It all started with sushi. But edible seaweeds are now finding their way onto dinner plates all over the world. Sea kelp or simply kelp is one such seaweed that’s widely used in cooking–they are easy to cook, easily available and are known to be extremely nutritious.
Versatile with an umami flavor, kelp is a brown alga. Mostly held responsible for the longevity of the Japanese, these sea greens are storehouses of minerals like iodine and calcium and micronutrients like vitamin B12, C and E, apart from amino acids, fatty acids and antioxidant carotenoids.1
But what sets these brown algae like kelp truly apart is the presence of a pigment called fucoxanthin (responsible for their brown shade) that dominates other pigments like chlorophyll and carotenoids.2 Fucoxanthin is found to exhibit health properties like antioxidant activity, anti-obesity as well as anti-cancer properties.3
Another compound in brown algae, fucoidan, extracted extensively to create health supplements, is also known for its anti-cancer properties.4
Health Benefits Of Kelp
Here’s a detailed look at the benefits of having kelp:
1. Healthy Iodine Source
Thriving on seabeds, it is no surprise that kelp is a storehouse of iodine. Thyroid glands need a regular supply of iodine for smooth functioning. Lack of thyroid hormones leads to hypothyroidism which is prevalent worldwide. Powdered kelp is prescribed as a remedy for hypothyroidism.5
Though goiter or the enlargement of thyroid glands is the most obvious symptom of thyroid deficiency, there are other thyroid deficiency disorders one needs to be aware of. These disorders are serious as they are found to affect brain function.6
Sea salt is the most easily available iodine source. Since sea salt comes with its own health issues and should be limited, natural iodine sources like kelp find prominence in healthy diets.7
2. Preferred In Cancer Treatments
The cancer-fighting properties of brown algae like kelp are something you can totally believe in because of the scientific evidence that supports it. Many studies have been done on its tumor annihilating effect with such amazing results that kelp is now a dietary necessity for cancer patients. These anti-tumor properties are largely thanks to the presence of fucoxanthin and fucoidan. A variety of cancers like lung cancer,8 colon and breast cancer,9 blood cancer,10 and prostate cancer 11 can be prevented as well as healed by including kelp in your diet.
3. Stay Slim With Kelp
If you are struggling to lose weight, kelp might come in handy. It has shown anti-obesity properties in the studies done. Fucoxanthin is again the hero here.12 The effect of fucoxanthin in fighting fat, however, is maximized by adding other elements like pomegranate oil to it.13
4. Fights Blood Disorders And Diabetes
The compound fucoidan present in brown algae like kelp is found to fight many blood disorders including blood pressure.14 It helps avoid blood clots15 and ischemic diseases.16
Seaweeds like kelp can control blood sugar level, lower blood lipids, and even reduce your risk for cardiovascular diseases related to diabetes.17
5. Works Against Inflammation And Bone Loss
Another health benefit of having kelp is its anti-inflammatory property.18 It is highly recommended to have foods that prevent inflammation to avoid many diseases including cancer. Here too fucoidan plays an important role.19 Apart from this property, having kelp as you age is very beneficial as it can prevent bone loss. It also increases bone density and bone ash weight.20
Are There Any Flip Sides To Having Kelp?
Yes, there are. Kelp is iodine rich which can lead to hyperthyroidism in people with normally functioning thyroid glands.21 While having kelp occasionally is fine, it is advised that people with no thyroid issues or hyperthyroidism as well as pregnant women stay away from supplementing their diet with kelp.
Toxicity is another major concern related to having seaweeds. If the water they are growing in is toxic, seaweeds can absorb toxic metals and pass it on to us. Depending on the toxicity of the water, it could be contaminated with toxins like arsenic, cadmium, lead, etc.22
Lastly, most seaweeds are edible but there are some that can create gastrointestinal issues due to the presence of carbohydrates that cannot be digested. Bull kelp and giant kelp are some of them.
In conclusion, kelp is a highly beneficial food but choose them wisely to enjoy them fully.
|↑1||Burtin, Patricia. “Nutritional value of seaweeds.” Electronic journal of Environmental, Agricultural and Food chemistry 2, no. 4 (2003): 498-503.|
|↑2||Phaeophyceae: Brown Algae. Seaweed.ie.|
|↑3||Mikami, Koji, and Masashi Hosokawa. “Biosynthetic pathway and health benefits of fucoxanthin, an algae-specific xanthophyll in brown seaweeds.” International journal of molecular sciences 14, no. 7 (2013): 13763-13781.|
|↑4||Atashrazm, Farzaneh, Ray M. Lowenthal, Gregory M. Woods, Adele F. Holloway, and Joanne L. Dickinson. “Fucoidan and cancer: A multifunctional molecule with anti-tumor potential.” Marine drugs 13, no. 4 (2015): 2327-2346.|
|↑5||Takeuchi, Takako, Hotaka Kamasaki, Tomoyuki Hotsubo, and Hiroyuki Tsutsumi. “Treatment of hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency using daily powdered kelp in patients receiving long-term total enteral nutrition.” Clinical Pediatric Endocrinology 20, no. 3 (2011): 51-55.|
|↑6||Dunn, JOHN T. “Seven deadly sins in confronting endemic iodine deficiency, and how to avoid them.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 81, no. 4 (1996): 1332-1335.|
|↑7||Szybinski, Zbigniew, Mirosław Jarosz, Alicja Hubalewska-Dydejczyk, Krystyna Stolarz-Skrzypek, Kalina Kawecka-Jaszcz, Iwona Traczyk, and Katarzyna Stos. “Iodine-deficiency prophylaxis and the restriction of salt consumption-a 21st century challenge.” Endokrynol Pol 61, no. 1 (2010): 135-140.|
|↑8||Lee, Hyunkyoung, Jong-Shu Kim, and Euikyung Kim. “Fucoidan from seaweed Fucus vesiculosus inhibits migration and invasion of human lung cancer cell via PI3K-Akt-mTOR pathways.” PloS one 7, no. 11 (2012): e50624.|
|↑9||Moussavou, Ghislain, Dong Hoon Kwak, Brice Wilfried Obiang-Obonou, Cyr Abel Ogandaga Maranguy, Sylvatrie-Danne Dinzouna-Boutamba, Dae Hoon Lee, Ordelia Gwenaelle Manvoudou Pissibanganga, Kisung Ko, Jae In Seo, and Young Kug Choo. “Anticancer effects of different seaweeds on human colon and breast cancers.” Marine drugs 12, no. 9 (2014): 4898-4911.|
|↑10||Atashrazm, Farzaneh, Ray M. Lowenthal, Gregory M. Woods, Adele F. Holloway, Samuel S. Karpiniec, and Joanne L. Dickinson. “Fucoidan suppresses the growth of human acute promyelocytic leukemia cells in vitro and in vivo.” Journal of cellular physiology 231, no. 3 (2016): 688-697.|
|↑11||Farooqi, Ammad Ahmad, Ghazala Butt, and Zubia Razzaq. “Algae extracts and methyl jasmonate anti-cancer activities in prostate cancer: choreographers of ‘the dance macabre’.” Cancer cell international 12, no. 1 (2012): 50.|
|↑12||Maeda, Hayato, Masashi Hosokawa, Tokutake Sashima, Katsura Funayama, and Kazuo Miyashita. “Fucoxanthin from edible seaweed, Undaria pinnatifida, shows antiobesity effect through UCP1 expression in white adipose tissues.” Biochemical and biophysical research communications 332, no. 2 (2005): 392-397.|
|↑13||Abidov, M., Z. Ramazanov, R. Seifulla, and S. Grachev. “The effects of Xanthigen™ in the weight management of obese premenopausal women with non‐alcoholic fatty liver disease and normal liver fat.” Diabetes, obesity and metabolism 12, no. 1 (2010): 72-81.|
|↑15||Zhao, Xue, Fengjun Guo, Jing Hu, Lijuan Zhang, Changhu Xue, Zhaohui Zhang, and Bafang Li. “Antithrombotic activity of oral administered low molecular weight fucoidan from Laminaria Japonica.” Thrombosis research 144 (2016): 46-52.|
|↑16||Han, Yong-seok, Jun Hee Lee, Jin Sup Jung, Hyunjin Noh, Moo Jun Baek, Jung Min Ryu, Yeo Min Yoon, Ho Jae Han, and Sang Hun Lee. “Fucoidan protects mesenchymal stem cells against oxidative stress and enhances vascular regeneration in a murine hindlimb ischemia model.” International journal of cardiology 198 (2015): 187-195.|
|↑17||Kim, Min Sun, Jung Yun Kim, Woong Hwan Choi, and Sang Sun Lee. “Effects of seaweed supplementation on blood glucose concentration, lipid profile, and antioxidant enzyme activities in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.” Nutrition research and practice 2, no. 2 (2008): 62-67.|
|↑18||Jung, Hyun Ah, Seong Eun Jin, Bo Ra Ahn, Chan Mi Lee, and Jae Sue Choi. “Anti-inflammatory activity of edible brown alga Eisenia bicyclis and its constituents fucosterol and phlorotannins in LPS-stimulated RAW264. 7 macrophages.” Food and chemical toxicology 59 (2013): 199-206.|
|↑19||Yokota, Takashi, Koichi Nomura, Mikio Nagashima, and Naomi Kamimura. “Fucoidan alleviates high-fat diet-induced dyslipidemia and atherosclerosis in ApoE shl mice deficient in apolipoprotein E expression.” The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 32 (2016): 46-54.|
|↑20||Hwang, Pai-An, Yu-Lan Hung, Nam Nhut Phan, Po-Ming Chang, Kuan-Lun Li, and Yen-Chang Lin. “The in vitro and in vivo effects of the low molecular weight fucoidan on the bone osteogenic differentiation properties.” Cytotechnology 68, no. 4 (2016): 1349-1359.|
|↑21||Shilo, Shmuel, and Harry J. Hirsch. “Iodine-induced hyperthyroidism in a patient with a normal thyroid gland.” Postgrad Med J 62, no. 729 (1986): 661-2.|
|↑22||Desideri, D., C. Cantaluppi, F. Ceccotto, M. A. Meli, C. Roselli, and L. Feduzi. “Essential and toxic elements in seaweeds for human consumption.” Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A 79, no. 3 (2016): 112-122.|