In the quest to achieve maximal health and prevent disease, more people are turning to nutrition to provide them with essential nutrients and phytochemicals that may reduce the incidence of chronic disease and slow down the aging process. It’s not surprising that alternative and complimentary medicine is growing in popularity as more natural foods and supplements are shown to have disease preventive properties.
An Undiscovered Health Food?
One natural food that has received recent interest is wakame seaweed. Wakame seaweed is a staple part of the Japanese diet, known as one of the healthiest diets in the world. Not only is wakame seaweed high in a variety of vitamins including vitamins A, C, E, and K, it’s a good source of minerals such as iron, calcium, and iodine. More importantly, wakame seaweed has been shown to have the potential to promote weight loss, lower blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Can seaweed promote weight loss?
Can wakame seaweed really promote weight loss? A study conducted on obese mice and rats showed that a substance extracted from wakame seaweed known as fucoxanthin helped the obese rodents increase the rate at which they burned fat.(1) It appears to work by elevating levels of a protein involved in the metabolism of fat. The obese rats and mice in the study were able to drop up to twenty-five percent of their body weight within a month’s time on the fucoxanthin extract.
Although these results sound encouraging, it should be remembered this study was conducted in rodents, not humans. Plus, the rats weren’t fed whole wakame seaweed, but the fucoxanthin component only. The researchers believe it would take large quantities of seaweed to produce weight loss. Their hope is that an obesity medication could be synthesized from the fucoxanthin component if human studies confirm weight loss benefits.
The effect of seaweed on blood pressure
Another study published the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed an extract of wakame seaweed was capable of lowering blood pressure in rats.(2) The wakame extract appeared to reduce blood pressure in a similar way to a common group of anti-hypertensive medications known as ACE inhibitors. Future studies will be needed to prove whether this health benefit also applies to humans
Can wakame seaweed prevent breast cancer?
Wakame seaweed is also a source of lignans which may play a role in reducing the risk of breast cancer.(3) One of the health benefits of seaweed is that it appears to lower levels of circulating estrogen which can increase the risk of breast malignancies. Interestingly, the Japanese who eat wakame seaweed on a frequent basis have one of the lowest breast cancer rates in the world. Could it be due to their high dietary intake of seaweed?
It may be that the health benefits of seaweed are only starting to be discovered. It will be interesting to see what future studies show.
1. American Chemical Society’s 232nd National Meeting & Exposition, San Francisco, Sept. 10-14, 2006. News release, American Chemical Society.
2. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. Volume 15, Issue 5, pp. 267-72.