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Ensure, Abbot Labs and The Carrageenan Conspiracy


A recent report, issued by the Cornucopia Institute clearly illustrates the marry-go-round of staff and how so many questionable processed food ingredients have been deemed okay in foods labelled "organic". They're calling it the Organic Watergate and at the centre of it is one of my most despised additives: carrageenan.

Degraded carrageenan can be found in all kinds of "organic" foods (like almond milk to your soy yogurt to your dairy free ice cream) along with medical meal replacements like Ensure.  I have long argued in favour of the benefit of Irish Moss- the whole and health promoting food- of which carrageenan is thought to be derived. I would argue, however, that the thickening agent that is carrageenan and found in our thickened liquids is far from natural. Irish Moss and carrageenan are not the same thing. A bit like comparing raw sheep milk cheese with cheese whiz, or strawberries with strawberry Jell-O.

The politics around carrageenan begin on page 11 of this document, but I will summarize right here for you:

  • Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed.
  • Carrageenan can be classified as low molecular weight, “degraded” carrageenan, or high molecular weight, or “undegraded” carrageenan.
  • Degraded carrageenan is recognized as a carcinogen in lab animals, and is therefore classified as a “possible human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  • Degraded carrageenan also causes inflammation in the colon in rodents, which resembles ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.
  • This inflammatory property of degraded carrageenan is not in dispute, especially since the medical research community has used degraded carrageenan for decades to induce acute inflammation in experimental trials conducted with lab animals, to test anti- inflammation drugs.
  • Carrageenan processors claim that food-grade carrageenan sold to food processors falls entirely in the undegraded category. However, studies (including industry-funded studies) show that food-grade carrageenan is also linked to colon inflammation and colon cancer in animals.

You read that correctly. Whether degraded or non-degraded, "food-grade" processed carrageenan sold to food processors has been a known human carcinogen and proven to induce intestinal inflammation.

(Getting worked up? Share this story!)

What, you may be wondering, does this have to do with every doctor and dietician's favourite dietary replacement beverage Ensure? Or why Abbot actually  promotes Ensure as an aid for digestive tract health. Both good questions.

As I mentioned, Ensure along with many doctor recommended meal replacements, contains carrageenan. And who is told to take this? Yes- people suffering from conditions of wasting- including patients post chemo/radiation and people recovering from intestinal surgeries due to inflammatory bowel disease. The reality is that they are recommending a food that contains an additive that is directly linked to the very diseases for which they are suffering.

Consider this: Ensure, containing pro-intestinal-inflammatory carrageenan, an ingredient proven to aggravate Crohn's and Colitis, is made by Abbot Laboratories. Abbot Laboratories is also the maker of Humira, a popular treatment for Crohn's and Colitis. Here's the kicker though- Abbot Lab's Ensure is also the bronze level sponsor of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada (CCFC).

Isn't that a perfect mix? Some might see this relationship as contradictory as having a cigarette company sponsor the search to cure lung cancer.

I have been attempting to schedule an interview with the CCFC regarding whether they believe there is a conflict of interest having major sponsors whose products could aggravate the conditions for which they are funding cures for, but so far, they have yet to be available.

We might also begin to ask why the Dieticians of Canada are recommending Ensure as a milk alternative for those who are lactose intolerant. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that along with Coca-Cola, PespsiCo, and Unilever, Abbot, makers of Ensure,  is also a an "Academy Partner" of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

It's not at all difficult to find this information and make these connections and they are certainly not limited to Ensure and Carageenan.

All any of has to do is start with the question and the connections become very clear very quickly. I hope that by next week I will have been able to get my interview with the CCFC to gain a better understanding of their relationship to this product. I don't know about you but I would love to see organizations, doctors and dieticians make recommendations based on facts and knowledge rather than sponsorship funds! (Share today's tweetable if you agree!)

Clear out the carageenan. The best thickener is fresh Irish moss anyway and this stuff actually heals. Too bad there's no way for pharma to patent it- otherwise the whole food that heals could actually be promoted to the sufferers of disease rather than alchemic potions that only make people worse.

For a more in depth look at the rest of the Ensure ingredients, check out our Superhero Josh Gitalis' post about it here.

30 Responses to “Ensure, Abbot Labs and The Carrageenan Conspiracy”

  1. yuck. ensure has always seriously given me the creeps and now even more so. I also dig aloe as a thickener for things.
    • C said…
      Ensure is a life saver for us and the only thing that has kept my child off of chemo drugs like remicade, etc. I only wish the ingredients were better :/ At the same time, he is completely dependent on their product. I can't see how it can aggravate Crohn's since so many with it are dependent on Ensure.
  2. Meg said…
    I'm so inspired by these posts where you call out big companies to give us answers. I've switched to making my own almond milk since I learned about carrageenan, and it's so easy i don't think i'll ever go back (there are almonds soaking on my counter right now)! Thanks for being awesome and standing up for the right that we all have to really know what's in our food (or "food"). Yay!
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Thank YOU Meg!
  3. cathy devos said…
    great research on this... a good read!
  4. Karen said…
    Hmmm....what an interesting post! A good reminder to be curious and unfortunately to always "follow the money".
  5. Kristina said…
    Hi Meghan, I am an oncology RN in the US at a very respected academic institution. Out dietitians hand this stuff out like candy. Most of my patients hate it, and the only way I can get these into them is to mix them with ice cream, which is loaded with HFCS. And other baddies. My question is, other than bringning my blendtec and a cart full of veggies to the hospital, is there another alternative I could suggest to my dietitians. I cringe every time I hand these out to my patients. I encourage homemade vegetable and fruit based smoothies to patients who have families who can provide them. Any super healing smoothie suggestions for oncology patients, specifically post chemo leukemics? Thanks! Keep up the good work!
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Some might argue that eating nothing is better than eating food that is depleting. A simple combination of hemp milk, coconut milk and coconut water could provide the calories that are in these drinks and the nutrients all from naturally occurring sources. Both are available free of carageenan. Vega and Essential Living Foods both have great "shake and go" smoothie mixes that would just need water and a sealable jar. Also- if they're mixing it with ice cream- than why not eat straight up GOOD ice cream like Coconut Bliss, or sheep milk yogurt. I suppose the first question you might want to ask your dieticians- is if Boost and Ensure were not options, what would you suggest?
  6. Maria Gagne said…
    Hello, Interesting article. Could you please comments on "Glucerna", meal replacement for diabetics? Thank you. mg
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      Good plan!
  7. peace said…
    Hi Meghan, This is an interesting post. I think it is very odd for Regulated Health Professionals to be promoting products based on biased information. That being said, the The American Dietetics Association recently changed their name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as part of their strategy to only allow Registered Dietitians to provide nutritional advice (they want the title "nutritionist" to be protected as well). They are attempting to pass legislation in the state of New York and if this passes, then the other States will follow. This would mean no more holistic nutritionists (unless they are RD's) and the end of natural medicine. As we know, we need real food to heal. I think the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is giving American RD's a bad name as not all RD's all support what the 'Academy' has to say. And yes, their sponsors have their hands in the Academy's pockets - and pay for their continuing education. I sincerely hope that Canada does not follow suit, otherwise we Canadians will be in big trouble like the Americans. American health will not improve if Big Pharma and Big Food continue to financially support the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/American Dietetics Association. This is highly irresponsible of their association to allow them to do so.
  8. [...] everything I ate were things I later learned were awful for my digestive tract. I sipped meal replacement drinks. I ate lots of soup (from a can), yogurt, sugary applesauce, mashed potatoes (yup, the white ones), [...]
  9. Meg said…
    Not just in Ensure, but also at least one of Abbott's Similac baby formulas.
  10. Melanie said…
    Hey Meghan, One of the lead doctors (Dr. Joanne Tobacman) behind this study was directly contacted about Irish Moss and she said they also tested that and it came up as being inflammatory as well...although less than carrageenan, but she recommends avoiding all forms of it. What do you think of that? I've never had pure Irish Moss before and I've dropped all my non-dairy milk brands that use carrageenan, but her reply is a little concerning. Thanks so much!
    • Meghan Telpner said…
      I won't touch anything with carageenan. I have been eating wild harvested irish moss almost daily for about three years. Having had inflammatory bowel disease, chronic constipation, psoriasis and a host of other inflammatory conditions in the past- I can honestly say that my experience with Irish Moss has been only positive. Of anyone I have sold it to in the last two years, no one has come back with anything but positive things to say about their experience. When it comes to food, and the way we prepare things and how we consume them, I often fall to the side of anecdotal success over scientific research. Labs can never reproduce exactly how the body responds.
      • Melanie said…
        Thank you for your reply. And I agree with you on that one! If anyone is a good testing ground for whether Irish Moss causes or further aggravates some of these conditions it would be you...with your past health history. You are a wonderful success story! Thanks for all you do Meghan!

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