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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{ 103 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura-Jane The Rawtarian October 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Wow, this is alarming! So Susan, what are you recommending instead of irish moss as a thickener?? I use chia seeds a lot. I have also heard of agar agar, but I don’t think that is truly raw. Interested to hear more about substitutions as you phase this out of your recipes. Keep up the great work keeping us informed!

dre October 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Thank you for posting this. One more thing to the list, right? But as someone with multiple autoimmune issues, I’m glad to be made aware of anything that causes inflammation. No more carrageenan for me. Good thing almost all of what I eat is from whole, unprocessed foods, because carrageenan is in everything!

Ann October 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Wow disturbing, especially since I have a tumor condition (not cancer) related to inflammation in the body! There is carrageenan in ALL the milk substitutes, almond and coconut etc. Guess I really do have to make EVERYTHING from scratch if I have any hope to get rid of these ugly, painful lumps =( Thanks SO much for the heads up. I appreciate the heads up Susan, very much appreciated!

Diana October 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Thank you Susan for posting this. I really apreciate the research you have put into this article! I have only used it once a few years ago and stopped because of a comment Dr. Russell Blaylock said in a lecture on brain health. He said that carageenan is a neurotoxin and should be avoided. Like you, I also wondered if Irish Moss in it’s whole form would not have this neurotoxic effect. Now I am surprised to hear that it is also damaging to the digestive system. I also look forward to seeing what you are going to use instead of Irish moss.

jennifer m October 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm

amazing timing! we just this week started using irish moss..making tea and face masks. guess i’ll stop brewing the tea and keep up the facials (unless we find out we’re absorbing too much carrageenan through our skin?!) thanks for your words as always, susan

Susan October 11, 2012 at 3:18 pm

There is a great link above that has a shopping list to avoid carrageenan. Cheers!

Michelle Endersby October 11, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Is this an issue only with Irish Moss or should we be concerned about other seaweeds?

Elena October 11, 2012 at 4:03 pm

I am wondering too. Do other seaweeds contain carrageenan ? Thank you.

Kammie October 11, 2012 at 4:45 pm

I haven’t ever had Irish moss but I have to say I came very close to buying on numerous occasions. This is what I’m afraid is going to happen with stevia- some research that says its bad for you after all. I’ll be sad if that happens. Sigh. Thank you for the information!

Lukas October 11, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Thank you so much, I wanted to buy Irish Moss some days ago but now I will definitely keep my hands off that!

Karolina October 11, 2012 at 5:08 pm

To quote Jonathan Bechtel: “There’s a difference between the seaweed that’s used to make carrageenan and the preservative that’s used in food, which has been degraded. It’s the degraded carrageenan that causes most of the health problems.”

That being said, you can relax now..

Paul B October 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm

I’m reserving judgement right now. The claims are based on animal data alone, no human trials. This kind of data has produced false positives and false negatives before (think Thalidomide false negative, or saccharin, false positive). with no human data showing carrageenan cause inflammation. and carrageenan is not a whole food. Are there any data showing irish moss ingestion poses risks? I can’t find one. carrageenan is an extract. and there are many examples where the extracted food poses risks where the whole food doesn’t. Isolated soy protein vs. edameme (raises IGF 1, whole food doesn’t), flax seed oil vs. ground flax seed (flax seed oil increases prostate cancer risk, no evidence for flax seed), etc etc. Beta carotene supplements show risk where eating the whole food containing it does not. carrageenan is not a whole food. And frankly the evidence damning it isn’t all that convincing. Is there any? evidence that irish moss ingestion has caused any problem to anyone? even anecodotal? I’m not being rhetorical here. I’m asking in earnest. Pubmed won’t help you. I tried. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=%22irish%20moss%22

I think my frustration is rejecting a whole food out of hand based on limiteddata for one form of an extract from it with little or no human data for the extract. And no data whatsoever for the whole food. Hijiki? yeah, there’s data that stuff has arsenic. Irish moss. Your move. I’m using it.

Paul

Susan October 11, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Paul, actually, there have been studies done both on Irish Moss in it’s whole form and on human tissue. The data I researched and the information I got from Dr. Tobacman along with the other articles sited above were more than enough to convince me that it is something I don’t want in my diet. I am not alone. I think that when the top researcher, who has been researching this topic for over a decade recommends that you do not consume Irish Moss, it might be wise to listen but you are certainly free to do what ever you want. I will not be using it on this site anymore.

deb October 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Wow….thanks for the info!! I’ve known about carragennan causing inflamation….and I’ve always been diligent about staying away from it….. but I had no idea it was in Irish Moss!!!
Love all of your info sharing!!!
Thanks for all that you do!

Susan October 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Karolina, that is exactly the question I put infront of Dr. Tobacman and she stated that they also tested Irish Moss in it’s whole form and found that it caused inflammation. Her quote is above.

ben October 11, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Thanks, Susan. Good to know. I’ve never liked the taste of Irish Moss, so no big loss to me. I’ve substituted agar-agar (not fully raw, I know, since it has to be dissolved in hot water) whenever Irish Moss has been required in recipes.

Denise October 11, 2012 at 8:41 pm

I have on occasion thought about using Irish Moss but have never bought it. I am glad that I have not and I am glad to hear this report. I will be interested to see what ingredients you use now instead of the Irish Moss. Thank you for sharing this information. What I do not need is more inflammation in my body.

LauraT October 11, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Susan, wondering if you came across anything about agar agar in your research? I’ve been using agar for more than 30 years and often substitute it for Irish moss in raw food recipes. Yes, I know it’s not raw, in fact I soak over night then dissolve in water by simmering but then maple syrup, cashews and agave aren’t technically raw either. I’m more concerned with my foods being clean, organic, vegan and wholesome than completely raw. I haven’t yet followed the links you posted but I will. Thank you for posting this information and for your uncompromising integrity.

Susan October 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm

I do not have any information on Agar Agar. By the way, you can find truly raw cashews (from Navitas Naturals) and raw agave if you look. Cheers!

LauraT October 11, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Really? I thought all agave and cashews needed to be heat processed! Great to know. Thanks for the info.

Gena October 12, 2012 at 6:38 am

Thanks, Susan. I had seen Dr. Tobacman’s study on PubMed and was concerned, but was hoping there might be additional information published soon (i.e., dosage? is there a difference in the human body between Irish moss carrageenan and industrially produced?). Your going directly to her seems to have cleared that up. I’m very, very loathe to get alarmist about any health ingredient — indeed, I’ve been using agave long after the AGAVE IS EVIL campaign — but this actually seems quite legit. I’m grateful for your post. xo

Dale October 12, 2012 at 7:38 am

Thanks for whatever alternative use you can come up with for the Irish Moss . . . as soon as I saw the Meyer Lemon tart recipe I went to Amazon and purchased the pan and the Irish Moss, so I’m looking forward to whatever you can suggest on using the Irish Moss!

Suzanne October 12, 2012 at 9:38 am

Good to know – I haven’t seen this info anywhere else yet. I bought some Irish Moss 2 years ago to experiment with when I first went raw, and never got around to it. I felt a little guilty every time I saw it sitting there in the back of the fridge ($20 wasted). So now I feel a lot better! Looking forward to finding out how to use it up in facial masks or any other external use. I wonder if there is some way to make a natural hair styling gel with it?

Susan October 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I will be using it for facials. Look for a recipe next week. Cheers!

Gabby @ the veggie nook October 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm

This is a great post! I always resisted using Irish Moss in my recipes, mostly due to the cost, but not I’m glad I never got used to having it around! I’m really glad I make my own almond milk and avoid most of the other processed foods it’s found in! While I still might consume some of the foods that contains it occasionally, I am going to make sure it doesn’t make it’s way into my kitchen in the form of irish moss! Thanks for the info!!

Susan October 12, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Gena, I completely agree with you. I am so careful, especially when people just go off on something because some one said ____ (fill in the blank). But when the information starts to come from very trusted sources, you have to pay attention and start to dig.

By the way, I also still use agave (a good one) because I think so much of the controversy over it was disproved or at least not applicable to many of the good, consciously produced agaves out there.

Kevin Gianni October 12, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Susan,

I don’t see the whole Irish moss studies on Pubmed. Do you have links to them?

You can email me at the address you see in the admin :-)

Thanks!
Kev

Susan October 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

I don’t know if she has any specific published studies on whole Irish Moss. This was from a conversation I had with her when I specifically asked about whole Irish Moss. She stated that they had tested it, it caused inflammation and she would not recommend ingesting it. You can see her direct quote in the post.

Kevin, I would suggest contacting Dr. Tobacman. She is not difficult to get a hold of and very responsive.

Ida October 12, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Elaina Love had a great article on Irish Moss and Carageenan today. Please check it out to see what it says.

Judy October 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Here’s a link to Elaina Love’s article:

http://elainalove.com/2012/10/13/the-buzz-about-irish-moss/

Susan October 12, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Ida, thank you for pointing that out. But since I have communicated directly with Dr, Tobacman, and she has advised against the consumption of Irish Moss (see above) I will no longer be using Irish Moss in any recipes on this site, or consuming the product myself.

Inflammation is one of our worst enemies. And if Irish Moss (in it’s whole form) causes inflammation, it is off my list, period.

Paul B October 13, 2012 at 9:59 am

Susan,

I understand what you are saying. I am going to look at your data and see if I can find the articles you are referring to. I could not find anything on Irish Moss in Pub Med. As with all things, I would look at Dr. Tobacan’s data with other data to try and assess the weight of the evidence. And of course respect your decision to discontinue its use.

Paul

Paul B October 13, 2012 at 10:15 am

Just read the Elaina Love article and Harlan’s comment below it. The fact that carageenan is extracted from Irish Moss using strong alkali solvents makes me suspicious of indicting the whole food, Irish Moss. I can think of many examples of extracts or processed foods that cause problems not inherent in the whole food. Isolated soy protein is one. It raises insulin-like growth factor 1 or IGF-1 where edameme does not. Or flaxseed oil has been implicated in prostate cancer risk for men whereas the whole seed with its fiber and lignans have not. There may be protective factor and fiber in whole Irish Moss not in the carageenan and of course no solvent residues. I think each person needs to look at the data for themselves and decide based on all the information.

Susan October 13, 2012 at 10:50 am

Paul, I understand what you are saying. I am not an alarmist. Read this blog and you will find that I choose to take a very common sense approach to raw food. That is why I went directly to Dr. Tobacman and asked about WHOLE Irish Moss. I quoted her response above. While it is true that isolates can be more dangerous in soy, soy is not Irish Moss. And whole Irish Moss has demonstrated inflammation causation properties. If the top researcher (who obviously cares about people’s health due to the nature of her work) says don’t eat it, I am listening.

Ann October 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Paul B, You are misinformed about soy in its whole form, it is very unhealthy! Read Dr. Mercola’s articles about soy. Soy has to be FERMENTED to be safe to eat and even then eaten only in very small amounts (tempeh, miso and natto are the only healthy forms of soy).

sunny October 14, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Thanks for your heads up and for going to the source.

Guys Irish Moss is unhealthy for several reasons. It comes from the sea which is now very polluted with Industrial and Medical waste and radiation.

Since the Tsunami the radiation fallout has been down played but it is in the fish and seafood.
It has spread to California and beyond http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46932480/ns/technology_and_science-science/t/fukushima-radiation-headed-across-pacific-ocean/#.UHrxNLRgPFI In Florida the medical waste washes up onshore regularly.

The oil spill on the gulf coast has not been stopped. It is still spilling oil and the currents have moved the toxins and even deadlier chemicals dispersants around the world. There is no safe food coming from the sea at this time in my opinion.
Agar agar comes from the sea.
http://www.fishchannel.com/fish-news/2012/04/20/deformed-fish-turning-up-in-gulf-of-mexico.aspx
I have first hand reports the whales and dolphins are going blind because of the contamination of the oceans.

Soy: All soy has to be considered contaminated with GMO’s especially in the USA.
Isn’t it amazing that soy touted as a main reason women in China did not get breast cancer .. (nor do they even have a word for hot flashes in their culture) now is not recommended for women experiencing breast cancer.
There are more allergies to soy than ever before on this planet now that it is man made and not nature made.
Fermentation of soy changes the chemical structure to be enzymatically more available to the body but if it is GMO it is still poison to our cells.

As a physician I see first hand what the tampering of our food has done on the body. A seven year old is about to start her period her breasts developed at 6 years old. Yes she was fed a high diet of dairy and chicken and beef. She practically lived off of chicken nuggets (fried) and milk drinking 6-8 glasses a day.

Agave: Look for “Raw ” blue agave from Mexico that is dark amber in color. Wholesome foods sells one that I can find in Publix and health foods stores. If agave is light amber or honey colored or does not say “RAW” it is heat treated and the body reacts to it the same way as it does High Fructose Corn Syrup.

By the way they changed the name HFCS to corn sugar now to avoid the bad press. The name change has not been approved but they are insisting on going forward with their campaign to convince us that it is safe. Have you see the commercials asking what’s wrong with corn? Don’t just yell at the TV tell your legislators you demand labeling of our food.

With the cross pollination all corn in North America has to be considered GMO. Corn in Mexico has been cross pollinated and contaminated now. They are a main supplier to the US and Canada.

BTW do not buy Vitamin C made in the USA it is made from GMO contaminated corn.
Xylitol originally made from birch which tested with great reviews is now made with corn so beware. Please research how they are changing our food to support Monsanto and Roundup products. We desire every state to demand labeling laws like California is doing now.

I too do not feel that just because someone raises a flag about the dangers of fill in the blank that we should buy into it. When you hear of these reports look to see who sponsored the study. Could they have an ulterior motive or invested interest in the outcome? How long was the study done? How was the study conducted? Who is publishing the reports?

I do not take anyone (including Dr. Mercola’s site) for face value all the time. Mercola gives the references and I follow-up and read them in whole. Beware of the headline and top 7-8 paragraphs the meat of the study is usually buried towards the end and may conflict with the headline.
Most doctors only skim the headline and first few paragraphs which is why they get away with so many misleading facts.

It is time for us to take control of our foods. It is wrong to let greedy corporations like Monsanto destroy our world.

Sheleana @ YoungandRaw.com October 14, 2012 at 7:15 pm

For anyone concerned about Irish Moss, it’s unprocessed state is perfectly safe and healthy. I highly recommend you read this article to learn the difference before removing it from your foods.

“Carrageenan is extracted from red seaweed by powerful chemical alkali solvents – capable of removing skin as quick as any acid. It’s used for food thickening and its fat and gelatin qualities. In its natural state it’s healthy; in its processed state, it’s highly antagonistic to humans. It’s the vegetarian equivalent of casein – protein isolated from milk to thicken foods. Carrageenan is the magic ingredient used to de-ice frozen airplanes sitting on tarmacs…oh great, and we’re ingesting this stuff!… If you don’t believe a food additive is also an aircraft de-icer, check out the “official” explanation for de-icing aircraft by US Patent Office website here.”

Susan October 14, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Sheleana, with all due respect to Elaina, she commented on one article that was published by Dr. Tobacman. Dr. Tobacman has published numerous articles and researched Irish Moss and carrageenan for over a decade. I communicated directly with Dr. Tobacman and she stated that they have tested Irish Moss and found it to be inflammatory and she would not recommend eating it. I did not approach this subject lightly. I do not agree that it is safe or healthy in it’s unprocessed state.

Paul B October 15, 2012 at 8:44 am

Susan,

I think we can agree to disagree though I’m open to the evidence whichever way it lies. I respect Dr. Tobacman. However, several of the things Harlan raised about her study in the Elaina Love article give me pause. And in general, no matter how good a single researcher is, it is the weight of evidence in total that should guide health decisions. Often studies are conflicting and this very true in the field of nutrition. I will spend some time looking if I can at Dr. Tobacman’s research if it is published. I prefer to read the study or abstract in its entirety if possible.

@Ann, agree to disagree. I think edameme and tofu are fine. Studies have shown women who eat whole soy products or minimally processed ones do better with breast cancer than those who do not. see http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/soy_wth#bc I like Jack’s summary a lot.

@Sunny, my understanding is that Irish Moss is harvested in the Atlantic rather than the Gulf or the Pacific where the sources of contamination you site occured. Even if it were harvested in the same water body, you would still need more in term of evidence of contamination.

Nobody agrees on everything. And Susan still makes the best raw recipes I have ever tried. :) My main concern on the Irish Moss is that there is no corroborative evidence that I can find that Irish Moss in its whole form is inflammatory and Dr. Tobacman’s study on whole food Irish Moss is unpublished and not peer reviewed.

Dr. Tobacman herself stipulates it’s less inflammatory than carrageenan due perhaps to other protective factors in the seaweed. My point. I guess the other point is that many whole foods we use can be potentially inflammatory provided they have the right Omega 6 fatty acids. Many nuts and seed or grains (sprouted) can be inflammatory but offer other benefits. And the inflammatory effect is managed by raw fruits and vegetables and nuts with a good omega 3/6 ratio. If there were credible risks of irish moss with colorectal cancer, I would feel differently. But testing for inflammation is pretty easy. And if Irish moss is incorporated with other ingredients, many of them anti-inflammatory, then I see a different picture. Again, agree to disagree. I think Harlan’s point’s on Elaina Love’s site swayed me on this one.

Paul

Sarah October 15, 2012 at 10:47 am

Thanks so much for this interesting post! I’ve never been a big irish moss person, but I do get smoothies with it at the local juice place sometimes. Yummy, but not necessary–it seems like if it’s possible for something to cause inflammation, it’s DEFINITELY going to cause it in me!

I have a question, though–have you looked into the problems caused by nightshade veggies? My understanding is that not everyone is sensitive to them, but if you are it can cause inflammation, joint pain, etc. I am starting a really strict elimination diet today (no nightshades and no seeds/nuts of any kind) to see if it helps me with some chronic pain and fatigue issues. However, even if I find that nightshades are a problem for me, I don’t know that I would recommend that everyone cut them out completely because tomatoes, eggplants, etc. do have plenty of health benefits. I wonder if Irish Moss is the same–some people are more sensitive to it than others…

pattie lacefield October 16, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Hello Susan,

So greatly appreciate you contibution and research on this product.
Thank you kindly, pattie :)

amber October 16, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Yes, yes, yes! This is very true. I have Crohn’s disease and stay far away from this stuff. A few years ago I read a study linking flares to carageenan. Yikes!

Thanks for his great post.

Be Well,
–Amber

rose October 18, 2012 at 3:45 am

what about Dulse? Dulse is a red seaweed the same as Irish moss. There are aricles on the internet about Dulse containing carrageenan the same as Irish moss but there seems to be zero danger reports on Dulse. Does anyone know anything on this please?

Rose

Susan October 18, 2012 at 11:19 am

I have no information on Dulse.

My Recession Kitchen October 22, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Thanks for posting this, a very thought provoking discussion!

Karielyn November 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Thanks for the great article!

I know exactly how you feel…I had to break ties with my coconut milk because of concerns with carrageenan.

In fact, pretty much all boxed non-dairy milk has it added (hemp, almond, soy, coconut, rice). I guess it’s good I found out though, because now I have been making my own homemade almond milk and have never been happier!

Susan November 1, 2012 at 2:22 pm

There is a great link in the post that gives you many options for non-dairy milks, etc. that don’t have it in them. Cheers!!

Janel November 3, 2012 at 12:29 am

Susan,

Thank you for this information. I have been giving my toddler almond milk the last year, believing it was a better alternative to animal milk. I checked the brand I’d been using (Organic Pacific) and found carrageenan listed. So frustrating!!! I hope it hasn’t caused her any problems. Thank you for the shopping list, I have been able to find a brand without the ingredient. note: since reading this article, I realized Tom’s toothpaste has carrageenan listed in ingredients.

Sara November 14, 2012 at 5:38 am

I am so glad it can be used a face mask! My skin has never looked better and I would be devastated if I could not use it on my skin.

Julia November 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I mean no offense here, but one person’s opinion (doctor or not, it’s still an opinion) re: the inflammatory effects of Irish Moss in it’s whole form, without any cited scientific backup (I looked at the posted studies on carrageenan, but saw none for Irish Moss specifically), should not lead us to foregone conclusions. There are so many factors that come into play, including the methodology for testing the Irish Moss, the variables controlled for, etc…….it’s also important to find out if other researchers corroborate the conclusions. There are too many factors involved in the process of inflammation to rely on one study as the basis for a conclusion.
It makes sense that carrageenan, a highly processed extract, would cause problems, and the studies seem to back that up……but there are many instances where the extracted, processed elements of a food, e.g., hydrogenated oils from seeds, powdered fructose or high fructose corn syrup, etc., are detrimental to human health, while the original food source is not.

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