Maine Coast Sea Vegetables

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Medicinal Botanical

Note: Also see NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION. You can also find more in-depth nutritional and medicinal/botanical information in Sea Vegetable Celebration, our cookbook and sea vegetables information resource, available here on our online store.

DISCLAIMER: The information and products provided throughout this site have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult a health professional before undertaking any new health regime.

Sea Vegetables and Cancer

Sea vegetables have been used for centuries in Japanese and Chinese medicine for treatment of cancer. Recent scientific research has started to verify this traditional usage. For example, a study in 1995 demonstrated anti-tumor activity in kelp (Ascophyllum and Fucus species) against leukemia P-388. Certain compounds in kombu (Laminaria japonica) and wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) have been shown to have anti-mutagenic activity. Fucons (sulfated polysaccharides) extracted from brown sea veggies — the "kelps" — have been shown to inhibit cell growth, which means they may be able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. In fact, a Japanese investigation duplicated a traditional Chinese medicinal formula using kelp (Laminaria species) and achieved reduction in size and number of tumors in laboratory experiments.

Currently very exciting work with cancer and sea vegetables is being done by Dr. Jane Teas who is affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Programs and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1981 she published a paper on a number of well-documented reasons why the consumption of seaweed, particularly the kelps, might be a factor in the lower rate of breast cancer found in postmenopausal women in Japan. It has been noted that many sea vegetables contain significant amounts of lignans, more than legumes, whole grains, vegetables and fruits (but less than flaxseed). These lignans become phytoestrogens in the body and bond preferentially to the estrogen receptor site. Thus they may have therapeutic and preventative value against cancers in which estrogen plays a part, such as breast cancer. Dr. Teas is now conducting research on 25 postmenopausal women to see if alaria (and other brown seaweeds) supply enough phytoestrogens to provide an effective, natural alternative to estrogen replacement therapy.

Dr. Ryan Drum, Ph.D., states that fucoidan (a compound found in brown sea vegetables such as kelp and bladderwrack) "is… extremely anti-proliferative against cancer cells. It also interferes with every stage of viral attack: cell attachment, cell penetration, and intracellular virion production. " As an interesting indication of our deep biological connection to the sea vegetables, Dr. Ryan points out that "all human cells studied are found to have receptor sites for Fucose, the end-group sugar on fucoidan." (from his papers Sea Vegetables and Seaweeds, and Seaweed Therapeutics, PHWHS 2001).

Finally, Dr. Andrew Weil reports in his newsletter that "scientists at the National Cancer Institute are now investigating the anti-cancer properties of seaweeds." We look forward to hearing the results of these ongoing studies.

Download our brochure Sea Vegetables for Cancer Prevention and Treatment (PDF file 240K)

Sea Vegetables and Heart Disease

Traditional oriental medicine has long held that the use of seaweeds reduces the risk of heart disease. Recent research sited by Dr. Zakir Romazanov in Neutriceuticals World (vol.2, No. 6) claims that certain elements in bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) and rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) have the ability to lower blood plasma cholesterol levels, a key to heart health.

Dr. Seibin Arasaki in Vegetables from the Sea also identifies five different studies involving numerous seaweed species that have shown cholesterol-lowering activity.

Lowering blood pressure is another way of taking care of the heart. High levels of potassium in the blood have been proven to help reduce the risk of high blood pressure. All seaweeds offer extraordinary levels of potassium (see our Nutritional Chart) and the sodium to potassium ratio in most is very similar to our natural plasma levels.

Download our brochure Sea Vegetables for Heart Health (PDF file 240K)

Sea Vegetables and Hypertension

Back in the late 60's in England Dr. Eric Powell, Ph.D., N.D., successfully treated patients suffering from hypertension with Bladderwrack (Fucus sp), which he called kelp. He writes in his book Kelp, the Health Giver (distributed by NutriBooks), "Kelp has a normalizing action on the thyroid and parathyroid… Better function of the parathyroid glands means that the system can take up and utilize mineral matter to the best advantage: in particular calcium, iodine, and sodium which all play a part in maintaining the health and elasticity of the arterial walls."

Debra Ahern, Ph.D., R.N., reporting her findings in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (Vol. 89, No. 7), sees it a little differently. It is well known to dietitians that people with low blood potassium levels are more prone to hypertension. Dr. Ahern maintained that seaweed-based seasonings provide not only high concentrations of potassium but also chloride, a means of retaining this potassium. In her study she says, "Chloride may play an indirect positive role in hypertension by allowing renal retention of potassium. If this is the case, potassium sources that provide chloride may be more effective in raising blood plasma levels than fruits and vegetables. The high chloride content of those seasonings with seaweed may make them good sources of potassium of clients at risk of hypokalemia (too little potassium)."

And finally, an article, "Blood Pressure and Nutrient Intake," from U.S. Science magazine states that higher intakes of calcium, potassium, and sodium are associated with lower mean systolic pressure and lower absolute risk of hypertension."

Sea Vegetables and Radioactive/Heavy Metal Detoxification

Sea vegetables' effectiveness in treating radiation and heavy metal poisoning has been investigated worldwide. Some of the first studies on fighting radiation poisoning with seaweed were started in the 1960's at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Researchers found that alginic acid (also called alginate), one of the important intercellular polysaccharides found in large brown algae like Kelp and Alaria, could reduce the amount of strontium-90 absorbed through the intestinal wall. Skoryna et al., "Intestinal Absorption of Radioactive Strontium," Canadian Medical Association Journal, 191,1964)

Even the U.S. government has done research on the detoxifying qualities of alginates from Kelp. The EPA's Environmental Toxicology Lab found that alginates could bind and eliminate both radionuclides such as strontium-90 and heavy metals such as cadmium. They also discovered that strontium already stored in the bones was re-secreted, bound by alginates, and safely passed through the intestines. Thus the remarkable kelps may help alleviate past as well as present toxic contamination. (Steven Schacter, Fighting Radiation with Food, Herbs and Vitamins, East West Health Books, 1988)

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia we noticed an increase in our sales of kelp. We also joined with other small producers in sending a kelp care package to survivors. We subsequently learned that the Russians have been seriously researching the use of their kelps from Vladivostok, from which they have isolated the polysaccharide U-Fucoidan, a radioactive detoxifier. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 also spurred interest in sea vegetables as a source of healthy iodine, and as a detoxifier.

Another very important function of sea vegetables in helping our bodies fight radiation poisoning takes place in the thyroid gland, where radioactive Iodine-131 (for example, from nuclear power plant emissions) can accumulate. Dr. Ryan Drum tells us "… we are regularly taking in radioactive isotopes from the total world contamination by continual radioactive fallout from all nuclear power plants, weapons facilities and past nuclear tests."

If the thyroid is full with "healthy" iodine (Iodine-127), it will not absorb the radioactive contaminant. So it serves us well to keep our thyroids full of natural iodine. Sea vegetables are the best food source of iodine. Of the sea vegetables, kelp tends to be one of the most significant sources. Please refer to our Nutritional Chart, as well as to What About Iodine? on the Nutritional Information page and Sea Vegetables and the Thyroid on this page.

Download our brochure Sea Vegetables for Radioactive Protection (PDF file 740K)

Sea Vegetables as an Anti-inflammatory

Traditional uses of sea vegetables particularly in Asia have shown it to provide some therapeutic effect on the inflammatory response, particularly in tissue wounds. Ryan Drum, Ph.D., herbalist and seaweed specialist, asserts that fucoidan is the bio-active element in brown seaweed responsible for lessening the inflammatory response. Fucoidan is a water-soluble compound that can be easily extracted by boiling/simmering a quart of water with an ounce (about 1˝ cups) of dried brown sea vegetable for 20 to 40 minutes. Either pre-surgically or after tissue wounding has occurred Dr. Ryan recommends drinking this fucoidan extract daily for 1 to 2 weeks.

Sea Vegetables as an Anti-Viral

Ryan Drum, Ph.D., herbalist and seaweed specialist, indicates several elements in sea veggies that make plausible their traditional use as antivirals. Fucoidan, a water soluble compound found in the brown algae, has been shown to interfere with every stage of viral attack: cell attachment, cell penetration, and viral intracellular penetration. He also notes that certain polysaccharides or glycoproteins from red seaweeds (dulse and laver are red seaweeds) have been successfully used in treating genital herpes and Herpes Zosters. He also notes in the seaweed literature that carrageenan derivatives have expressed strong antiviral activity.

Sea Vegetables and Joint Pain

Thalassotherapy in European spas and seaweed baths in the British Isles have been traditional methods of relieving muscle and joint pains. Victorian English flocked to the seaweed baths and immersed themselves in very hot water filled with Bladderwrack (Fucus species) or other highly mucilaginous seaweeds with high iodine content to ease their aches and pains. A number of these bathhouses still exist and more are being planned in Western Ireland, according to Ryan Drum, Ph.D. He also believes seaweed can help with knee joint deterioration. He treated a 50-year-old woman with such severe knee pain she was forced to walk with a cane. By soaking her knees daily for almost a year in 16" high rubber boots filled with a bladderwrack suspension (bladderwrack in hot water), he reported a complete recovery. Dr. Drum speculates that her success might be attributed to fucoidan (see above) and the biomolecular iodine compounds that were passing transdermally into her legs.

Sea Vegetables and the Thyroid

Most seaweeds are a good source of Iodine-127, the biomolecular compound the thyroid gland needs for proper functioning. Ryan Drum, Ph.D., points out that bladderwrack (Fucus species) provides di-iodotyrosine (DIT) which is a precursor to forming the essential thyroid hormones Thyroxine (T4) and Tri-iodothyronine (T3). He claims that in providing the immediate precursors for T4 and T3 Fucus seems particularly effective in treating both hypothyroidism and Graves hyperthyroidism.

Another important reason to get plenty of sea vegetables' Iodine-127 into the thyroid is to prevent uptake of radioactive and toxic Iodine-131, which in modern times has a background presence in our food and air supply, and which is likely to be a major pollutant of a nuclear accident. By "loading" the thyroid with healthy Iodine, we can maintain our health even if fallout levels increase dramatically. See section above, Sea Vegetables and Radioactive/Heavy Metal Detoxification. On a cautionary note, Dr. Drum advises that those people who are iodine sensitive should avoid the northern deep-water kelps that have exceptionally large amounts of iodine. Sea vegetables such as Dulse, Laver, Nori, and Bladderwrack that have lower concentrations of iodine may provide a good alternative. See What about Iodine?.

DISCLAIMER: The information and products provided throughout this site have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please consult a health professional before undertaking any new health regime.

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