Ecklonia Cava: A Deep Sea Algae that Can Reverse Heart Disease?
When you think of antioxidant-rich foods, fruits and vegetables probably come to mind. But there’s another source of these healthful compounds – and it just may be the most powerful food of all.
You won’t find this potential superfood in your garden, though. In fact, you won’t find it on land at all.
That’s because this antioxidant powerhouse is a type of seaweed.
Proponents say that, when taken in regularly, it can cure everything from heart disease, to obesity, to hair loss.
But what is the science behind this super antioxidant of the sea?
Treasure from the Tide…
An edible brown algae that grows off the coast of Korea, China, and Japan, Ecklonia cava has been used for thousands of years as an addition to Asian dishes.
Yet its potential health benefits have only begun to undergo study.
Why would scientists think that this slimy stuff could improve health?
Well, first, seaweed contains a mixture of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that closely resembles that of the human body. That means that the minerals and other healing elements found in Ecklonia cava are easily absorbed through the skin and digestive tract and into the blood.
Even more impressive, Ecklonia cava is incredibly high in polyphenols. These antioxidant compounds are found in other foods and beverages, including green tea, red wine, and berries.
But unlike these other dietary sources, Ecklonia cava contains a type of polyphenol called eckols or phlorotannins. And these polyphenols are approximately 10 to 100 times more powerful than other polyphenols.
In fact, this brown algae has a higher Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) value than virtually any other food out there. ORAC is a way of measuring the relative power of an antioxidant. Blueberries, which are touted as a super-antioxidant, have an ORAC value of 4669. Eclklonia cava is almost twice as powerful at a whopping 8,300.
These properties make Ecklonia cava potentially one of the most useful plants in existence. Indeed, lab studies suggest that it doesn’t just act as an antioxidant, but may have anti-cancer, anti-hypertensive, and anti-allergic activity, too.
Better yet, Ecklonia cava is fat-soluble. That means that its polyphenols can last from 12 to 14 hours in the human body, whereas most other plant-based tannins last just 30 minutes. Plus, it has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.
And that may give the body an even greater chance to benefit from Ecklonia cava
Early research has uncovered a number of potential mechanisms for Ecklonia cava: Scientists suspect that it may protect against harmful free radicals, improve blood flow, quell inflammation, and dull pain – just to name a few.
Whew! Ecklonia cava certainly does sound like a super supplement.
But do its purported benefits actually translate to better human health?
“Sea” What It Can Do…
Because researchers are just beginning to study the possible benefits of Ecklonia cava, there’s still much we don’t know about this seaweed supplement.
Scientists are currently looking at its ability to help prevent and treat a variety of conditions – and the results do seem promising.
For example, animal studies show that extracts of brown algae may help the inflammatory response that occurs during allergic reactions.1
Preliminary research suggests that Ecklonia cava may ease neuropathy (nerve pain), improve erectile disfunction, slightly lower cholesterol and triglycerides2 and improve exercise endurance.3 Studies in rats show that brown algae may even increase brain waves, improve blood flow to the brain, and increase production of acetylcholine – all signs that the supplement might benefit memory and thinking.4
Despite these exciting findings, there are very few randomized, controlled, peer-reviewed human studies of Ecklonia cava.
The most promising “gold-standard” study done to date involved 97 overweight men and women, who took 72 or 144 mg of Ecklonia cava or a placebo pill daily. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that people taking either dose of the supplement showed significant decreases in body fat, body-mass index, and cholesterol. Those who took the higher dose of Ecklonia cava also had lower blood sugar and blood pressure.5
Sounds impressive – but we’ll need much more research in humans before we know whether this supplement truly lives up to its potential.
The Keys to Kelp…
While more research clearly needs to be done, Ecklonia cava certainly holds promise, and I’m excited to see what the evidence tells us as researchers uncover more about this supplement. Since the mechanisms of action seem so powerful and the initial studies look promising, there may be something to supplementing with seaweed after all.
With so much still unknown about Ecklonia cava, it’s difficult to recommend an ideal dose. We do know that the seaweed appears to be safe – after all, it’s been consumed for millennia.
If you want to try this supplement, start with small doses or follow package directions. Decrease your dose or stop altogether if you experience nausea or diarrhea, which are common side effects in some people.
Be cautious about Ecklonia cava if you have a thyroid condition. The seaweed is high in iodine, which can be dangerous for people with thyroid problems. You might also want to avoid Ecklonia cava if you have diabetes, since it may rapidly lower blood sugar. And because Ecklonia cava may have anti-hypertensive properties, don’t take it if you also take medications for high blood pressure.
Try it out. You may just find this weed of the sea is a super-antioxidant after all!
And remember, keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.
1 Kim SK, Lee DY, Jung WK, et al. Effects of Ecklonia cava ethanolic extracts on airway hyperresponsiveness and inflammation in a murine asthma model: role of suppressor of cytokine signaling. Biomed Pharmacother. 2008 Jun;62(5):289-96.
2Lee DH, Park MY, Shim BJ, et al. Effects of Ecklonia cava polyphenol in individuals with hypercholesterolemia: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2012 Nov;15(11):1038-44.
3Oh JK, Shin YO, Yoon JH, et al. Effect of supplementation with Ecklonia cava polyphenol on endurance performance of college students. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2010 Feb;20(1):72-9.
4 Kang SM, Cha SH, Ko JY, et al. Neuroprotective effects of phlorotannins isolated from a brown alga, Ecklonia cava, against H2O2-induced oxidative stress in murine hippocampal HT22 cells. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2012 Jul;34(1):96-105.
5 Shin HC, Kim SH, Park Y, et al. Effects of 12-week oral supplementation of Ecklonia cava polyphenols on anthropometric and blood lipid parameters in overweight Korean individuals: a double-blind randomized clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2012 Mar;26(3):363-8.
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