The Role of Carrageenan in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and Allergic Reactions: Where Do We Stand?

Nutrients. 2021 Sep 27;13(10):3402. doi: 10.3390/nu13103402.


Carrageenan (CGN) is a high molecular weight polysaccharide extracted from red seaweeds, composed of D-galactose residues linked in β-1,4 and α-1,3 galactose-galactose bond, widely used as a food additive in processed foods for its properties as a thickener, gelling agent, emulsifier, and stabilizer. In recent years, with the spread of the Western diet (WD), its consumption has increased. Nonetheless, there is a debate on its safety. CGN is extensively used as an inflammatory and adjuvant agent in vitro and in animal experimental models for the investigation of immune processes or to assess the activity of anti-inflammatory drugs. CGN can activate the innate immune pathways of inflammation, alter the gut microbiota composition and the thickness of the mucus barrier. Clinical evidence suggests that CGN is involved in the pathogenesis and clinical management of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), indeed food-exclusion diets can be an effective therapy for disease remission. Moreover, specific IgE to the oligosaccharide α-Gal has been associated with allergic reactions commonly referred to as the "α-Gal syndrome". This review aims to discuss the role of carrageenan in inflammatory bowel diseases and allergic reactions following the current evidence. Furthermore, as no definitive data are available on the safety and the effects of CGN, we suggest gaps to be filled and advise to limit the human exposure to CGN by reducing the consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Keywords: allergic reactions; carrageenan; dietary pattern; gut microbiota; inflammation; inflammatory bowel diseases; processed foods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrageenan / adverse effects*
  • Carrageenan / immunology
  • Diet*
  • Food Additives / adverse effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / etiology*
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Inflammation
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / etiology*


  • Food Additives
  • Carrageenan