Kelp, also known as brown seaweed, is a type of marine algae that is used by humans as food and medicine. Although the associated scientific and medical research is inconclusive, there have been studies that suggest kelp can play a positive role in preventing and treating a variety of conditions. Here are some pros and cons of enriching your diet with kelp one by one:
Possible benefits of ingesting kelp
Providing a low-calorie and nutrient-dense snack
Seaweed is a good source of iodine, a necessary element for a variety of functions including the thyroid and reproductive systems. A lack of iodine can actually lead to an enlarged thyroid gland, infertility and possibly even cancer. Iodine deficiencies can also contribute to high blood pressure problems in pregnant women and intellectual disabilities in unborn fetuses. Seaweed is also a good source of potassium and iron.
Helping with weight loss and cardiovascular conditions
Brown seaweed contains an important polysaccharide named alginic acid, which is also known as an alginate. These alginates are commonly used in dietary supplements and meal-replacement drinks, having been shown in studies to help suppress the appetite by making you feel fuller for longer. Soluble fiber, in general, can affect the speed at which your stomach empties its contents and may help increase your sensitivity to insulin, lower your bad cholesterol and improve your cardiovascular health by decreasing your risks of such related conditions like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
Offering laxative effects for constipation
Working like over-the-counter diuretics, kelp may be able to help your digestive system get back on track. Helping to flush out your system, eating seaweed or taking an associated supplement may be able to effectively treat your constipation and intestinal discomfort. Be careful, though, to not combine other diuretics and kelp in order to avoid too much fluid loss.
Preventing cancer and helping treat radiation sickness
The nutrients and compounds in brown seaweed may be effective in helping prevent certain kinds of cancers including thyroid, breast, prostate and endometrial types. In some cases, algae derivatives have also been used to treat the side effects of radiation treatments.
Enhancing the appearance of skin
Kelp can be found in various beauty face masks and skin wrap treatments, designed to help draw toxins to the surface of your skin for clearer pores and decreased imperfections such as redness and blemishes. Since the body can absorb the nutrients found in kelp, it’s important to remember that overdoing kelp masks and beauty regimens can actually irritate the skin and introduce too much iodine into the bloodstream so use judgment and moderation when determining how often to implement an algae-based routine. As desired, talk with a dermatologist about what’s best for you.
Treating burns and other surface wounds
Found in kelp, calcium alginate has also been used in a variety of medical products as a topical agent to help treat burns and promote the healing of other surface wounds. These seaweed-based kinds of treatments may even be less painful than some traditional, chemical-based wound dressings.
The risks of taking kelp
Supplements can contain an overabundance of iodine
Although having access to some iodine is necessary for the healthy functioning of your thyroid, having too much iodine in your system can also cause thyroid problems. Particularly when looking into a kelp supplement, you need to be careful that the amount of iodine you are consuming is a safe level considering your personal needs. Consult with your healthcare provider before starting a herbal treatment plan based on taking kelp.
Some kelp products may be contaminated
Some kelp-based products have actually been found to contain traces of arsenic, which is poisonous and unsafe for human consumption. Additionally, not all types of algae are edible so you should avoid consuming toxic freshwater options. Accordingly, you should take care in only purchasing products from brands and manufacturers you trust. Even so, herbal and dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA so you should be careful and watch for warning signs when taking any over-the-counter product.
Seaweed is dangerous for pregnant and nursing women
When performing gynecological procedures, some medical professionals actually use seaweed to help expand the cervix, but many have reservations about such a practice and this is especially not considered safe during pregnancy as it can trigger the labor process and increase the risks of infection and complications.
In addition to the dangers of using seaweed as a cervix expander, it is also considered unsafe for pregnant women to consume seaweed because of the hormonal effect the algae can have on the body. Likewise, women who are nursing should avoid seaweed because the chemical contamination can be too risky.
Kelp and related supplements can worsen some existing medical conditions
Because of the nutrient content of kelp, eating too much kep can actually negatively affect pre-existing medical conditions like kidney problems. The brown algae can also interact with medications you currently take, blocking the effects of some medications while causing dangerous side effects when taken in conjunction with other medicines. If you are on any prescription medications or over-the-counter treatments, check with your physician or other medical professional about the warnings and possible reactions that can happen from combining your current habits with an increased consumption of kelp.
Kelp is not sold as a medicine to actually treat, heal or prevent disease
If you have a serious medical condition that warrants professional care, don’t trust that taking kelp on your own will actually solve your situation. Whether you decide on taking a herbal supplement, dietary aid or just sticking to food-based options, none of these picks have been approved by the FDA as medical solutions. Hence, if you intend to start ingesting medicinal-amounts of kelp, it’s always best to consult with your doctor first.
Get a checkup and make sure you understand where your hormone and thyroid levels are in addition to the state of your kidneys. After a few weeks of taking kelp, or at a different point suggested by your doctor, go back in for a follow-up appointment to make sure your situation is still conducive to ingesting kelp on a regular basis.