Are There Any Health Benefits of Kelp

kelp benefitsKelp is a green or brown seaweed that is found in warm oceans, usually in shallow and clear water, where it is able to absorb rays from the sun. Kelp comes in many different forms such as powder, liquid or meal form [1]Help From Kelp By Cygnet Brown https://goo.gl/SLZbQK.

Largely eaten in the east, kelp is becoming popular in the west for its many health benefits.

As a westerner, I was not familiar with kelp, but I was intrigued by the topic. It was important to me because I have a strong family history of colon cancer. I know I need to add more veggies to my diet to avoid the same fate as my parents, so I dug deep into the health benefits of kelp to see if it is something I should add to my diet.

Here are some of the kelp benefits

Kelp is nutritious for you

At only 34 calories, a 1.0 cup serving of kelp provides 4% of your daily fiber needs, 66% of your vitamin K needs, 36% of your folate needs and 24% of your magnesium needs. It is a good source of calcium and and iron, and is an excellent source of iodine [2]Nutrition facts label for Seaweed, kelp, raw http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2617/2

Folate is essential for making DNA and for cells to divide. I found folate particularly important prior to, and during my pregnancy because folate deficiency could lead to having a baby with neural tube defects such as spina bifida or increase my chance of having a premature or underweight baby. Neural tube defects were certainly not what I wanted for my unborn daughter.

Are you pregnant, or thinking of becoming pregnant? The National Institute of Health recommends that all women and teen girls who could become pregnant consume 400 micrograms of folic acid a day. If you are pregnant, you should consume 600 micrograms a day [3]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Folate-Consumer/. Adding kelp to your diet could provide some of the folate you need to meet your requirements.

Kelp may reduce your risk of colon cancer or help treat it

Kelp is full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that fight free radicals which cause cancer. (4). Fucoidan, a substance found in the cell wall of brown algae has been shown to kill blood, lung, breast, and colon cancer cells [4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413214/; music to my ears. However, I wondered if this anti-cancer activity extended beyond lab studies to actual humans. The answer is yes.

A study was performed on colorectal patients receiving chemotherapy. The test subjects were given 4.05 g of fucoidan a day for 6 months. Fatigue, a common side effect of chemotherapy and cancer was significantly reduced from 60% to a mere 10%. Also, those who received fucoidan survived longer than those who did not receive the fucoidan; this difference was not significant though, perhaps because there were not enough participants [5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4413214/. Could fucoidan have increased my mom’s survival rate? Unfortunately, I will never know, since I had never heard of fucoidan.

Kelp may reduce your risk of breast cancer

Women in Japan have one of the lowest rates of breast cancer. Seaweed, which is a typical part of the Japanese diet is believed to be responsible for these low rates of breast cancer. Kelp has a specific blend of fiber, antioxidant carotenoids, fucoidan and polyphenols not found in plants on land. Each of these substances have been proven to have strong anticancer activity [6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3651528/.

Research has shown that adding 5 grams per day of kelp causes a 50% reduction in the amount of urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR), a marker for breast cancer [7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3651528/. Now, if you have a family history of breast cancer, kelp might be just want you need to decrease your chance of breast cancer!

Kelp may reduce your risk of prostate cancer

Cancer reduction appears to be quite the theme for the benefits of kelp! Prostate cancer is the second major cancer for men in the United States, and is also the second leading cause of death from cancer in men. If you are African-American, be aware; it occurs more often in African Americans.

A study examining the effects of beta carotene and vitamin A in the diet of Japanese men found that the beta carotene and vitamin A found in kelp may be protective against prostate cancer [8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2449278. Beta carotene and vitamin A are antioxidants which protect the body from free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer. I just might actually start using powdered kelp in place of salt because kelp tastes like salt, and my husband, who has high blood pressure has to lay low on the salt! This bring us to the next health benefit; lowering blood pressure.

Kelp may reduce your blood pressure

Kelp benefits may reduce your blood pressure

Kelp is higher in magnesium and calcium than many other vegetables [9]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663556/. Magnesium and calcium have been shown to prevent and treat high blood pressure [10]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18607145. A study done on healthy Japanese preschoolers found that girls who consumed more kelp had lower systolic blood pressure, and that boys who consumed more kelp had lower diastolic pressure.  Also, a study done on elderly Japanese patients who had high blood pressure found that their blood pressure decreased after taking 5 grams of kelp powder daily for eight weeks [11]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4663556/. Do you find it hard to sneak vegetables into your husband’s diet like I do? Powdered kelp may be just what you need to add taste and much needed nutrition to his diet!

Kelp may reduce your risk of biliary tract cancer

What is the biliary tract? The biliary tract is made of the organs and ducts which make and store bile (a fluid your liver makes which helps digest fat) and secrete it into your small intestine. The biliary tract consists of the gallbladder and the bile ducts located in and outside your liver [12]NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms?cdrid=559456.

A study done in China examining the effect of diet on rates of biliary tract cancer found that those who ate more kelp were less likely to get gall bladder cancer [13]Diet and biliary tract cancer risk in Shanghai, China
by Shakira M. Nelson , Yu-Tang Gao, Leticia M. Nogueira, Ming-Chang Shen, Bingsheng Wang, Asif Rashid, Ann W. Hsing, Jill Koshiol
Published: March 13, 2017
.

How does kelp reduce your risk of gallbladder cancer? Research shows that increased amount of CRP (a marker of inflammation) make you more likely to get gallbladder cancer. Kelp is rich in anti-inflammatory substances and has been shown to reduce CRP. Eating more fiber also decreases your risk of gallbladder cancer. High amounts of fiber are contained in vegetables including kelp [14]http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0173935. Even more reason for me to get more veggies in my diet!

Kelp reduces your risk of osteoporosis

Osteoporosis or weakening of the bones is caused by low bone mass. Fractures resulting from osteoporosis occur more often than stroke, heart attack and breast cancer combined, according to Osteoporosis Canada. Fractures in older people can lead to disability or even death.

So, how can you reduce your risk of osteoporosis? You can do this by building strong bones. A 1.0 cup serving of kelp provides 66% of your vitamin K needs [15] Seaweed, kelp, raw nutrition facts and calories http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2617/2. Vitamin K is needed for bone health and may offer protection against osteoporosis [16]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906277.

Vitamin K is the new kid on the block regarding bone health. Calcium and Vitamin D have long been recognized as essential for bone health, but research continues to show that Vitamin K is also beneficial for strengthening bones and decreasing the risk of fractures. However, most of us do not get enough vitamin K to offer this protection. As a result, eating foods rich in vitamin K such as kelp is beneficial [17]Nutr Clin Pract. 2007 Oct;22(5):517-44.
Bone health and osteoporosis: the role of vitamin K and potential antagonism by anticoagulants. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Department of Human Biology, Nutritional Sciences, 2420 Nicolet Drive, Green Bay, WI 54311, USA. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906277
.

Apart from vitamin K, kelp also contains fucoidan, which has been shown to increase bone strength in laboratory studies [18]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26271462.

Do you want to have less disability in old age?

I sure do!

Adding kelp to my diet may be key!

Kelp helps those with type 2 diabetes by lowering blood glucose and improving heart health

Do you have type 2 diabetes or know someone who does? Fortunately, I do not have diabetes but I know people who do. My husband has a strong family history of type 2 diabetes and we have a family friend with diabetes. Diabetes is devastating as you have to carefully monitor what you eat. Chances are you know someone with type 2 diabetes too. It is rising in many parts of the world and commonly occurs in those who are overweight and not exercising enough.

If you have type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar is not the only thing you have to worry about. You also need to worry about heart disease, as diabetes is a very serious risk factor for heart disease [19]https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dhd. As a result, if you have type 2 diabetes, you need to have a diet that will help your blood glucose and blood lipids stay normal. Many patients also achieve these goals by taking diabetes medications which come with side effects including weight gain [20]Effects of seaweed supplementation on blood glucose concentration, lipid profile, and antioxidant enzyme activities in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus by
Min Sun Kim, Jung Yun Kim, Woong Hwan Choi, and Sang Sun Lee https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2815322/
.

Kelp has been shown to help lower blood glucose and lipid levels. A 2008 study performed on participants with diabetes found that those who took 48g of kelp a day for 4 weeks found that blood glucose and triglycerides levels went down, and HDL cholesterol (heart healthy cholesterol) went up [21]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2815322/. What caused these changes? Researchers believe it was due to the fiber content of the kelp. The kelp provided 30.1 grams of fiber a day. Studies show that fiber helps you feel full, improves blood glucose control, reduces how much you eat, and also reduces body fat and blood lipids [22]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11162324.

Kelp may help you lose weight

Being overweight is the new normal in many countries. Almost everyone needs to lose weight including yours truly, the emotional eater. Hence, I was happy to hear that kelp could help me lose weight.

Kelp contains a substance called aginate which causes weight loss by inhibiting pancreatic lipase activity. Why is inhibiting pancreatic lipase important for weight loss? Pancreatic lipase causes fat to be absorbed by the body, which results in you gaining weight. A 2014 study published in Food Chemistry found that alginate could block fat absorption in the intestines by as much as 72%! Alginate also does not come with the unpleasant side effects such as diarrhea of other pancreatic lipase inhibitors like Orlistat which was the #1 prescription treatment for obesity in the UK in 2010 [23]Food Chemistry
Volume 146, 1 March 2014, Pages 479-484
The modulation of pancreatic lipase activity by alginates http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S030881461301340X
.

Kelp can help resolve iodine deficiency

Kelp is one of the best sources of iodine in food, but varies a lot in content. One gram of kelp can provide 11% to 1989% of your daily iodine requirements.[24]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/

Iodine is important for thyroid health and for proper development of the brain [25]Treatment of Hypothyroidism due to Iodine Deficiency Using Daily Powdered Kelp in Patients Receiving Long-term Total Enteral Nutrition
By
Takako Takeuchi, Hotaka Kamasaki, Tomoyuki Hotsubo, and Hiroyuki Tsutsumi https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3687637/
. Iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism; low thyroid function, which can cause developmental delay in infants or lead to stillbirth if you are pregnant. Scary statistic, but did you know that only 51% of the prenatal vitamins on the market in the United States contain iodine? [26]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/. As a result, if you are pregnant or nursing, make sure your prenatal supplements contain iodine and look at incorporating some kelp in your diet to maintain optimum iodine levels.

You need to make sure you do not eat too much though, because kelp varies a lot in terms of iodine content and you do not want to get too much iodine.

Feeling sheepish because you were not focused on looking for iodine in your prenatal supplements?

You are not alone … yours truly was not focused on iodine content as well … as far as I can remember, which was almost three years ago!

If you are on long-term tube feeding, kelp can help as well.

Studies have shown that people on long-term tube feeds get iodine deficient because tube feeding formulas do not contain a lot of iodine.

A 2011 study done on patients who had developed iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism due to long-term tube feeding found that giving patients one to two grams of powdered kelp a day restored their iodine levels and thyroid function [27]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3687637/.

Kelp may help boost your immune system

health benefits of kelp build up immune system

If you know anyone who is elderly or if you have worked in the healthcare system like myself, you know how vulnerable the elderly can be to infections. Fucoidan, a substance found in kelp has been shown to boost the immune system. A study found that elderly individuals who were given one gram per day of fucoidan had a better antibody responsible to their seasonal flu vaccine [28]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796347/.

Fucoidan is also helpful for other infections. A study conducted on people with herpes found that those who drank a water extract of kelp reduced their herpes symptoms [29]Supplementation of Elderly Japanese Men and Women with Fucoidan from Seaweed Increases Immune Responses to Seasonal Influenza Vaccination1,2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3796347/.

How To Use Kelp

A very simple way to add kelp to your diet is to add dried kelp to fluids such as soup. Particularly, during the cold winter months, seaweed soup may be just what the doctor ordered!

Below is a recipe from seaveg.com :

Ingredients:

  • 1 piece of approximately 4” x 4” kelp
  • 3 ounces of soba noodles
  • 6 cups of water
  • ½ cup of julienned carrot strips
  • ¼ pounds of firm tofu, diced
  • ¼ cups of red pepper strips
  • 3 tablespoons light miso

Method:

  1. Place kelp in boiling water and allow to simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Remove kelp from water and reserve the broth. Slice the kelp into noodle-like strip and place these strips back in the broth.
  3. Add carrot and soba noodles to the broth and simmer for a few more minutes until noodles are slightly al dente.
  4. Add some broth to the miso and puree.
  5. Add tofu, red pepper strips and pureed miso to the mixture in step 3 and stir. Simmer for a few more minutes, then serve.

Side Effects

Consuming too much kelp can cause high levels of iodine, which can cause hyperthyroidism, inflammation of the thyroid glands and thyroid cancer [30]https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-Consumer/.

Parting Comments

Did you enjoy the list?

We hope you did.

Due to my strong family history of colon cancer, I am on the lookout for ways to incorporate more vegetables, particularly superfoods to my diet.

Tell us what you think in the comments, and please feel free to share the article with all your friends if you liked it.

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Heather Carson

Heather Carson

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