The Health Benefits of Seaweed
What is Seaweed?
Seaweed, also called marine macroalgae (yes, it’s algae), is a plant-like organism typically found in the ocean, although some types can be found in fresh water. But not all seaweed is edible.
It can be used for many different things such as cosmetics, toothpaste, fertilizer, compost for landscaping, bioethanol and even paints. In fact, rotting seaweed produces large amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic gas that can cause nausea and vomiting.
Edible seaweed is used as food or for medicinal / herbal treatments and is divided into 3 different groups based on its color: red, green and brown. However, there are several varieties of seaweed. Probably the most well-known variety is kelp, also called Kombu (Saccharina japonica). Other common varieties include:
- Nori (various species of the red algae Porphyra)
- Dulse (Palmaria palmate)
- Arame(Eisenia bicyclis)
- Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida)
- Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus)
- Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima)
- Sea Grapes, also called sea caviar (Caulerpa lentillifera)
Seaweed the Superfood
Because seaweed is found in the ocean, it is permeated by the essential and trace minerals found in sea water.
It has about ten times more calcium than cow’s milk and is almost identical in chemical composition to human blood plasma. Because of this, seaweed has the ability to alkalize our blood neutralizing the acidity caused by the consumption of animal products.
Seaweed also has a very high concentration of iodine, which is a trace element known to stimulate the thyroid gland. The thyroid is responsible for maintaining the body’s metabolism and aids in weight loss.
Iodine deficiency can lead to goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland that causes swelling of the neck and can lead to hypothyroidism, which can cause fatigue, weight gain and depression. Kelp is the most iodine-rich sea vegetable.
Kelp is the most abundant of the seaweeds and contains xylose, an essential sugar (polysaccharide) that is antibacterial, antifungal and helps prevent colon cancer. It also contains another essential sugar called fucose (not fructose), an antiviral that also supports long – term memory, and fights allergies.
Fucose also protects the lungs and can help alleviate cystic fibrosis, diabetes, cancer and herpes. Interestingly, research has failed to find these polysaccharides in the North American diet; however, it is quite plentiful in the Japanese diet, which has a high content of seaweed.
Kelp is also a rich source of several other vitamins and minerals including:
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Dietary Fiber
- Glutamic Acid
Glutamic acid is responsible for a flavor the Japanese refer to as umami. It is one of the six basic tastes our tongue can sense (sweet, salty, bitter, sour and metallic). Umami is difficult to describe; however, a good example of a food high in umami is tomatoes.
Health Benefits of Eating Seaweed
As stated previously, seaweed is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals because of the constant bombardment of sea water to which it is subjected. It can be used to help prevent a number of different degenerative diseases including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
In fact, cultures that consume large amounts of seaweed (such as Japan and Korea) have a population with very few instances of these diseases.
One of the most coveted health benefits offered by seaweed is prevention of cancer. Lignans are the source of seaweed’s cancer fighting properties. They are polyphenolic structures and are derived from phenylalanine, an essential amino acid. Lignans are phytoestrogens that actively prevent angiogenesis (blood cell growth) by acting like antioxidants. This cuts off blood flow to would-be tumors. Lignans also prevent cancer from metastasizing.
Seaweed is also effective against stress and depression. It is a natural source of the B vitamins pyridoxine (B6) and pantothenic acid (B5). These are the energy vitamins; they keep the adrenal glands from becoming exhausted during times of stress. Without B vitamins, we become fatigued and we don't think as clearly.
Seaweed protects against heart disease as well. Because of its high content of folic acid and magnesium, seaweed has been shown to prevent myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Other Medicinal Uses of Seaweed
Although not technically medicinal, seaweed has a large role in microbiology. Agar, the primary medium for growing cultures is made from seaweed.
Seaweed may be beneficial when used against tuberculosis, worm infestations, arthritis, and influenza. It is also used as an ingredient in some diet pills since it has a “filling” effect on the stomach. In Japan, Nori (the seaweed wrapped around sushi) is thought to be a remedy for radiation poisoning.
How Much Seaweed is Too Much
As with anything, too much of a good thing can be bad. This applies to superfoods as well. The table below shows the dosages of seaweed for specific medical conditions that have been tested in clinical trials. You should always talk with your doctor before starting any new herbal supplement.
Seaweed Treatment Dosage
5 g per day (powder)
12 g per day
4 to 6 g dried seaweed daily for 2 months
Effects on Estrogen
5 g per day for 7 weeks
2,400 mg a day as a mineral supplement for 12 weeks
How to Eat Seaweed
Depending on the type of seaweed used, it can be added to just about anything. For example, spirulina usually comes in a powder. I have a wonderful recipe for Spirulina – and – Chocolate Balls that I found in a book by David Wolfe called Superfoods.
But seaweed can be used in salads, salad dressings, soups, sushi, guacamole, salsa, cookies and my personal favorite: Smoothies!! Experiment with it and find your favorite way to use it.
© Copyright 2012 -2015 by Melissa "Daughter of Maat" Flagg ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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