On the shores of Nova Scotia and north on the Atlantic coast, and from California to Alaska on the Pacific coast, there thrives two seaweed plants commonly called tangleweed and sugar wrack.
Tangleweed has a slender, horny stem that is brown to olive green in color and divided into numerous fingers. Sugar wrack has a single shiny brown to olive green blade, which can grow up to 15 feet long. What these two seaweeds have in common is that they both are members of the kelp family—plants with a rich tradition of nutritional and medicinal uses.
In fact, kelp hit the spotlight a few years back when a dental researcher was engaged in an international study of tooth decay. Among his subjects were tribal peoples living at 16,000 feet in the Andes Mountains of Peru. While working with these tribes, he noticed that each individual carried a little bag. Out of curiosity, he looked into the bags and discovered ... kelp. When he asked his study subjects why they had made the long trip from the mountains to the ocean to bring back this seaweed, they replied simply, "To guard the heart."
Somewhere in their ancient tradition these tribal peoples had made a discovery that now finds support in modern biochemical research. Kelp, a seaweed rich in iodine, calcium and other minerals, can be of great value in maintaining a healthy heart.
But there's more to the story. In the 1950s, a Cornell professor of agricultural chemistry, George Cavanaugh, conducted research on chickens and discovered that when hens were given kelp supplements, they produced better eggs with harder shells. Cavanaugh's research led to studies on humans, which showed that fractured bones tend to fuse more quickly when patients are given a dietary seaweed supplement. More specifically, the researchers concluded, the healing time of fractures can be reduced by 20 percent by giving patients a daily dose of kelp.
Why does this little-known plant work so well? Dr. D.C. Jarvis, author of Folk Medicine (Galahad, 1996), points out that the composition of the human body and of seawater are the same. It's only practical, he suggests, that we should turn to the sea to supplement our mineral needs.
And to a certain extent we do—whenever we eat saltwater fish and other ocean-grown foods. Even so, we can effectively step up the health benefits provided by the ocean by taking a daily kelp tablet (available in health food stores and some drugstores). Dr. Jarvis, who practiced medicine well into his 80s, called this "a simple, effective means of avoiding the mineral deficiency conditions which appear in the human body when we eat only land-grown foods, which are all too often grown in mineral-starved soil."
Kelp is a major source of iodine—a necessary mineral in our bodies. The thyroid gland, for example, needs iodine to do its work properly. Yet most of us are iodine deficient.
There are at least six good reasons to take kelp daily to achieve the iodine level necessary to support the work of the thyroid gland:
- Iodine is an energy booster. There is a clear relationship between our energy level and our iodine intake.
- Iodine functions to calm the body and relieve nervous energy, thus reducing irritability and enabling better sleep.
- Iodine is one of our best oxidizing catalysts, efficiently burning up the food we consume each day. If this food is not properly burned, it may be stored as unwanted fat.
- Studies show that the mind functions better and can engage in clearer thinking when the body is provided the iodine it needs.
- Iodine is known to have beneficial effects on the heart and circulatory system.
- Research indicates that sufficient iodine in the body promotes healing of bones.
Eating foods that contain iodine is important to our daily diets. These include fish, radishes, carrots, spinach, rhubarb, strawberries, cabbage and onions. Still, most of us lack iodine because we do not eat sufficient amounts of these foods on a regular basis.
Help comes in the form of kelp. A 500 milligram tablet taken once a day can mean a sea change for your health.