All-natural toothpastes may contain harmful add-in
In recent years, Americans in general have become obsessed with the idea of all-natural products. A "Green Beauty Barometer" survey from August 2015 found that 54 percent of women prefer skin care products that are all-natural. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll from 2014 noted that 45 percent of Americans seek out organic foods almost exclusively. This all-natural commitment, born out of a growing sense of environmental awareness and an interest in sustainability, has also extended to toothpaste. The marketplace is now full of all-natural toothpastes, which promise to prevent bad breath and harmful plaque buildup with safe ingredients like zinc oxide and green tea extract. But did you also know that many of these toothpastes contain an ingredient that can do more harm than good?
"Carrageenan is derived from seaweed and used as a processing agent."
The ingredient in question is an organic add-in called carrageenan. Not only is it put in many organic toothpastes, but it was first utilized in everything from soups and commercial broths to most dairy products (ice cream, soy milk, chocolate, etc.). Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed and is purported to have a number of different advantages, including as a thickening agent and giving certain low-fat foods much more natural flavor.
The scourge of carrageenan
If this add-in has so many uses and comes from a seemingly natural source, you're probably wondering what kind of negative effects carrageenan can have. The Cornucopia Institute is an organic watchdog group, and in recent years carrageenan has been of special interest to its lobbying. In the group's own April 2016 report, it revealed a startling conclusion held by over 3,500 studies from across the scientific community: Carrageenan is bad for you.
Once ingested, carrageenan can wreak havoc on the digestive system, causing an inflammatory reaction that many doctors have compared to the invasion of Salmonella bacteria. On the milder end, carrageenan has been linked to gastrointestinal pain called belly bloat. In more extreme instances, it's caused people to develop irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Carrageenan has also been linked to intestinal lesions and even colon cancer (though the latter was in more animal cases).
A matter of degradation
While many foods contain carrageenan, the Food and Drug Administration and several other regulatory agencies outlawed the presence of degrade carrageenan in foods. Poligeenan occurs when carrageenan is processed by acid as opposed to alkali and is frequently used by research scientists to induce inflammation in lab rats for researching drugs to treat ailments like ulcerative colitis. Many scientists believe that the human stomach might "degrade" the seemingly healthy carrageenan, turning it into a stomach-destroying carcinogen.
"Carrageenan has been linked to ulcerative colitis and colon cancer."
No new problems
Even though the negative effects of carrageenan are only just recently being discovered by the public, the issues with these add-in have a long and storied history. One review in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that there have been complaints about carrageenan since the mid-1960s. In fact, in 1972, the FDA held an investigation into the use of carrageenan and considered greatly lowering the recommended use in most products. But when that resolution failed to gain traction, the FDA dropped its case, and the use of carrageenan continues to this day.
Keep yourself safe
The only way to entirely avoid the myriad of health effects associated with carrageenan is to never buy oral care or food products that contain the agent. However, that is not always as easy as it sounds. Many manufacturers may utilize carrageenan without listing it on the ingredients, often just citing something like "processing aid." If ever you're unsure, just call the company up (the number is almost always on the label) and ask about carrageenan use specifically. There are plenty of great all-natural toothpaste brands available, but it's important to read the labels beforehand and do your research. Otherwise, plaque or bad breath may be the least of your concerns.