Kelp has been used for centuries as an animal and human food source and also for its medicinal properties. A great deal of good press recently has seen a huge rise in its popularity and it has become one of the latest fashionable miracle cures. But is kelp good for?
What is Kelp?
Kelp is a type of extremely fast growing seaweed which is found in abundance in shallow oceans. It grows into what are termed kelp forests due to its growth voracity, plant length and denseness.
It contains many minerals that are essential for humans such as magnesium, potassium and calcium, as well as being a source of many vitamins, most markedly vitamin C.
Kelp is an extremely versatile food source. It can be eaten fresh and used much in the way that a salad vegetable would be. It can also be dried or powdered and then used as an ingredient or seasoning in many dishes. The Asian market is one of the world’s largest kelp consumers.
What is Kelp Good For?
Many claims have been made about the health benefits of kelp some of which I have been unable to source as having any scientific basis. Of course that is not in itself proof either that those health benefits don’t exist.
1.) Thyroid problems – kelp advocates claim the high iodine content in kelp is a great boost for healthy thyroid functioning. Of all the claims for kelp this is the candidate for least likely. I have extensively researched this claim and the medical view seems to be that this claim is impossible and even if this were the case it would be a dangerous way of addressing thyroid problems. Additionally, iodine deficiency isn’t an issue in the western world.
2.) Healthy hair and nails – there is no doubt that kelp contains the many vitamins and minerals essential for healthy hair and nail growth. It would appear that the only medical argument against this health benefit is that those essential vitamins and minerals can also be found in other food sources.
3.) Decongestant – again, it would appear that kelp may have the ability to help aid the body eliminate and break down excess mucous.
4.) Weight-loss – the theories for the use of kelp as a weight-loss aid work on the principle of thyroid stimulation. Healthy thyroid activity is responsible for efficient metabolism and the suggestion is that stimulating the thyroid will speed up metabolism while at the same time suppressing the appetite. As has already been discussed this is highly unlikely.
There is a further point concerning weight loss and kelp to be mentioned here. A carotenoid substance called fucoxanthin, which is found present in kelp and is responsible for its coloring, may eventually prove to be the kelp element that helps with weight loss. Exactly how fucoxanthin aids weight loss isn’t fully understood but it is thought it works on the presence of a protein and how quickly fat is burned in the body. Studies are as yet in their infancy and far from conclusive.
5.) Lowers blood pressure – the findings from some studies have suggested there may be a link between kelp and lowering the blood pressure although to date the results are not conclusive.
6.) Lowers cholesterol – the same applies here as for lowering blood pressure.
7.) Relieves rheumatism and arthritis pain – it is said that kelp can help reduce inflammation thereby aiding in the pain of rheumatism and rheumatoid arthritis.
8.) Immune system booster – many users of kelp swear that their resistance to infection and virus is bolstered by using kelp and kelp supplements.
There are actually many other claims for the medicinal benefits of kelp including reducing digestive disorders, mental clarity and body system cleansing.
As already discussed, none of the claims for kelp have any absolute proof where clinical study is concerned but then neither do many of the other natural, alternative remedies. Lack of scientific endorsement is not necessarily proof in itself that something doesn’t work. Millions of people use natural and herbal supplements for all manner of conditions and millions of people would be ready to swear, from first hand experience, of their efficacy. So, is kelp good for you? The answer is of course yes. It is a natural food source, abundant in many of our essential vitamins and mineral and has no side effects or contra-indications with prescription medicine. Is it a miracle cure? Maybe – it can certainly do no harm to try it.