Seaweed supplements are all the rage right now, but are their health credentials stacking up?


Sales of seaweed supplements are on the rise, and given the range of health benefits they claim to offer, it’s not hard to see why. Studies claim they fight symptoms of coronavirus, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and help protect against strokes and heart disease. These are noble claims, but we are not convinced, so together with experts in exercise science and nutrition, we have evaluated the health claims of algae.

Requirement

Thanks to their antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects, seaweed supplements (seaweed powder) can prevent inflammation of the lungs, a major symptom of COVID. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to improve cardio fitness.

What is true

The COVID stuff – at least in early research. Blue-green algae (known as “spirulina”) have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce the severity of symptoms, says Kelly Pritchett, associate professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University. But all we have are cell studies. We need human trials
to pretend to retain water.

What’s, uh, complicated?

Algae supps and depression. Some research has shown that people who take omega-3s improve their depressive symptoms; other studies show no benefit. Mental health is complex, after all, and nutritional solutions don’t get to the point. “It’s important to see a doctor for depression,” says Ginger Hultin, registered dietitian. “Supplements can play a role in treatment, but it depends on the situation.”

What is so complicated?

The heart part. Early research shows that seaweed supplements appear to lower triglycerides, total cholesterol, and “bad” LDL cholesterol, which may help fight strokes and heart disease. But the effects vary depending on age, race, gender and dosage, Pritchett explains, so it’s not clear if everyone will benefit. What is clear: Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and seaweed harvested in cold water) is good for the heart.

Is it worth it ?

For COVID-19? No. Get vaccinated and keep washing your hands. For depression? Seek professional support first. For your heart or your cholesterol level? Ask your doctor. If you don’t eat fish, they may think seaweed supplements are a smart way to get your fill of EPA and DHA fatty acids. Just make sure you are buying from a brand you trust.

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