Over time, scientists and doctors have come to appreciate the human gut as not just a stomach and intestines that pass food, but a complex ecosystem inhabited by trillions of bacterial microorganisms, collectively known as the gut microbiota. This intricate microbial community plays a pivotal role in maintaining overall human health, so much so that it is sometimes referred to as “the second brain” and even helps add resilience against gastrointestinal disorders. Research shows that our gut ecosystem influences processes ranging from digestion to immune function to mental health.
While seaweed and kelp have been around for millenia, it’s only in recent years that there has been a growing interest and research in the potential of seaweed as a dietary component that can positively impact gut health. Seaweed is a broad term that includes a diverse group of marine algaes that have been a staple in various cuisines around the world. Beyond algaes culinary appeal, emerging research suggests that seaweeds may hold the key to promoting a healthy gut and fostering a thriving gut microbiota. Seaweed consumption has been linked to an increase in the abundance of specific beneficial bacteria, including Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, known for their positive impact on gut health.
seaweed as a nutrient-rich superfood
Seaweed is a broad term encompassing various types of marine algae, such as brown, red, and green algae. These aquatic plants are rich in a plethora of bioactive compounds, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Notable examples of seaweed commonly consumed include sugar kelp and alaria, both grown on our Nautical Farms sea farm, as well as nori, and dulse. As a nutrient-dense superfood, seaweed offers a unique combination of essential nutrients that contribute to overall well-being.
seaweed and digestive system functionality
high fiber content
One of the primary reasons seaweed is beneficial for the digestive system is its high fiber content. Fiber is an indigestible component found in plant-based foods that passes through the digestive tract relatively unchanged. In the case of seaweed, the fiber content, including both soluble and insoluble fibers, plays a crucial role in promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. The presence of fiber helps maintain optimal bowel function by adding bulk to the stool and supporting peristalsis, which is the involuntary reflex that propels contents through our digestive systems. Kelp, a type of brown seaweed grown here at Nautical Farms rich in fiber with between 25% and 75% of its dry weight being a type of fiber called alginate. In addition to being a fiber, alginates appear to block absorption of fats in the body, which has potential to aid in weight loss and reduce cholesterol levels.
It’s important to note that fiber cannot be found in fish, meat, dairy or sugar, so consuming foods like seaweeds and other vegetables are a great source of fiber.
Anti-inflammatory foods can aid against most diseases as inflammation is often the root of many diseases. Seaweeds, specifically kelp, contain bioactive compounds, such as polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation in the gut is associated with various digestive disorders, including inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) like Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The anti-inflammatory effects of seaweed may contribute to mitigating gut inflammation, as well as fostering a more conducive environment for overall digestive health.
seaweed as a prebiotic
When people think of prebiotics or probiotics, we sometimes think of a supplement that can be taken, however, many foods naturally contain pre and probiotics and seaweed is one of them. A prebiotic is a substance that stimulates the growth and healthy activity of beneficial bacterias and fungi in the gut (probiotics). Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that reach the colon intact, where they serve as a fuel source for beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics, or functional foods like kelp, are foods that offer health benefits beyond their nutritional value. In seaweed, studies have identified specific carbohydrates as potential prebiotics.
fermentation of seaweed-derived compounds
Once in the colon, gut bacteria ferment the indigestible parts of seaweed, especially the prebiotic fibers. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such butyrate, acetate, and propionate, are produced during this fermentation process and are well-known for their numerous health-promoting properties. In addition to providing colonocytes with energy, SCFAs also help to maintain the integrity of the gut barrier and have anti-inflammatory qualities, all of which improve the general health of the digestive system.
potential therapeutic applications of seaweed in gastrointestinal disorders
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a common gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain, bloating, and altered bowel habits. The soothing and anti-inflammatory properties of seaweed may offer relief to individuals with IBS symptoms. Additionally, the prebiotic nature of seaweed could potentially rebalance the gut microbiota in those suffering from IBS.
inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD)
The anti-inflammatory and prebiotic effects of seaweed make it a promising dietary adjunct for individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases. While more research is needed, preliminary studies suggest that seaweed consumption might help modulate the gut microbiota and alleviate symptoms in patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
In conclusion, seaweed stands out as a multifaceted ally in promoting gut health and supporting the flourishing gut microbiota. Its rich nutrient profile, high fiber content, anti-inflammatory properties, and prebiotic potential collectively contribute to a healthier digestive system. As research in this field advances, the integration of seaweed into dietary recommendations may offer a natural and sustainable approach to enhancing gut health, preventing digestive disorders, and improving overall well-being. However, as with any dietary intervention, it is crucial to consider your individual health conditions and seek professional advice when incorporating seaweed into your diet for medical conditions.