Here’s What the Science says About This Trendy Superfood
Seaweed has long been touted as a superfood, and now sea moss, sometimes called Irish sea moss or Irish moss, has entered the wellness lexicon. Proponents have claimed that sea moss does everything from boost immunity and soothe digestion to strengthen joints and improve skin health. So does sea moss actually live up to the hype? Here are five things you should know about this trendy ingredient.
Sea moss isn’t new
Sea moss is a type of algae, which has been part of the human diet for thousands of years. In addition to being consumed historically in places like the Caribbean and Ireland, sea moss has been used medicinally in other cultures for decades, to treat conditions ranging from coughs and infections to low libido.
The benefits aren’t well researched
The research is scant on the effectiveness and safety of sea moss for various health outcomes. This includes a lack of knowledge about potential side effects; interactions with medications, herbs, or other supplements; proper dosage; and precautions based on various medical conditions. Studies on the benefits of sea moss for diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s as well as how it impacts immunity have been conducted in labs or with animals, and they haven’t use standardized forms of sea moss. This leaves unanswered questions about the ideal use of sea moss for humans.
There’s a lot we don’t know
While there is a growing interest in algae as a functional food—a food with benefits beyond the nutrients it contains—there are many variables to consider. Algae may be rich in minerals and antioxidants, but the digestibility and bioavailability of nutrients isn’t well understood. In other words, how much nutrition is absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, and how accessible and usable are those nutrients to our cells? Other question marks include the variability of nutrient levels based on where and how the algae is grown, and issues related to potential contamination with heavy metals or other environmental toxins.
You can consume too much
Sea moss is likely a rich source of iodine. (Although as mentioned above, the levels may vary.) This essential mineral helps produce thyroid hormones. The goal with iodine is to consume a just-right amount, as both too little and too much can throw thyroid hormones out of whack. So yes, you can get too much of a good thing, and more isn’t better. If you consume sea moss, be careful not to overdo it.
It may be a supplement rather than a food
Sea moss is sold in several forms, including dried, ground, or in pills or droppers. Sea moss products sold as a dietary supplements aren’t regulated in the same way as prescription drugs. They do not have to be proven to be effective or safe before they are marketed. And there is largely no way of knowing if what is stated on the label is precisely what’s in the product.
This isn’t to say that supplements shouldn’t be used. I believe many are beneficial, but it’s important to use caution, and to take supplements with the guidance of your doctor or a dietitian who can recommend the right form, dose, frequency, and length of use, or identify any potential precautions to be aware of.
Bottom line: Adding some sea moss to an occasional smoothie or a plant-based pudding (note: sea moss has a natural thickening property) is probably fine, and may offer some nutritional advantages. But don’t overdo it, count on it as a cure all, or blindly accept all of the claims about its benefits, particularly from those profiting from its sale. Most importantly, seek out an independent expert before you incorporate any supplements into your daily or regular routine.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health‘s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams
By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD