What Is It?
For thousands of years, traditional healers in China and other parts of the world have looked to the water for healing remedies. Spirulina and kelp were two key finds.
Spirulina is a small, single-celled microorganism that’s rich in chlorophyll, a plant pigment that gives so many lakes and ponds their dark blue-green color. Kelp, in contrast, is a brown algae that grows only in the sea. The name refers to any of the numerous long-stemmed seaweeds that belong to the order Laminariales or Fucales.
In the United States, rockweed is the type of kelp most commonly cultivated for dietary supplements and health drinks. Olive green in color, this kelp measures 3 to 6 feet long and is different from the varieties that naturally wash up along the nation’s shorelines.
Both spirulina and kelp have been touted as miracle cures, capable of melting away arthritis pain, increasing energy, boosting immunity, improving liver function, warding off heart disease and cancer, suppressing AIDS, controlling appetite, and guarding against cell damage from exposure to X rays or heavy metals. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that there’s little or no scientific evidence to support most of these claims.
These seaweeds do offer certain health benefits, however. Both provide essential nutrients (carotenoids, protein, minerals) and can constitute a nutritious part of a vegetarian or macrobiotic diet.
Specifically, spirulina and kelp may help to:
Control bad breath. Spirulina’s high chlorophyll content makes it an excellent remedy for bad breath as long as the problem is caused by something other than gum disease or chronic sinusitis. It’s frequently the major ingredient in chlorophyll breath fresheners.
Treat thyroid problems. Kelp in particular is rich in iodine and may be worth trying for an underactive thyroid condition caused by a lack of this mineral. However, in the United States very few cases of underactive thyroid are due to iodine deficiency. That’s because the use of iodized salt is now so widespread. Since suspected thyroid problems need to be diagnosed with blood tests–and require prescription medication to be successfully treated–consult your doctor if you believe you have a problem with your thyroid gland before trying kelp or any other dietary supplement.
For bad breath: There are three options.
–Use a commercial chlorophyll-rich liquid breath freshener that lists spirulina as one of its primary ingredients. Follow the label directions.
–Stir 1 teaspoon of spirulina powder into half a glass (4 ounces) of water, rinse your mouth, then swallow the solution.
–Chew spirulina tablets three or four times a day, as needed.
For iodine-deficiency hypothyroidism. Take 10 grains of powdered kelp (supplying 300 mcg of iodine) daily as directed by your doctor.
Guidelines for Use
To lessen the risk of stomach upset, take spirulina or kelp with food.
Iodine concentrations loose potency over time, so it’s important to check the expiration date on any kelp supplement before buying it. In one study, kelp tablets that had been on a shelf for 18 months were found to have no discernible iodine content.
Large doses of kelp could provide excessive iodine and interfere with the effectiveness of certain thyroid medications.
Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.
Possible Side Effects
Both spirulina and kelp can cause nausea and diarrhea in some cases. If this occurs, reduce the dose or stop taking the supplement.
A small percentage of people (about 3%) are sensitive to iodine and could develop a painful and enlarged thyroid gland if they consume iodine-rich substances such as kelp for several weeks or months. There are occasional reports of this occurring in Japan, where consuming kelp is quite popular.
Never take spirulina or kelp that you happen to find on the beach or in your local lake or pond because it could be contaminated with industrial waste or sewage and have high levels of lead, mercury, cadmium, or other toxins.
Kelp has high iodine concentrations that could be harmful to a woman who is pregnant or breast-feeding.
Bad Breath Rinse mouth with a chlorophyll-rich “green drink.” Or chew spirulina tablets as needed.
Thyroid Disease 10 grains of powdered kelp (supplying 300 mcg iodine) a day
David Edelberg, MD