Irish Moss Health Concerns

by Susan on October 11, 2012

Go figure, I finally jump onto the Irish Moss train, which has been touted as a super food in the raw food community for years, only to wake up to a weekly email in my in-box from Dr. Andrew Weil warning about the dangers of carrageenan. What does this have to do with Irish Moss? Carrageenan is extracted from Irish Moss.

Alarmed, I started digging and emailing. I even went to the woman who is considered to be the one of the top experts in carrageenan research, Dr. Joanne Tobacman of the University of Illinois. Dr. Tobacman has been studying the effects of carrageenan for over a decade.

It seems that carrageenan can cause inflammation (one of our greatest enemies) and intestinal distress. Even more alarming, when carrageenan is extracted from the irish moss, this form of carrageenan has been associated with human cancers.

But wait, haven’t we all read about the wonderful health benefits of Irish Moss? Isn’t it supposed to be great for us? I wondered if there was a difference between consuming Irish Moss in it’s whole form vs an extraction, the carrageenan.

I asked Dr. Tobacman if we needed to be concerned with consuming Irish Moss in it’s whole form. While the extraction is the most dangerous form (and widely found in many organic and non-organic products for sale), Dr. Tobacman stated, “When we tested Irish moss, we found that it also caused inflammation, similar to the effect of the derived carrageenan. The degree of inflammation was less, probably due to reduced availability of the carrageenan, due to the other ingredients in the seaweed. The answer to your question is yes, I think that Irish moss should be avoided, due to the likelihood that the carrageenan in the Irish moss will lead to inflammation.”

So there you have it. Armed with that information, you will not see Irish Moss used in any more recipes designated for consumption on this website. I am also redoing the Lemon Raspberry Souffle Tart that I published last week, replacing Irish Moss on the ingredient list.

Because of the prevalence of carrageenan in so many of the products that we use, including many organic varieties,  I am including some links that I think are important for you to visit to educate yourselves on this dangerous food additive.

Dr. Tobacman’s studies can be viewed here: Studies on Carrageenan (these are published medical studies)

Another excellent, easier to read article by Rodal Press: Carrageenan, The Natural Ingredient that is Wrecking Your Gut

From the Cornucopia Institute: Carrageenan: Linked to Gastrointestinal Inflammation and Colon Cancer  This article also discusses the attempts to get carrageenan removed from organic foods and the push-back the ensued.

After researching, reading and communicating with Dr. Tobacman, I would suggest that you remove Irish Moss from your raw food pantry and also make sure you look for carrageenan on your food labels and avoid it. Cornucopia has compiled a list of food producers that use carrageenan and those who don’t. You can find that list here: Shopping Guide to Avoid Carrageenan.

*If you have Irish Moss on hand, don’t throw it away. Irish Moss paste makes a wonderful face mask! I am working on a recipe for you this afternoon!

 

 

 

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{ 105 comments… read them below or add one }

Megan April 7, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Lard is healthy-when it is from pastured pigs. It is an excellent source of vitamin D and its ratio of unsaturated to saturated fats is in between that of butter and olive oil, butter being on the high end of course.

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Susan April 7, 2013 at 5:48 pm

You may not be aware, but this is a raw / vegan blog. Lard is not something I think is healthy for either people or the pigs.

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Annette April 15, 2013 at 4:14 pm

I found this article and the comments to be very interesting. I don’t have an optinion yet one way or the other – still in the information gathering stage. I would like to know from those that eat it, is there a taste to it? Any type of ‘fishey’ taste?

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lucy April 19, 2013 at 9:23 am

I just starting ready about irish moss. Saw the recipe for the raw lemon cake and know that the irish moss was replaced but can’t figure out with what it was replaced.
What would you use in place of irish moss to keep a recipe raw? Thanks. Lucy

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Nika May 14, 2013 at 10:41 am

After all that, why would you put it on your face?! Your skin absorbs chemicals too

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Cathi Morgan May 14, 2013 at 5:52 pm

Agar Agar makes a great alternative, expensive at health food shops, I found the cheapest source to be Chinese and Asian supermarkets – Not sure if it qualifies as raw as needs to be simmered in order to dissolve, then whisked into juice etc for jelly. Nice when combined with arrowroot or kuzu for a softer texture.

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Tom October 9, 2013 at 11:29 am

I came to your site via Google when looking up Carrageen Moss. Personally, I wouldn’t eat this, or any other form of algae, until extensive research has been conducted into how it concentrates pollutants. I didn’t know until very recently that an extract of Carrageen was a common food additive. That is madness!
I couldn’t help noticing your discourse with Megan about lard. In her defence, I would point out that it was you who introduced the subject onto your Vegan blog. And, just because you choose not to eat it, doesn’t make it unhealthy. Lard is one of the healthiest cooking fats; this is scientific fact not a matter of personal belief. It’s use in commercial pastry-making should be reinstated after decades of banning by the ignorant food-police – it is impossible to make good shortcrust pastry without it!

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Susan October 9, 2013 at 11:37 am

Tom, just because lard is considered to be “one of the healthiest cooking fats” which I honestly don’t know if that is true, it doesn’t mean consuming it is heathy. Or that it is a health food. That was my point. I do not consider lard to be a nutritious, healthy food. We may disagree here but I would point you to Dr. T. Collin Campbell’s work for more clarity on this.

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DORIAN CURGES November 2, 2013 at 2:24 pm

HI, MY NAME IS DORIAN, AND I’VE BEEN USING ANGEL BRAND IRISHMOSS FOR A YEAR NOW, BUT WHAT I WOULD TRULY LOVE TO KNOW IS WHICH BRAND OF THIS STUFF IS THE BEST! ONE, (1) BECAUSE IT BREAKS MY HEART TO THINK! THAT SOMETHING THAT WAS BROUGHT TO ME AS A GOOD THING, NOW IS A KILLING ME THING, SOOOOOOOOOO WHICH ONE IS IT???????????? I TRULY WHAT & NEED TO KNOW, BECAUSE I TRULY LOVE MY HEALTH PRODUCTS.

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Susan November 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm

I no longer use any Irish Moss. So I can’t help you with that one. Sorry…

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Tom November 13, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Dr Tobacman is a single scientist. When trying to ascertain the safety of something, it is much more satisfactory to discover the consensus view. In 2001, the FAO and WHO conducted a study into Carageenan, the concentrated industrial derivative of Irish Moss, and concluded that there was no need to recommend a maximum daily dose. In 2007, they revisited the issue and revised the earlier conclusion to say that “it is inadvisable to include Carageenan in infant formula”. There are literally thousands of similar food additives taken perfectly safely more or less every day by adults that would give a young baby an upset stomach! And it is well-known that Irish Moss contains additional compounds that counter the effects of the concentrated extract Carageenan. In short, Irish Moss is perfectly safe for human consumption but, like almost everything else you eat and drink, is probably not suitable for babies. Your warning and action in removing it from your recipes is alarmist. Please check more widely in future.

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Susan November 13, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Well, Tom, this is a free country and you can eat as much Irish Moss as you wish. I actually interviewed Dr. Tobacman and after talking to her and doing A LOT of research, I have decided I will no longer be eating any Irish Moss or using it in any of my recipes. You are free to do as you wish but as this is my website, and these are my recipes, this is also my decision. There were two recipes on the whole site…over 200 recipes that I used Irish Moss in. So, I honestly don’t consider myself to be “alarmist”for changing two. It is a personal decision I have made. Simple as that. And honestly, I am getting really tired of being told that I didn’t do my research. Because I did. This is my conclusion. I am sure there are many recipes that contain Irish Moss out there. You just aren’t going to find them here. Cheers!

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Michelle November 19, 2013 at 5:37 am

Tom, I am extremely upset that on one of the best raw food websites in the world people are not respecting the raw vegan health ethos. The definition of healthy consumption should not be limited to nutritional value alone, healthy eating for me cannot simply be reduced to evaluating the end product, there are many definitions of health and what is ‘healthy’ for humans to consume might not be healthy using a broader definition :-s

I take your point that some non-vegan foodstuffs are be considered ‘healthier’ than others but to me this whole lard discussion is completely going against both the raw-vegan ethos and the whole entire subject of Irish Moss!

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Susie-Q November 20, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Kudos, Susan, for sticking to your beliefs and your blog! IT IS ***YOURS*** and you get to do whatever you darn well please and say whatever you darn well please! To each their own, people! If you don’t like it, go find a BACON BLOG and get out of here!

Jeepers… Some people’s KIDS… I tell ‘ya…

Susan, we love you dearly and we support you! You have a very loyal following that appreciates your contribution to the raw and vegan communities. Please feel comforted in this big fat virtual {{{HUG}}} and don’t let the big bacon bully get to you. <3

XOXOXOXOXOXOXO

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Susan November 20, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Susie-Q…love ya!!

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Elna November 29, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I am with Susie-Q on this!

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Sandy December 6, 2013 at 12:24 pm

And many scientist have agendas and are backed by someone or a pharmaceutical company.
So was this an individual study? What may be a truth for some may not be truth for all.

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Susan December 6, 2013 at 12:51 pm

You might want to check the links in the post. There are multiple studies done over 12 years by different sources.

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marie garay December 23, 2013 at 9:23 pm

Can you send me the recipe for the face mask with Irish moss, thank you.

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Kay December 31, 2013 at 12:12 am

I too just ‘discovered ‘ that many populations have been taking irish moss for eons. It is a joke that one scientist stated that in its raw form it is not advised since the amount of carageen is inconclusive. Why is his word alone enough (enough though he is unsure about the raw form). What other research did the writer come upon? This is not told to us. All the info online about carageen is that its released when the moss is boiled. And, since bowel issues are the only concern here. Then surely those without these issues don’t have a problem. It does seem alarmist to saw you are done with Irish moss.

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Kay December 31, 2013 at 12:19 am

*carageenan was meant to used here.

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TOL Raw Food Instructor February 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Carrageenan:

There have been health concerns with the food additive “carrageenan gum” which is derived from Irish moss. This additive is found in ice creams, syrups, sauces, and many commercially packaged, highly processed foods. It is not the same as consuming pure Irish moss. Yes, carrageenan gum does come from Irish moss. But carageenan is heated and concentrated Irish Moss that is then highly processed into chemical form. Carageenan has lost the nutritional value of Irish Moss and makes it a health hazard.

You understand that this is the same as sugar cane undergoing the chemical refining process to make it white sugar.

Everyday there is another product that has to be removed from the RAW pantry. I studied at Gabrirl Cousins TreeOf Life, personally I can’t stand self righteous people spreading the word, when scientifically they honestly can’t tell you that they are a hundred percent sure that they know the word they are spreading is true!

Health Benefits:

Has a soothing effect on the mucous membranes throughout the body. It has a softening effect on the tissues and helps many respiratory problems including bronchitis and pneumonia.
Soothes the mucous membranes of the digestive tract and also has a mild laxative effect.
Contains antioxidants to help fight free radicals
Has a large array of ionic minerals. Iodine being one mineral that supports your thyroid and many problems associated with poor thyroid function including fatigue, inability to tolerate cold, slow heart rate, low metabolism, poor skin and hair, etc.
Used externally, it softens and soothes the skin. Put it on your wrinkles and any dark circles under your eyes! It also eases sunburn, chapped skin, eczema, psoriasis, and other rashes.

I cant say hand on my heart that i have scientifically tested the above health benefits, however The health benefits of Irish Moss I can personally vouch for. I am currently nursing one of the healthiest babies of her peers and since I gave birth I have made a raw Irish moss smoothie everyday to encourage my breast milk production. I have a very healthy supply and have just run out of Irish Moss my milk supply has decreased, now I am eagerly waiting for another delivery. This article will not sway my opinion as I trust my body more than I trust these studies. Since fasting and tuning into my body I know what I should be putting in and on my body and does not feel good.

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Susan February 1, 2014 at 6:15 pm

“I can’t stand self righteous people spreading the word, when scientifically they honestly can’t tell you that they are a hundred percent sure that they know the word they are spreading is true!”

Interesting. I honestly don’t think of myself as being “self-righteous”. But you are entitled to your opinion and your Irish moss. It is no longer in my kitchen. I am not “spreading the word” I am sharing scientific research that I have come across.

To each their own. But please, try to keep the name calling off of here. It makes me weary.

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Scott February 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Here is the question I have, as a long time user of sea moss;
How much use result in cancer?
So, if I use a couple tablespoons boiled moss in my banana and pineapple smoothie as a pick me up ever other month
Am I in danger of cancer? I would suggest not.
In my experience, the health benefits and stamina are and will always be undisputed.
How many natural foods cause cancer? Is it maybe a bad batch from a bad source? Something man made
The moss absorbed?

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Ursula February 15, 2014 at 9:49 pm

You may want to check what Elaina Love has to say in her article
> http://elainalove.com/2012/10/13/the-buzz-about-irish-moss/

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Susan February 15, 2014 at 9:59 pm

I have read what Elaina Love has to say. I don’t agree. I have done my own research. Different sites, different opinions. Cheers!

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zuzana February 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm

hello!! i really appreciate you anseer all those comments. i love your site :)

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keith March 14, 2014 at 3:14 am

I scrolled threw the studies & could not find one associated with the whole irish moss being used to conduct the study, have you found it?
All I am finding is the extract. Wiki also describes 3 different extraction methods, some are done with isopropanol or by potassium chloride and all use alcohol. These studies sound much to vague & non specific to the sources use to make any definite conclusions! They also call the refined carrageenan “degraded carrageenan” (poligeenan) in food-grade carrageenan may lead to health problems. Just saying, some research is conducted to mislead people as to avoid the things that are best for us. There are some seriously twisted agendas out there. I don’t even use it, but I am still willing to try it especially since it’s being bashed so much, this to me shows it’s most likely actually so good they needed to do a smear campaign against it lol

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ms_svelte March 24, 2014 at 9:04 am

I dont take irish moss, im just researching it. However, it seems that Susan has made her mind up and the relevant facts arent important to her (ie. you cant extract. modify and change a substance yet still think that may not have an adverse effect on it.).

Id suggest those that are commenting, not; as it seems that it is only encouraging Susan to dig her heels in the sand further.

btw, I just came across your blog, and yes I know its YOUR blog. then again, its a blog….hence me posting my observation.

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Melanie Thewlis April 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Hi Susan,
Thanks so much again for such an informative article. Sorry to see so many people assuming you didn’t conduct research before writing it. Thanks again for the great rundown. I have also trawled through the medical literature on carrageenans and it’s fairly inconclusive, but I’d say it would be safe to avoid it. I suspect that more evidence will accrue against it in the coming decades. In any case, Susie Q’s got the right attitude – It’s your blog and these bacon advocates need to troll elsewhere! Stay brilliant. :-)
Hugs, Mel

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Meredith April 17, 2014 at 6:38 am

Hi Susan – I am attempting a raw/vegan cheesecake recipe this weekend for fun, and the recipe calls for Irish Moss Paste. Per the article above, I don’t want to use it….and…I can’t find it in stores locally even if I wanted to. Would xanthan gum be a viable substitute? If so, do you have any idea of the conversion rate? Thank you!

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Patrick April 24, 2014 at 10:06 pm

When I was a young guy, I learned how to make Irish Moss drink from a local bush-doctor. This was in Jamaica, W.I. We drink Irish Moss to build our “structure” (i.e. – physical stamina). This drink is is quite renowned for bringing a vitality and vigour to men and women alike. Men especially love it, because their sexual stamina is greatly increased!

I have used Irish Moss, both the true one, called Chondrus crispis which grows in colder waters and Gracilaria which grows in warmer tropical waters over many years and I have never had any GI tract irritation or issues. I have researched it’s nutritional profile, traditional and medicinal uses, finding much to be commended, and therefore was more than a little surprised when Dr. Tobacman’s studies were released, to the effect of great alarm amongst nutritionists, raw food community, etc.

Always be aware to trace the money supporting scientific research and draw your own conclusions. Remember that it was a chemically derived extract of the sea vegetable, Chondrus Crispus (Irish Moss) that was being used in Dr. Tobacman’s studies. MSG, for example, is an extract of a natural and highly utilized seed that has fed and nourished more that half the world since pre-historic times. That seed is called RICE. Is rice condemned along with MSG because it serves as its source?

Anyway, if you must not use Irish Moss as a thickening agent, then please be aware that there are other similar sea vegetables such as Gracilaria, also called Ogonori in Japan, which have very similar gelling properties and nutritional profiles. Curiously enough, this Gracilaria is what is commonly called “Irish Moss” in Jamaica even though it is not the same genus. So you can find this Gracilaria packaged and posing as “Irish Moss” in the carribbean markets and online.

I hope more research will be done so that we may make a clearer definition between commercial Carageenan and the whole sea vegetable, Irish Moss.

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Fred May 6, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Starting into the raw food world I can honestly say after reading all the post I am confused about Iris Moss. I go to different sites concerning raw food dishes to learn more about it. Hopefully I will be able to come to a good understanding after researching about Iris Moss. I do have a question, how many doctors are there I can refer to or scientist, or nutritionist that can inform me more regarding Irish Moss?

Thanks Fred

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Susan May 6, 2014 at 6:36 pm

There are quite a few studies sited here. I think you need to decide for yourself as there are many conflicting opinions. Cheers!

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Valerie May 14, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Good evening. I don’t want to enter into a debate, but instead was wondering what you replaced the irish moss with, in your recipes. I have seen quite a few raw recipes calling for irish Moss and was curious about a substitute. Thank you in advance.

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JoAnn May 15, 2014 at 6:48 pm

Hi Susan! I’m not vegan or raw, but I try to live a healthy, holistic lifestyle, and I found this article to be very helpful! I’ve struggled with IBS almost my whole life, and I’ve recently cut out carrageen. So far I’ve been feeling good, but it’s still pretty soon to notice any long-term effects. I will continue to leave it out, as I do not want to welcome any further inflammation in my body, and I also have a grandmother who died of colon cancer. Just wondering, are you concerned about carrageen in skin care products? Thank you! :)

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Cathal June 4, 2014 at 6:25 pm

Hi everyone…people will have to make their own minds up on this one. It’s impossible to know the truth of Irish Moss’ potential harm. It may have close to zero potential harm or maybe a much higher potential so it’s wasted energy to argue either way :) The studies seem to be confusing the issue, the whole form of the moss could be perfectly fine or maybe not, the processed extract form may well be harmful, it seems that’s all we can say for the moment. The one thing to learn though is that a blog has the potential to influence people who read it so the onus is on the blogger to be mindful of dogmatism or the appearance of it. I would rather say it is OUR blog, everyone who reads it and of course the good person(s) who takes the time and effort to write it..don’t forget the universe is whole, is one, it’s not bitty it’s smooth and whole lol, anyhow that’s enough of my waffle, peace :)

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Margret K June 13, 2014 at 11:45 pm

I wonder if it is something as simple as … the Irish have traditionally used Irish Moss safely since like forever true, but because of the world being the way it is today sadly our oceans and waterways are condensed with foreign contaminants, so it is not the Irish Moss itself but an environment factor … fukushima … etc. etc. I do wonder :(

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Kathie chandler August 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm

I am eating more raw and many recipes call for Irish moss so what can I replace it with?
thank you
Kathie

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Susan August 21, 2014 at 12:35 pm

HI, Kathie, It would depend on each recipe and what Irish Moss does in the recipe. If you aren’t opposed to using something that isn’t 100% raw, you can try agar agar. Cheers!

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martina August 24, 2014 at 7:34 pm

irish moss (nee agar agar) has been eaten by the indonesians for centuries. they have only started getting cancer since they stopped using coconut oil and started using the cheap manufactured (cooked, refined, genetically-modified) vegetable and canola oils on the market in all of the tourist areas. i don’t think agar agar is the problem. like others say, it could be the environment, but most importantly it is probably the diet! what else are we eating. i’ll keep using mine altho the last lot i purchased from natural zing was not the same colour, texture or smell as those i purchased prior to 2011.

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Hester September 18, 2014 at 10:27 pm

beaսtiful snapshots!

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