Sushi is becoming ever more popular outside its home country, but many traditional Japanese foods can still strike somewhat mysterious outside their country of origin, like mud-covered burdock roots, fermented soybeans natto, and various types of dried and fresh seaweeds, to mention a few. Personally, a thought of these delicious foods makes my mouth water, but often, their culinary charms are lost in translation, and I find myself eating them alone, while my Swedish fiancé munches his meatballs.
But if you are like me and acknowledge foods’ powerful impacts on our health – are you missing out some unique benefits of foods like seaweeds, if your diet is absent of them? Maybe.
Many researches demonstrate that seaweeds, like wakame and kelp, have a wide rage of health benefits such as:
· Great for skin: Phlorotannin, a type of tannin found in brown algae such as kelps, is a potent antioxidant and photoprotective agent, absorbing harmful UV radiation in a similar manner than another, perhaps better-known, marine compound astaxanthin . If your skin already shows some signs of photodamages, they also have a skin whitening effect, improving UV light-caused hyperpigmentation. Laminarin, a type of carbohydrate in kelp, is shown to stimulate the synthesis of the dermal tissues, potentially reducing wrinkles.
· Great for hair: ”Seaweeds are good for the hair” is a common folklore belief in Japan, and science seems to agree with the ancient wisdom. A 2012 study showed that Grateloupia elliptica, a seaweed related to one of Japan’s favorite seaweeds, nori (seaweed that covers a rolled sushi), has the potential to treat alopecia, inhibiting the enzyme 5 alpha-reductase and decreasing lipopolysaccharide-induced pro-inflammatory cytokines. Though I’m unaware of a commercial product including an extract of this promising seaweed, incorporating in your diet a high-quality organic nori, like this one, certainly won’t hurt.
· Promotes anti-inflammatory immunity profile: Among numerous beneficial compounds in seaweeds, I’m personally most excited about fucoidan, a complex polysaccharide responsible for the gel-like consistence of many seaweeds. Researches show that it’s a powerful immunomodulator, shifting the immune system from a pro-inflammatory configuration (upregulated interleukin 6, 8 cytokines and upregulated TNF-alpha) to an anti-inflammatory one (upregulated interleukin 10 cytokine). Many in vivo animal studies demonstrate its ability to reduce a systemic and chronic inflammation in a wide range of animals and conditions, such as diabetic mice, mice and rodents with chronic rheumatoid arthritis, and rodents with liver damage .
In this time of pervasive stress and resulting chronic whole-body inflammation, most of us unfortunately live in, I feel that adding to one’s regimen a potent anti-inflammatory immunomodulator like fucoidan can be a fantastic strategy. On top of a daily munching of my favourite seaweed dishes, I take a fucoidan supplement, to ensure a daily intake of 300 mg fucoidan, a dosage used in many human fucoidan trials.
· Anti-cancer properties: I’m not a medical professional and usually don’t write about cancer. I lost my Dad for a lung cancer at the age of six; Having experienced personally how devastating the disease can be, I don’t want to make any light-hearted statement about such a serious medical condition. However, I feel that I may be amiss to leave altogether fucoidan’s anti-tumor properties, one of the most researched areas for fucoidan’s benefits. Multiple researches demonstrate fucoidan’s anti-cancer effects through several mechanisms; including cancer-cell apoptosis, inhibition of angiogenesis in cancer cells, and immunomodulating effect mentioned above .