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Published On: Tue, Oct 30th, 2012

The Abundant Health Benefits of Brown Seaweed


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-by Adam Grossman

We have all heard the expression, and know that in fact “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” but did you know there is also a “boatload” of seaweed residing in our vast oceans? Incredibly, scientists estimate that there are more than 10,000 varieties of seaweed in the sea.

While most of us have heard of and seen seaweed before–and many of us are even eating and bathing in it these days–most of us know very little about its life, its composition, and its countless benefits for our skin and body.

For starters, while seaweed is often mistaken for a plant or a “weed” of the sea, it is actually an algae. The term “seaweed” is just an informal description for this multi-cellular organism that comes in red, green and brown varieties. Although seaweed is in no way a plant (just ask a marine biologist or your favorite middle school science student), seaweed does share one important element with plants: the sun sustains it. Through photosynthesis, seaweed converts sunlight into carbon dioxide as its source of food and energy, which is why you will not find seaweed deep on the ocean floor. Rather, most varieties of seaweed dwell within 300 feet of the ocean’s surface.

Seaweed spends its days soaking in the invigorating ocean waters, absorbing the vitamins and nutrients from the sun’s rays – something many of us wish we could do on a daily basis. If you have had the opportunity to experience the benefits of a dip in the ocean, you know how beneficial its minerals and nutrients are for your skin and body. Unfortunately, few of us have regular access to the ocean and the comfort it provides.

As a long-time psoriasis sufferer, I personally found that the redness, inflammation and irritation of my skin caused by psoriasis quickly diminished after a visit to the beach, the seawater providing almost instant relief. However, like many others, I did not have the time or the resources to get to the ocean every day or every week or even every month to experience its benefits. I needed to find a way to bring the ocean home.

After quite a bit of research, I learned about the benefits of bladderwrack seaweed, a brown seaweed that is rich in fucoidan and iodine. I discovered the pleasure of the ancient tradition of seaweed baths and the ability to transform my bathroom and my bathtub into a therapeutic spa on a nightly basis. I saw how bathing in bladderwrack seaweed that is sustainably harvested off the coast of Maine, Ireland and Nova Scotia drastically improved the condition of my skin.

Based on my research and my own personal experience, I created The Seaweed Bath Co. – a full line of seaweed body and hair care products to help fight dry, flaking and scaling skin and detoxify the body. While The Seaweed Bath Co. chose to use brown bladderwrack seaweed in our products for its detoxifying and skin soothing properties, several studies have shown that the benefits of brown seaweed, and fucoidan – a sulfated polysaccharide found in brown seaweed – may be far more expansive.

In fact, fucoidan extracted from brown seaweed has been touted for, among other things, its potential ability to reduce inflammation, burn fat, regulate the immune system and inhibit the growth of cancer.

Although more research is needed, the existing scientific data on fucoidan’s ability to inhibit the growth of cancer appears to be promising. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, “in vitro studies show that fucoidan has antitumor, antiangiogenic, antiviral, and immunomodulatory effects.”

A 2002 study conducted by the Department of Pathology, School of Allied Health Sciences at Kitasato University in Kanagawa, Japan and published in the May-June 2003 In Vivo Journal, found that fucoidan extracted from seaweed could inhibit the growth of tumors and prolong the life of laboratory mice who were administered fucoidan before tumor inoculation as compared to mice who were left untreated.

A study conducted in 2011 by the Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering at University of Denmark in Lyngby, Denmark and published in the October 2011 International Journal of Biological Macromolecules indicates that fucoidan extracted from two types of brown seaweed, including bladderwrack, naturally induced apoptosis (cancer cell death) and reduced cell viability of lung carcinoma and melanoma cells in laboratory mice.

Another 2011 study conducted by the Graduate School of Bioresource and Bioenvironmental Sciences at Kyushu in Fukuoka, Japan published in the PLoS ONE Journal, investigated the anti-tumor properties of fucoidan on human cancer cells. Using an in vitro model, researchers found that fucoidan extract inhibited the growth of breast cancer cells by inducing apoptosis. The researchers concluded, “fucoidan extract deserves further investigation as a natural anticancer and cancer-preventive agent.”

Previous studies have also found that fucoidan may improve immune health and fight viruses such HIV and herpes. In a 2009 study published in the May 2009 Phytotherapy Research Journal, researchers found that fucoidans derived from brown seaweed had potent anti-HIV properties and appear to be good candidates for further research on their potential to prevent and treat HIV-1 infection.

While additional research is needed, the benefits of brown seaweed and fucoidan in the fight against cancer and other illnesses appear promising.

As for brown seaweed’s waist-slimming benefits, health professionals, including Dr. Mehmet Oz on his popular television show, have recommended the use of bladderwrack seaweed and fucoidan for weight loss and reduction of the appearance of cellulite. During his December 12, 2011 show, Dr. Oz told his audience that fucoidan — when ingested in pill form — can help dieters burn more calories and body fat, as well as liver fat, and do it more rapidly than exercise alone. On his April 17, 2012 show, Dr. Oz featured bladderwrack seaweed baths to detoxify the body. Special guest and lifestyle expert Terri Trespicio explained to Dr. Oz and the audience how bladderwrack seaweed “expands in water and draws the toxins out of the body. It is loaded with minerals and iodine and all kinds of good stuff.”

Bladderwrack seaweed also acts as an excellent source of iodine to help stimulate the thyroid. Because of its effect on the thyroid, it is often used to treat thyroid disorders including hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency. If you think you may have a thyroid condition or any other medical condition, you should consult your doctor to see what treatment is appropriate for you.

With so many amazing potential benefits, it is no wonder that seaweed is gaining in popularity and becoming a staple in both our diets and our bathtubs.

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