Seaweeds have unique health benefits due to their nutritional make-up. They are low-fat and rich in protein, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and phytochemicals (1). Sea moss, a type of seaweed, is often called Irish moss.
The plant name is Chondrus crispus. It is a type of red algae that grows on the Atlantic coast of Europe and North America (2). With the benefits of sea moss, historically it has been used as folk medicine in Ireland and other locations (3).
Sea moss has a high protein content and is approximately 50–65 % carrageenan (4). Carrageenan is a polysaccharide (or sugar molecule), used by the food and pharmaceutical industries as a stabilizer, gelling agent, thickener, binder and additive (5).
Sea moss, like other seaweeds, has many health benefits.
Gut & Immune Health
Sea moss is an excellent source of prebiotic fiber (6). Prebiotics are fuel for healthy gut bacteria. Eating prebiotic foods is a way to help feed and nurture these bacteria.
Sea moss increases some beneficial gut bacteria, like the Bifidobacterium breve, and this is supportive for gut health and the immune system. Many other health-promoting bacterial strains also increase with sea moss intake.
Because the fiber (carrageenan) in sea moss is a prebiotic, it promotes the growth of these healthy gut bacteria. In addition, the pathogenic bacteria Streptococcus decreases with sea moss intake (7).
Sea moss may also regulate pathogenic microbes. In rats, an increased amount of beneficial gut bacteria was found, as well as a decrease in pathogenic microbes (8).
Seaweeds can modulate signaling pathways that control inflammation and are linked to the regulation of neuroinflammation (9). Compounds like carrageenan in sea moss extract have strong anti-inflammatory properties (10).
Carrageenan also prevents the neurodegenerative process and has antitumor and antioxidant properties. Carrageenan can protect cells against toxicity through the reduction of inflammatory cells of the immune system (11).
Sea moss showed a significant reduction of nitric oxide activity (12). Many diseases are associated with either a lack or an excess of nitric oxide.
Excess nitric oxide may damage brain cells leading to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and others (13).
Compounds in sea moss extract (floridoside and isethionic acid) have antioxidant properties (14) and can reduce oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is thought to be an underlying mechanism in the development of many diseases (15).
Seaweed and sea moss can help with weight and obesity. Animal studies show seaweeds may increase a feeling of fullness, reduce calorie intake, and help with weight decrease and weight management.
These benefits are believed to result from slower gastric clearance: the stimulation of gastric stretch receptors which helps digestion and better nutrient absorption.
Seaweeds have potential anti-obesity effects by influencing the creation of fat cells and the percentage of abdominal fat tissue (16).
Carrageenan from sea moss has anti-cancer properties. It can improve immunity and limit the development of cancers by enhancing antioxidant properties (17).
Seaweed polysaccharides regulate immune responses by activating immune cells, and can inhibit tumor growth in mice (18).
Carrageenan has selective toxic effects on cancer cells, and studies show carrageenans can inhibit human cervical carcinoma cells by disrupting the cell cycle (19).
Protective against neurodegeneration
Sea moss extract has neuroprotective effects. It protects neurons from rapid degeneration in worms (20). This effect is due to reduced oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, as well as nitric oxide inhibition (21).
Multiple compounds in sea moss extract work synergistically on neuron-protection (22).
Sea moss, and seaweed in general, have a high mineral content. They contain sodium, potassium, iron, iodine and other minerals (23). These minerals are important for health. The iodine content can be supportive of thyroid health in particular.
Contraindications with sea moss
As the oceans become more polluted, seaweed and sea moss become contaminated. It is important to find a clean source of sea moss. If you have Hashimoto’s or hyperthyroidism, then you need to moderate your iodine intake. Be mindful and don’t overdo the sea moss.
Sea moss has a strong ocean flavor, so start with a little. Try adding it to smoothies to reap the multiple health benefits of sea moss, the food of the sea!