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Ask Oz and Roizen: Carrageenan Food Additive and PSA Screenings

Ask Oz and Roizen: Carrageenan Food Additive and PSA Screenings

See what the experts have to say on these important health topics.

Q: I heard carrageenan, a food additive used to thicken foods like yogurt, non-dairy milks and ice cream, doesn’t have any nutritional value and may be harmful. Why is it allowed into foods?  Frank F., Garden City, NY

A: Interestingly, carrageenan is made from Irish moss and other red seaweeds and was used in cooking and medicines in Ireland long before it was imported to the coastal areas of New England. Today, however, it’s a highly-processed food additive with no medicinal or nutritional value. It’s approved by the FDA and is used as an emulsifier in foods like yogurt and ice cream as well as nut milks (almond and coconut), rice milk, soy milk, processed deli meats, vegan cheeses and non-dairy desserts.

The National Organic Standards board removed carrageenan from its approved ingredients list in 2016, but the US Department of Agriculture didn’t pay attention to their own advisors’ 10-to-three vote recommending that it be banned from organic foods. They also didn’t pay attention to the organic purists at The Cornucopia Institute who published the report, Carrageenan: How a “Natural” Food Additive is Making Us Sick.

Much of the science behind the condemnation of the use of carrageenan is based on the work of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, who published multiple peer-reviewed studies (following up on studies from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s that linked food-grade carrageenan to higher rates of digestive diseases in lab animals). Her research found that exposure to carrageenan causes harmful inflammation throughout your body, not just your gut, and she lobbied for years to have it banned. We know if inflammation becomes chronic it can lead to arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, glucose intolerance, colon cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

So, be sure to read your labels! Seaweeds like nori are packed with nutrients but avoid carrageenan since it has no nutritional value and may contribute to the assault on your health from processed and additive-laced foods.

Q: I’m 55 and I had my first PSA test. My doc said it was a bit high, so he’s sending me to a specialist. Don’t PSA tests cause a lot of over-diagnosis of prostate cancer, which leads to unneeded surgery? Greg H., Duluth, MN

A: There’s been a lot of discussion lately about when, or even if, men should have a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. However, there’s a lot more we can do to accurately diagnose and appropriately treat prostate cancer than we could in the past, when unnecessary and potentially life-altering surgeries (incontinence and impotence were risks) were all too common.

We now know, for example, that you can have a high PSA test score—above 3ng/ml—and not have prostate cancer. Or you can have a lower PSA test score and have cancer. There’s no one-size-fits-all diagnosis.

Greg, that’s why your next step is to have a digital rectal exam if you haven’t had one and possibly an MRI. If the doc sees something, then you may get a biopsy so you can determine your Gleason score—a grading system that determines the aggressiveness of prostate cancer. Or you may be advised to actively wait and watch.

A recently published trial of 20,000 men used a screening program that established a baseline PSA reading at age 50 and then monitored each guy every two years for more than 20 years. The Swedish research team reports the result was a 30 percent reduction in prostate cancer deaths.

Their approach was effective, they say, because it allowed researchers to identify suspicious rises in PSA levels. The researchers then recommended biopsies if your PSA is greater than 3ng/ml, and possible treatment if your Gleason score is greater than 7.

So, guys, talk to your docs about adopting this controlled monitoring of your PSA over time so you can follow-up with effective, safe treatment as soon as there is an indication of a potential problem.

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