatoes.

Carrageenan is a gel. It coats the insides of a stomach,
like gooey honey or massage oil. Digestive problems often
ensue. Quite often, soy eaters or soymilk drinkers react
negatively to carrageenen, and blame their discomforting
stomachaches on the soy.

High weight molecular carrageenans are considered to be safe,
and were given GRAS status (safe for human consumption) by
the FDA. Low weight carrageenans are considered to be
dangerous. Even SILK admits this.

In order to get more information about carrageenan from
a scientist, I spoke with one of America carrageenan
experts, Joanne Tobacman, M.D. Dr. Tobacman teaches
clinical internal medicine at the University of Iowa
College of Medicine. I explained to Dr. Tobacman that
I rejected animal studies (we discussed valid concerns
about animal research, and why they never produce
reliable results for humans). I requested evidence of
human trials that might show carrageenan to be a
danger for human consumption.

Dr. Tobacman shared studies with me that demonstrate that
digestive enzymes and bacterial action convert high weight
carrageenans to dangerous low molecular weight carrageenans
and poligeenans in the human gut. These carrageenans
have been linked to various human cancers and digestive
disorders. Again, I remind you that Tobacman's evidence
and conclusions are based upon human tissue samples,
not animal studies.

I will cite additional information from four studies:

1) Filament Disassembly and Loss of Mammary Myoepithelial
Cells after Exposure to Carrageenan, Joanne Tobacman,
Cancer Research, 57, 2823-2826, July 15, 1997

2) Carrageenan-Induced Inclusions in Mammary Mycoepithelial
Cells, Joanne Tobacman, MD, and Katherine Walters, BS,
Cancer Detection and Prevention, 25(6): 520-526 (2001)

3) Consumption of Carrageenan and Other Water-soluble
Polymers Used as Food Additives and Incidence of
Mammary Carcinoma, J. K. Tobacman, R. B. Wallace, M. B.
Zimmerman, Medical Hypothesis (2001), 56(5), 589-598

4) Structural Studies on Carrageenan Derived Oligisaccharides,
Guangli Yu, Huashi Guan, Alexandra Ioanviciu, Sulthan
Sikkander, Charuwan Thanawiroon, Joanne Tobacman, Toshihiko
Toida, Robert Linhardt, Carbohydrate Research, 337 (2002),

In her 1997 publication (1), Tobacman studied the effect
of carrageenan on the growth of cultured human mammary
epithelial cells over a two week period. She found that
extremely low doses of carrageenan disrupted the internal
cellular architecture of healthy breast tissue, leading
her to conclude:

  "The widely used food additive, carrageenan has
   marked effects on the growth and characteristics
   of human mammary myoepithelial cells in tissue
   cultures at concentrations much less than those
   frequently used in food products to improve

Tobacman continued her work by exposing low concentrations
of carrageenan for short intervals to human breast tissue
(2), and observed pathological alterations in cellular
membranes and intracellular tissues. Tobacman wrote:

  "These changes included prominence of membrane-
   associated vesicles that coalesced to form unusual
   petal-like arrays...and development of stacked
   rigid-appearing inclusions in the lysosomes that
   arose from the membranes of the petal-like arrays
   and from smaller, dense spherical bodies that
   formed clumps."

In reporting a historical perspective, Tobacman
revealed that carrageenan has been found to
destroy other human cells in tissue cultures,
including epithelial intestinal cells and
prostate cells. She concludes:

  "The association between exposure to low
   concentrations of carrageenan in tissue
   culture and destruction of mammary
   myoepithelial cells may be relevant to
   the occurrance of invasive mammary
   malignancy in vivo and provides another
   approach to investigation of mammary

Tobacman's third paper (3) explored the increased
incidence of mammary carcinoma to the increased
consumption of stabilizers and additives such as
guar gum, pectin, xanthan, and carrageenan. While
no relationship between the either above named
additives and cancer was observed, carrageenan
showed a strong positive.

Although high molecular weight carrageenans are
considered to be safe, Tobacman demonstrates that
low molecular weight carrageenans are carcinogenic.
She writes:

  "Acid hydrolysis (digestion) leads to shortening
   of the carrageenan polymer to the degraded form,
   poligeenan. It is not unreasonable to speculate
   that normal gastric acid...may act upon ingested
   carrageenan and convert some of which is ingested
   to the lower molecular weight poligeenan during
   the actual process of digestion. Also, some
   intestinal bacteria possess the enzyme
   carrageenase that degrades carrageenan."

Tobacman's 2002 publication (4) proves her earlier
hypothesis. She writes:

  "Mild-acid hydrolytic depolymerization of
   carrageenan affords poligeenan, a mixture of
   lower molecular weight polysaccharides and
   oligosaccharide products."

Tobacman is currently preparing and characterizing
low molecular weight poligeenans (carcinogenic)
that have been extracted from human digestion
modalities. Her yet-to-be published data suggest
that carrageenans are dangerous for human consumption.

My advice: Read labels. If there is carrageenan
in a product, select an alternative.

This morning, I checked my local supermarket (ShopRite,
Emerson, NJ) to see which soymilk manufacturers added
carrageenan to their formulas.


The largest selling soymilk in America is SILK.
Do I pick on the industry leader? Damned right I
do. SILK sets the standard. You deserve to know the
truth. Just for the record, when SILK changes
their formula they will become my hero. In my
opinion, SILK tastes better than any of the
commercially available soymilks. Unfortunately,
consumers sacrifice good health for good taste.
That is not a fair trade, particularly for
our children.

SILK uses carrageenan. SILK plain, SILK chocolate.
SunSoy also uses carrageenan. Hershey's real chocolate
is not so real. They use it too. So does Nesquik.


VitaSoy does not have carrageenan! they use barley flower
as a thickener. 8th Continent does not use carrageenan
either. Their choice is to use cellulose gel and soy
lecithin to create a smoother soymilk.


On the shelf (non-refrigerated), I found Rice Dream.
They do not use carrageenan. They use xantham gum.
Soy Dream (made by Imagine Foods) does not use it
either. Their emulsifier is rice syrup. Eden Soy
does not use it. They use barley extract.

Do a little experiment. Drink a quart of SILK.
Pay careful attention to your carrageenen-induced
tummy ache and intestinal discomfort. Many consumers
unfairly blame that on soy. Now you know the truth.
Drink a quart of VitaSoy, 8th Continent, Soy Dream,
or Eden Soy, and you will not get the garrageenan-blues.

Why do some manufacturers "get it," while others
remain clueless?

Robert Cohen author of:   MILK A-Z
Executive Director (
Dairy Education Board

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