For those unfamiliar with sea kelp, a quick dive into most documentaries on the ocean will quickly enlighten. Sea kelp are a type of seaweed, perhaps most easily recognizable as those dazzling, deep green tendrils that sway to and fro with the ocean tide. Whether you have eaten sushi wrapped in this oceanic wonder, or you are completely unfamiliar with the ins and outs of sea kelp, there is likely something more important you need to know about sea kelp and kelp supplements: their impact on health conditions and maintenance. What exactly is sea kelp, and why is it good for you?
What Is Sea Kelp?
There are different types of sea kelp, though perhaps the most easily recognizable type is giant kelp, or the enormous, tethered greens that sway in the ocean and provide a home for countless types of marine life. Sea kelp does not only come in this giant form, however, but can come in other forms, as well, and most of them are considered rich sources of iodine, as iodine levels are high in ocean-based plants and life. Sea kelp (family Laminariales) has been utilized for centuries as a dietary inclusion, and can be seen in diets based in Japan, Korea, and China. These cultures have relied on seaweed as a natural source of nutrients, and sea kelp can provide a host of different types of dietary interventions. From kelp powder to kelp flakes, to dried sea kelp, kelp can be included in an individual's diet in a variety of ways to accommodate even the pickiest of eaters.
Nutritional Value of Sea Kelp
Beyond its ready availability in coastal areas, sea kelp provides numerous nutrients to keep oxidative stress at bay, and can be an excellent source of both vitamins and minerals.
Rich Source of Vitamins and Minerals
The minerals most richly found in kelp include the following:
- Sodium. Although sodium gets a bad rap in many health publications, adequate sodium levels are essential for healthy cell functioning, as cellular pathways cannot open or close properly without sodium.
- Calcium. Most well-known for its contribution to bone strength and health, calcium is an essential nutrient for the body.
- Iodine. Iodine is another vital nutrient that plays a significant role in thyroid health. Because the thyroid is the birthplace of a great deal of hormone regulation, inadequate iodine levels have been linked to hormonal issues and thyroid insufficiency. Kelp supplements and dietary intake can help ensure that iodine supplements are not necessary.
- Iron. Iron, too, is often discussed in terms of having too much rather than too little, but inadequate iron levels can lead to blood not being circulated and utilized properly throughout the body.
- Magnesium. Magnesium can aid with muscle health and performance, digestion, and sleep, all of which can help support general health and well-being.
- Potassium. Potassium is also an important factor in the regulation and well-oiled functioning of cells and intercellular pathways.
- Zinc. Zinc is a mineral that is absolutely essential for effective and speedy wound healing, immune system regulation, protein synthesis, and even cellular growth.
The vitamins most richly found in kelp include:
- Vitamin A. Vitamin A (also often known as retinol) is a vitamin responsible for the health of the eyes and organs, and has ties to immune health. Inadequate vitamin A can result in a variety of symptoms, from failing vision to declining skin health.
- Vitamin K. Vitamin K is essential to make sure the blood can properly clot and has also been tied to bone health and strength.
- Vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 plays a critical role in cellular function, and is frequently tied to energy levels, as K-12 helps maintain blood and cells' health.
- Folate. Most people become familiar with folate through discussion of prenatal health, as folate is an essential vitamin that can play a vital role in the healthy development of a fetus. Outside of pregnancy, however, folate is important for cellular division.
Antioxidants in Sea Kelp
Sea kelp supplements and foods are also high in antioxidants. From taming dry skin to minimizing the onset of damaged cells, antioxidants can be truly powerful components of an overall health plan. The antioxidants most richly found in sea kelp include:
- Vitamin C (citric acid). Vitamin C is tied to a host of health issues (and improvements), from adequate immune function, to skin health.
- Vitamin E. Vitamin E is best known for its ability to scavenge free radicals roaming around the body and wreaking havoc, and has been identified as an important antioxidant to support overall health.
- Lutein. Lutein is considered an anti-inflammatory antioxidant, with links to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and more.
- Zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin has also been identified as an anti-inflammatory antioxidant, and can help protect various bodily systems against decline.
Health Benefits of Sea Kelp
Apart from offering a rich taste to seaweed salads and providing a wrapping agent for sushi rolls, sea kelp provides health benefits that can aid in arenas as diverse as thyroid disorders and nutrient uptake. The following are just some of the areas in which sea kelp has shown itself to be useful.
Thyroid Health Support
Thyroid health is highly reliant upon having adequate iodine. An underactive thyroid may be linked to inadequate levels of iodine in the body, and sea kelp provides plenty of iodine to support thyroid health. Because the thyroid is the home base for thyroid hormone production and management, iodine can help regulate hormones, which may be able to improve metabolism and encourage weight loss--and sea kelp side effects are all but negligible, making it an ideal dietary introduction for those struggling with iodine intake.
The thyroid gland is also reliant upon nutrients like tyrosine, another component found in sea kelp. Tyrosine plays a role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters, which play a crucial role in human health.
Cardiovascular Health Support
Cardiovascular health is essential to maintain quality of life, and sea kelp has compounds in it that can actually aid in increasing cardiovascular health. With compounds like fucoidan, which has been linked to anti-coagulant, anti-tumor, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory effects, sea kelp can help support cardiovascular health.
The potassium content of sea kelp can also help reduce blood pressure levels, which further supports heart health. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in sea kelp can also improve blood circulation. Vitamin K, another component found in sea kelp, can reduce the likelihood of developing blood clots. All of these components of sea kelp can add up to support cardiovascular health.
Skin and Hair Health Support
No amount of vegetable juice or topical applications can truly take your hair goals to the next level if your internal environment is not able to produce a healthy head of hair. The antioxidants found within sea kelp can be tied to improvements in the health of hair, skin, and nails, by minimizing free radical damage. Easing the onset of fine lines and wrinkles and encouraging moisture retention within skin are just some of the simplest and best ways that antioxidants can support hair and skin health and demonstrate anti-aging effects.
Sea kelp also possesses polysaccharides that may be able to help hydrate skin cells, further providing an extraordinary experience with skin in response to consuming sea kelp regularly. Essential fatty acids can also lead to hair growth promotion and help support internal health.
Taking in sea kelp to promote the benefits mentioned above need not be difficult or confusing. A sea kelp capsule, like our Fine USA Kelp Root Extract, can make getting kelp into your diet and on the go easy and simple.
How to Incorporate Sea Kelp into Your Diet
There are two ways to easily include sea kelp into your diet, ranging from including kelp as a part of your servings of vegetables each day, to utilizing the concentrated help of a supplement. Both will be discussed in greater detail below.
Cooking with Dried or Fresh Seaweed
Dried seaweed can be used in a variety of ways. Crushed, dried seaweed can add a punch of rich, oceanic flavor to soups and salads. It can be utilized as a simple snack, paired with vegetables and dip. It can also be used in smoothies, with the dried leaves blended easily into the rest of the smoothie.
Fresh seaweed is best used in soups, sushi rolls, or salads. Because seaweed has a strong taste, it is best paired with similarly strong-tasting foods. California rolls, for instance, pair several robust flavors. Seaweed salads can provide a simple and easy way to get plenty of sea kelp into your diet and provide a dietary extraordinary experience.
Whether you use dried seaweed or fresh, seaweed is a surprisingly easy item to add into your daily routine. If you are uncertain about using sea kelp as a dietary shift, you can visit Korean restaurants to gather information, or read cookbooks that highlight Asian cuisine.
Recipes Using Powdered or Liquid Supplements
Dietary supplements can provide simple and easy ways to include sea kelp in your daily diet. Powdered and liquid sea kelp can be added to smoothies, oatmeal, salad dressings, and soups, all of which can be tailored specifically to be enhanced by seaweed, or to mask the taste. A berry smoothie, for instance, with a base of ice, greek yogurt, banana, and strawberries can easily mask the taste of sea kelp while allowing you to fit in a punch of protein and sugar. A basic vinaigrette can contain sea kelp to meet your daily allowance of iodine, potassium, and more. A rich soup with a fish base, including a chowder like this one, can also benefit from the addition of sea kelp powder or liquid.
Precautions and Side Effects
Although kelp products are largely considered safe and effective, there can be some risks associated with the intake of different types of kelp. High amounts of kelp can lead to some complications or problems, which we will discuss below.
Iodine Overdose Risk
While the benefits of kelp and their relationship to thyroid function have been discussed, there is the possibility of exceeding the recommended daily intake limits for iodine consumption, which can lead to the risk of taking in too much iodine. From raw kelp to supplementary kelp, thyroid function can be both positively and negatively impacted by kelp intake. Teenagers and older are encouraged to take in 150 MCG per day, but this number can skyrocket to 220-290 MCG when an individual is pregnant or breastfeeding.
Adequate iodine is essential for a well-functioning thyroid, but an over abundance of kelp supplements can have the opposite effect, and can actually hinder optimal thyroid function and disrupt hormone production. To prevent the risk of overconsumption, potential users can speak to their primary care physician and evaluate their current iodine levels.
Though it may not be common to be allergic to raw kelp--or indeed, any type of kelp--it is possible to have an allergic reaction when consuming sea kelp. Allergic reactions can include general GI distress or discomfort, or can range to the more severe, including swelling, closing of the throat, and anaphylaxis. When introducing any new product, take time to make sure there are no abnormal or unusual reactions after consuming. A healthy body cannot be accomplished, no matter the abundance of minerals found in sea kelp, if the kelp itself is causing a histamine or immune reaction.
Interference with Medications
Sea kelp can interfere with the ingredient lists of some medications, especially medications like Warfarin, which function as blood thinners. Because sea kelp is high in vitamin K, it can negatively interact with blood thinners and iodine-rich supplements. Although these interactions may not cause toxicity, they can cause serious complications that should not be ignored. When choosing a kelp product, be sure to take any existing medications into account.
Sea kelp is a type of green algae that is often noted for its beauty within bodies of water, but is less often known in the Western world as an antioxidant and vitamin and mineral powerhouse. From improving thyroid dysfunction to increasing the health of hair and skin, using sea kelp as a supplement can help support improved general health and contribute to the maintenance of healthy weight, cardiovascular health, thyroid function, and more.