It is in our nature to look for foods and supplements that are good for our body, and this constant search has taken new paths in recent years in which we have realized the negative impact that ultra-processed food and highly industrialized products can have on us. Interestingly, sometimes the answers are there in plain sight if we just learn from the history of humankind. [This article, “Getting Back to Sea Moss, a Half-Forgotten Extraordinary Nutrient” was originally published in HealthXWire]
An example of this is sea moss (also known as red algae), which is a seaweed that has saved the lives of thousands of people in the past and that today is already present in what we consume, although we do not realize it, and is actually an option for those seeking nutrition with natural, organic, and even vegan origin. But when did we realize the value of this plant that is making its way back into our diets?
In our oceans there are around 12,000 registered species of seaweed and it is important to point out that not all of them offer benefits for our health. For example sea moss, the name given to a group of red algae, is not the same as sargassum, the seaweed that ruins the vacations of tourists traveling to Caribbean destinations such as Cancun. And sargassum seaweed has no nutrients.
Plant-based nutrients… from the sea! Sea Moss
Sea moss is a marine plant that grows in different parts of the world, from the British Isles to the South Pacific through the Caribbean. There are dozens of varieties of sea moss, which come in different colors and range from 2 inches in size to over 6 feet. The main nutrient of sea moss is carrageenan, but it is also a source of collagen, vitamins A, E, F and K, as well as calcium, potassium and iodine.
The nutrients contained in sea moss have been shown to have a positive effect in helping to support the immune system and metabolism, as well as protecting mucous membranes and helping the digestive system function.
Carrageenan is an element that is commonly used in various industries, such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, because it is an emulsifying and suspending agent similar to gelatin, but unlike the latter, carrageenan does not have an animal origin; it is extracted 100 percent from a plant, so it meets the criteria of being a vegan product.
An ancient source of nutrition
The consumption of sea moss as food is not new. In fact, it played a major positive role in one of Europe’s darkest chapters. During the Irish Potato Famine (between 1845 and 1852), the population of Ireland was left without food after a plague completely destroyed potato production on the island. Research carried out during 2013 discovered that the fungus Phytophthora Infestans infected all the crops of the variety of potato that was the basis of the Irish diet, and that, added to the yoke of the British Empire, caused a famine that claimed the lives of around a million people.
At that time, faced with a lack of food, the Irish began to eat sea moss, instinctively, because there simply was nothing else within their reach. The nutrients in the sea plant saved many lives, preventing the tragedy from being much worse. Today, with the help of science, we have found that this astounding plant offers benefits not only within our body, but also for the planet. Just as in those fateful times, sea moss can bring us benefits today, in our modern world.
Other benefits associated with the consumption of sea moss are a healthier immune system, aid in muscle recovery and weight loss, in addition to being a good source of iodine and promoting the generation of good bacteria in the stomach.
Helping us breathe better
Our respiratory system is working all the time, every day we breathe up to 20 thousand times and problems caused by diseases and bad habits can arise. One of the main benefits offered by sea moss is that it is an ally in protecting the mucous membranes of our respiratory systems, something that became more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in some countries there are companies that have even created medicines based on carrageenan extracted from red algae and sea moss to prevent respiratory diseases caused by viruses and bacteria.
A May 2021 study by French researchers indicated that “Besides other various biological activities, sulfated seaweed polysaccharides have proven their broad-spectrum potential against various respiratory illnesses. (…) In the discussed examples, it can be seen that the antiviral efficacy of these seaweed SPS is well documented through in vitro assays, which have identified common mechanisms between the different seaweed polysaccharides. All these efforts can help provide practical application and deliver natural, safe options to combat respiratory viral infections“. The goal of the research was to find alternatives to traditional respiratory virus therapies that relied almost exclusively on synthetic drugs that had potential side effects.
The benefits that sea moss offers for breathing are due to the fact that it has expectorant and anti inflammatory functions, it also helps to dissolve the mucous membranes of the lungs, something that can be good news for people with common respiratory diseases such as asthma and bronchitis.
Consuming sea moss can also help those who engage in harmful habits such as long-term tobacco smoking and are looking to repair the damage they have done to their body. Smoking is associated with an overproduction of mucus and accumulation of phlegm in the lungs, so it is important to expel the mucus, especially in cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.
It is important to emphasize that sea moss is not a cure for respiratory diseases but it is a great ally to achieve a speedy recovery and improve our health. This nutrient can also help people who fortunately do not suffer from respiratory problems, because breathing well offers benefits such as stress reduction, relaxation, increased energy, improved immune system and better quality of sleep, especially if it goes hand in hand with physical activities that help you breathe more efficiently like running or yoga.
From the sea to your home table
Unlike in previous times, consumers no longer must have to go to the sea to collect sea moss to obtain its benefits, since there are different products on the market in various presentations such as dehydrated moss that turns into a gel on contact with water, or capsules for those who want to be more time efficient.
Mimi Chen, Co-founder for Happy Fox Health, a brand of sea moss that has been sold in the United States and Canada for more than three years, commented: “The conversation around sea moss is on the rise because we’re talking about a superfood that helps us with digestion, improves metabolism and our skin, hair and joints.”
“The increased interest in sea moss is part of a cultural change, in which we no longer live as we were raised, our generation pays more attention to what our family eats and places more importance on our health. For this reason, our product is organic, gluten-free, plant-based and 100% natural,” she said.
Sustainable energy that helps the planet
The benefits of a plant or its derivatives should not be cataloged solely based on what they can do for our body and health, we must also take into account the impact that its production and distribution processes leave on the environment and quality of life of the people who daily strive to produce it and that it reaches us.
In the case of sea moss, in addition to the benefits it can bring to health it has advantages that help in the big picture of the current problems facing the world: It can be produced sustainably. In the Caribbean and other parts of the world, there are already sustainable sea moss production programs that support the economy of communities while combating the ravages of climate change.
The different varieties of sea moss are part of marine ecosystems and grow naturally. They consume carbon dioxide and generate oxygen, they do not need soil, and as they have a high growth rate (they can double their biomass between 15 to 30 days) their harvest, carried out under specific action plans, does not harm the environment and contributes to its natural regeneration.
Becoming a superfood and garnering attention
The benefits of sea moss are making the plant and its extracts a rising star in the superfood category and more and more people consider it an ally in improving their quality of life. According to data obtained from Google Trends, from April 2019 to date the number of searches for sea moss in the search engine has skyrocketed and the trend is increasing, especially on the East Coast of the country. And because of its qualities, this plant-based superfood is inspiring many Americans to live a better lifestyle by moving away from unhealthy processed foods.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that there is an increase in the number of sea moss brands on the market, led by entrepreneurs who believe that it is possible to market healthy products and, at the same time, support the economy of the communities that live in coastal areas.
The best of the past can be the future
The history of humankind is based on the constant search for alternatives, innovation and the mixture of elements that make us better in terms of our health and our relationship with the environment. And truly learning from that is revisiting things like sea moss, which in the past saved the lives of people who instinctively turned to it for survival and is now back in accessible presentations available to people all over the world.
Whether for its qualities and nutrients that make us breathe better, reduce inflammation or provide vitamins to our immune system, sea moss is a plant that has always been there to help us have a healthier future.
Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.