February 01, 2021

Is Red Algae Good for You?

Eating plants as a food source carries multiple health benefits. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has always been a preferred dietary model to follow. When further exploring these advantages, you may wonder which types of plants are best. For example, is red marine algae good for you? 

Red marine algae is in fact, great for you. Yet, you may be wondering, “what is red algae used for, anyway?” Sea plants and seaweed have been used in cooking and as medicine primarily among Asian cultures for centuries due to their abundance and high nutritional value. More recently, red algae has entered the mainstream, along with blue-green algae (spirulina) and green algae (chlorella), as superfoods that are deemed beneficial for health. The high fiber content supports digestion, and algae is a valuable dietary source of daily vitamins and nutrients, which may boost skin health, regulate blood sugar levels, and improve the immune response. 

Sea vegetables, in general, are rich in B-group vitamins, particularly B1, B2 (riboflavin), and B6, as well as beta-carotene and vitamin E. They also provide a good source of antioxidants. A study conducted by researchers in Malaysia and the UK analyzed the antioxidant value of Eucheuma denticulatum, a species of red algae. It concluded that extracts of red algae manifested anti-obesity, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties due to the presence of carotenoids. 1 Additionally, the antioxidant capacity of red algae compared to other species has the highest ability against peroxyl radicals. 

In comparison with other algaes, red algae contains a high level of calcium, sodium, and potassium, although significantly lower levels of zinc and iron. Research also shows that among the various types of marine algae, red and green algae contain higher levels of protein when compared to brown algae.2  This is especially helpful for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet that require alternative sources to animal protein. Plus, it’s proven effective in reducing cholesterol, improving skin health, supporting thyroid function, as well as strengthening or preserving your health in other ways. 

So, to answer the question: is red marine algae good for you? The short answer is yes. Here are a few examples that illustrate how. 

Lowers Cholesterol 


There’s a non-protein amino acid particularly abundant in marine red algae which aids in lowering cholesterol in the bloodstream. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Putra Malaysia found supplementing a high-cholesterol/high-fat diet with five percent seaweed reduced plasma total cholesterol by 7.1 percent, plasma low-density lipoprotein cholesterol by 27.3 percent, and plasma triglycerides by 2.4 percent. 3 Plus, it resulted in reduced body weight gain.

Furthermore, a medical review conducted by researchers from Pukyong National University in Busan, Korea, University of Cambridge in the UK, and Chonbuk National University in Jeonju, Korea focuses on the health benefits of fucosterol, a chemical compound that can be isolated from algae, especially red and brown varieties. They found this compound may be used to treat hypertension, diabetes, and high blood cholesterol. It also exhibits multiple therapeutic qualities, including anti-cancer, antioxidant, and antihistamine activities, among its extensive list of benefits. 

Improves Skin Health


Evidence provided by Korean researchers consider marine algae to have great value for skin health. The carbohydrates found in red marine algae help prevent or reduce hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, skin inflammation, dry skin disorders, and skin cancer. For example, carrageenans protect against UV damage and boost antioxidant and hydrating activities. The presence of vitamin A and vitamin C also provide antimicrobial and skin brightening effects.

Red algae extracts have also been identified as a better humectant than hyaluronic acid as a moisturizing compound for the skin. Since it contains electrolytes, including sodium and potassium, algae preserves your skin’s natural moisture levels. If you are looking for a plant-based product to do just that, look no further than red algae for skin improvement.

Supports Thyroid Function


Seaweed provides thyroid support due to its level of iodine.  The recommended dietary allowance of iodine for adults is 150 micrograms per day. Since the body does not make iodine naturally, it’s important to have a dietary supplement to prevent a deficiency in thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy and keep the body functioning as it should. A deficiency can lead to goiters or hypothyroidism, which could lead to fatigue, weight gain, and muscle weakness. 

Regulates Blood Sugar Levels


A study authored by researchers from Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea tested the effects of seaweed supplements on blood sugar levels. Subjects of the study were randomized into either the seaweed supplementation group or the control group of patients with type 2 diabetes. 

Those in the former group received powdered seaweed supplements three times a day for four weeks for a total daily consumption of 48 grams. Following the test period, the subjects receiving the supplements exhibited decreased blood lipids, increased antioxidant enzyme activities, and had a total dietary fiber intake two and a half times higher than the control group. 5

Promotes Gut Health


Research shows evidence that red marine algae is good for gut health. It contains unique proteins and peptides that have shown prebiotic effects to aid in digestion and prevent inflammation. For starters, red algae has approximately 47 percent of dry weight protein, higher than green or brown algae, and a good source of dietary fiber. 

Together with the functions of their natural compounds, red algae has been linked to changes in microbial activity that promotes positive activity in the gut and reduces exposure to potential carcinogens. Red algae has also been linked to research that shows potential for immunity stimulation and antioxidant activity, deeming it a functional superfood, one that provides health benefits beyond its nutritional value. 6

Protects the Immune System


Researchers have studied the positive effects of marine algae polysaccharides (MAP) and the activities they promote within the body, including protection of the immune system. MAPs can interact and trigger activation of the immune response. They may attack cancer cells and block viral adhesion to cells. As one example, a study conducted at the Universite de Bretagne in France showed evidence that MAPs isolated from two red algae varieties inhibited replication of HIV and herpes. 7 These polysaccharides were composed of sulfate, galactose, and uronic acids. 

Carrageenan derived from red algae have also shown potential in inhibiting tumors and stimulating the immune system as part of cancer therapy. An animal study conducted by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences investigated the effects of carrageenan on the immune system in mice. The mice were treated with carrageenan oligosaccharides at 50, 100, and 200 microg/g for 14 days. Results showed red algae extract significantly inhibited the growth of transplantable sarcoma and increased the form of antibodies by spleen cells. 8 

Is Red Algae Safe? 


Although there are multiple studies and ongoing research illustrating the effectiveness of red algae, it’s important to consider the question: is red algae safe? For the majority of people, it is. The red algae health benefits mentioned are only a few of the many provided. However, as with any food or food supplements, it depends on how it interacts with your system. 

Since algae is grown and harvested in various parts of the world ranging in conditions, some seaweed may have higher levels of lead, mercury, or arsenic, although these levels are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for fresh seaweed. Additionally, some seaweed varieties may interfere with certain medications due to high levels of sodium, potassium, and vitamin K. 

Being mindful of the source and amount of red algae or any sea plants you ingest is important to factor in when making choices regarding your health. Take precaution if you have pre-existing health conditions and speak with your doctor if you’re unsure about adding any new algae supplements to your diet. 

Overall, consuming red algae has proven safe and beneficial. However, effects may vary depending on how the supplement interacts with your system and how well your body is able to absorb the nutrients. 

Introducing Red Algae Into Your Diet


It’s likely you’ve already consumed red algae, possibly without realizing it. Red algae is widely available, most commonly through seaweed snacks and nori used for sushi. It’s also an ingredient used in soups, sauces, and salad dressings. Meanwhile, certain extracts like carrageenan and agar are used for its gelatinous quality to thicken puddings, dairy products, and other everyday foods. 

The nutrients you feed your body protect your health from the inside out. As a daily nutritional source, red algae is an ingredient often found in supplements as a way to receive high levels of protein, fiber, and vitamins on a regular basis, which can align with any type of dietary practices and preferences. It delivers on a nutritional level and creates health benefits beyond what is provided through taste and substance alone. 

As much attention as we give to our health, active lifestyles can make it challenging to eat enough or the right balance of foods on an everyday basis. The value of a plant-based supplement that provides the daily recommended value of essential vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and proteins like GEM, ensures you’re receiving the nutrition you need consistently. Combined with other healthy habits like daily movement, plenty of hydration, and restful sleep, you can give your body and mind the boost needed to feel and function at your best.

Sources: 

1. V Balasubramaniam et al., “Carotenoid Composition and Antioxidant Potential of Eucheuma Denticulatum, Sargassum Polycystum and Caulerpa Lentillifera,” Heliyon (Elsevier, August 12, 2020), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7426577/.

2. Mark L Wells et al., “Algae as Nutritional and Functional Food Sources: Revisiting Our Understanding,” Journal of applied phycology (Springer Netherlands, 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5387034/.

3. Patricia Matanjun, “Comparison of Cardiovascular Protective Effects of Tropical Seaweeds, Kappaphycus Alvarezii, Caulerpa Lentillifera, and Sargassum Polycystum, on High-Cholesterol/High-Fat Diet in Rats,” Journal of medicinal food (U.S. National Library of Medicine), accessed January 21, 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20482284/

4. Qudeer Ahmed Abdul, “Health Benefit of Fucosterol from Marine Algae: a Review,” Journal of the science of food and agriculture (U.S. National Library of Medicine), accessed January 21, 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26455344/.

5. Min Sun Kim et al., “Effects of Seaweed Supplementation on Blood Glucose Concentration, Lipid Profile, and Antioxidant Enzyme Activities in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus,” Nutrition research and practice (The Korean Nutrition Society and The Korean Society of Community Nutrition, 2008), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2815322/.

6. Raúl E Cian et al., “Proteins and Carbohydrates from Red Seaweeds: Evidence for Beneficial Effects on Gut Function and Microbiota,” Marine drugs (MDPI, August 20, 2015), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4557026/.

7. Shu-Ying Xu, Xuesong Huang, and Kit-Leong Cheong, “Recent Advances in Marine Algae Polysaccharides: Isolation, Structure, and Activities,” Marine drugs (MDPI, December 13, 2017), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5742848/

8. Huamao Yuan, “Immunomodulation and Antitumor Activity of Kappa-Carrageenan Oligosaccharides,” Cancer letters (U.S. National Library of Medicine), accessed January 21, 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16410037/.

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