8 Super-Healthy Treasures from the Sea

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Section: Nutritional Supplements

"Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables" is one of the few health mantras agreed upon by most health authorities. Despite this undisputed advice, many Americans still fall far short of consuming even the baseline recommendation of five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Also. as of late, we have heard that "good fats" are essential to good health; yet, for many Americans, much of their fat intake comes from the "bad" fats, such as the saturated and trans-fat varieties.

What to do? While soil provides fertile ground for edible plants and oils, so does the sea. Variety is indeed the spice of life, so in your efforts to get your greens and good fats, don't forget that the sea is filled with a treasure-trove of nutrient-rich plants and creatures.
#1 Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green algae is harvested primarily in lakes, one of the most plentiful of which is Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon. Claims have been made about this algae's ability to enhance mental clarity -- its richness in amino acids seem to make it very effective in stimulating the human brain.

Rhonda Henry, Ph.D., of Tarzana, Calif., author of several nutritional books and tapes, who also conducts seminars and has a private practice, agrees, stating "Blue-green algae is the highest known source of natural vegetable protein (58 percent) and chlorophyll in the world. It contains all the essential amino acids in a perfect balance for the human body." She also feels that it enhances physical stamina and strengthens the immune system.

Also, at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) held in Anaheim, Calif. in March, "researchers [said] they have confirmed, for the first time, that blue-green algae taken as a nutritional supplement can significantly lower cholesterol in animals," according to an ACS news report. The report goes on to say that blue-green algae's cholesterol-lowering capabilities are due to its high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), as well as an "alternative mechanism," not yet known. Studies are now being done to see if blue-green algae's cholesterol-lowering effects on rats are applicable to humans.
#2 Chlorella

Chlorella, which first became popular in Japan, is a single-cell algae loaded with chlorophyll, the "blood" of plants. Although it is a plant food, it is an excellent source for nutrients typically associated with animal-derived foods, such as protein, iron, and vitamin B-12.

In his book, Chlorella: Natural Medicinal Algae, David Steenblock, B.S., M.Sc., D.O., says that chlorella has a strong cell wall that prevents it from being well digested; thus, he says, it was not until 1977 that it became available as a supplement in the U.S., when a method was developed to break down its sturdy cell walls. Steenblock says chlorella's capabilities include stimulating immune function, easing arthritis, and lowering blood pressure.
#3 Green-lipped mussels

In some parts of the world, in particular Western Mexico and the South Pacific, shellfish supplements are traditionally used as a remedy for arthritis. One of these compounds is greenlipped mussel extract.

One study, published in a 1998 issue of Complementary Therapies in Medicine, compared the efficacy of a lipid extract of the New Zealand green-lipped mussel and green-lipped mussel powder in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Sixty patients were enrolled in the six-month-long study -- 30 with rheumatoid arthritis and 30 with osteoarthritis. For the first three months, half the patients received the extract and half received the powder, none of them knowing what they were taking; for the next three months, all of the patients took the extract. The researchers concluded that "The two preparations appeared equally efficacious. ... Both the stabilized freeze-dried mussel powder and its derived lipid extract are effective in reducing pain, swelling, and stiffness and in improving functional index in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis."

Also, in a 1997 study published in the journal Inflammopharmacology, researchers say that "the ... ('mussel 'oil') obtained from stabilized dried mussel powders is a potent [...] anti-inflammatory agent."
#4 Kelp

Probably the most recognized sea vegetable, kelp is related to brown algae, with a similar taste and appearance to Japanese kombu.

Besides being rich in calcium, potassium, and iodine, it contains mannitol, a natural sugar that gives it a slightly sweet taste. Kelp enhances the flavor of soup, beans, and stews as well as acting as a natural tenderizer. It contains glutamic acid, which aids in the digestibility of beans.
#5 Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids -- the often deficient essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the typical Western diet -- are found in the oil of cold water fish, such as salmon, herring, and mackerel, and in land-based sources, such as flax, pumpkin, evening primrose, etc. These fatty acids are considered to be "good" fats, with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) being two of the most important of these. DHA, in particular (mentioned below), is now also extracted from single-cell algae. Recent research confirms that omega-3s may be especially good for the heart.

Omega-3s and heart health. Earlier this year, the results of an Italian study, which looked at the effects that fish-oil supplements had on more than 11,000 people who suffered a heart attack, were presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans. The researchers divided the study participants into four groups, giving them either dummy pills, fish-oil supplements, fish-oil supplements and vitamin E, or just vitamin E. The researchers found that those who took the fish-oil supplements reduced their risk of dying from heart disease by 15 percent.

Another recent study, this one published in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, found that omega-3 fatty acids (also taken in the form of fish-oil supplements) "modestly" slowed the buildup of fat in the arteries of heart-disease patients. This double-blind study looked at 223 patients with heart disease, with 111 of them taking fish-oil supplements for two years, and 112 of them taking a placebo.

It is also interesting to note that, among Greenlandic Eskimos, whose diet consists largely of meat from whales, seals, sea birds, and fish, the rate of heart disease is extremely low.

DHA. A component of fish oil in which there's been a lot of buzz about lately is DHA. In his book DHA: A Good Fat, James Gormley, Better Nutrition's editor, discusses the research showing that supplementation with this essential fatty acid may help depression, Alzheimer's disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, vision problems, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases, and other serious conditions.
#6 Sea Cucumbers

Sea cucumbers are quite different from the land-variety in that they are actually marine animals related to starfish and sea urchins, according to James F. Balch, M.D., and Phyllis A. Balch, C.N.C., in their book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing.

They point out that these sea veggies have been used for thousands of years in China to ease arthritis, and that modern research has confirmed that they are indeed beneficial for musculoskeletal disorders. As to why this is so, "researchers believe that sea cucumbers improve the balance of prostaglandins, which regulate the inflammatory process," say the Balches. "They also contain substances known as mucopolysaccharides and chondroitins, which are often lacking in people with arthritis and connective tissue disorders."
#7 Shark Cartilage

Shark cartilage may be the most famous of the "sea nutrients," thanks to the popular books, Sharks Don't Get Cancer and Sharks Still Don't Get Cancer by I. William Lane, Ph.D. Its angiogenesis-inhibiting capabilities -- that is, its ability to halt the development of new blood vessels that bring nutrients and oxygen to tumors -- appear to hold the most promise, especially in terms of fighting cancerous tumors.

In fact, in May 1999, the National Cancer Institute agreed to co-sponsor a Phase III Clinical Trial of shark cartilage through the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG). Charles Loprinzi, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, N.Y.), will be the principal investigator for the study, which will begin later this year. The trial will enroll about 600 patients with advanced breast and/or colon cancer, and will examine such parameters as effectiveness, benefits, and side effects (if any). This is exciting news for proponents of shark cartilage therapy.
#8 Spirulina

Spirulina is a particular kind of blue-green algae found in warm-water alkaline volcanic lakes, as well as in ponds in Hawaii, Mexico, Japan, and other pans of the world. Spirulina has a soft cell wall made of complex sugars and proteins, making it easily digestible.

It contains gamma-linolenic, linoleic, and arachidonic acids, vitamin B-12, iron, essential amino acids, and chlorophyll.

The Balches say that it helps to stabilize blood sugar levels, due to its high-protein content, so people with hypoglycemia may find it helpful to take between meals.
REFERENCES

"Blue-green algae has dual cholesterol lowering abilities," March 22, 1999. http://www.chemcenter.org/press/algae.html

"Fish oil lowers heart disease death rate." Study. http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH. March 10, 1999.

Balch, James, M.D., Balch, Phyllis A., C.N.C. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Garden City Park. N.Y.: Avery Publishing Group, 1997 (ask your retailer to call: 1-800-5485757).

Gibson, S.L.M., and Gibson, R.G "The treatment of arthritis with a lipid extract of Perna canaliculus: a randomized trial," Complementary Therapies in Medicine 6:122126, 1998.

Gormley, James J. DHA, A Good Fat-Essential for Life. New York, N.Y.: Kensington Books, 1999.

Lane, I. William, Ph.D. Sharks Still Don't Get Cancer. Garden City Park, N.Y.: Avery Publishing Group, 1996 (ask your retailer to call 1-800-548-5757).

Steenblock, David, B.S., M.Sc., D.O. Chlorella -- Natural Medicinal Algae. El Toro, Calif.: Aging Research Institute, 1987.

von Schacky, C., et al. "The effect of dietary omega-3 fatty acids on coronary atherosclerosis. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial," Annals of Internal Medicine 130(7):554-62, April 6, 1999.

Whitehouse, MW., et al. "Anti-inflammatory activity of a lipid fraction (Lyprinol) from the NZ green-lipped mussel," lnflammopharmacology 5:237-246, 1997.

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By Bobbi Moreno

Bobbi Moreno is a writer from Mission Hills, Calif. She has written articles for many magazines, including Veggie Life. Fit, Total Health, and American Fitness

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