best natural foods

Seaweed benefits

One of the most important seaweed benefits is particularly relevant to us today, in view of the nuclear plant crisis in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

This is the ability of seaweeds to protect against the harmful effects of radiation exposure.

This, however, is not just a worry of people living in Japan near Fukushima, the site of the nuclear plant disaster. It concerns each and every one of us because we are constantly exposed to radiation from cell phones, microwaves and various other modern devices.

It is low-level radiation, so we don't get killed or fall ill immediately, but constant low level radiation comes with its own set of health problems.

This article looks at the role of seaweeds in protecting against radiation, as well as the many other seaweed benefits that stem from the rich content of seaweed nutrients in the form of minerals and trace elements.

The first atomic bomb

Seaweed benefits - as well as the banefits of miso which the Japanese use mainly in miso soup - were first documented after the first atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, respectively on August 6 and August 9, 1949,

At Nagasaki, there was a doctor, Tatsuichiro Akizuki, MD, who was Director of the Department of Internal Medicine at St. Francis’s Hospital. Following the bombing, Dr Akizuki gave his colleagues a strict diet of mainly Remarkably, many hospital patients at St. Francis’ Hospital in Nagasaki survived acute radiation poisoning sickness even though the hospital was only one mile from the blast site!

Other foods that he allowed included Hokkaido pumpkin, tamnari soy sauce and natural sea salt. At the same time, Dr Akizuki strictly forbade the consumption of sugar and sweets as these were known to suppress the immune system.

The results were remarkable. Most people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki died from radiation exposure and some experienced severe diarrhea before they died. At St Francis Hospital, almost all the patients and hospital workers survived and they did not suffer diarrhea or other symptoms of radiation illness. Apparently, the only casualty was one European doctor, who refused to follow the Japanese doctor's diet.

Dr Akizuki's did not know the scientific basis for seaweed benefits at the time. His recommendations were based on his understanding of yin and yang. Radiation was something totally new at the time. But from the way it spreads far and wide, Dr Akizuki understood it to be yin or having strong "expansion energy". He thus recommended a diet of brown rice, miso soup, seaweeds and other yang foods with strong contracting energy. And he forbade sugar, which was also yin.

Subsequently, research by Japanese and other scientists confirm that seaweed benefits include anti-radiation properties.

The anti-radiation seaweed benefits were recognized even by the former US Atomic Energy Commission, which recommended people to take 2 to 3 ounces (57 to 85 grams) of seaweed a week to protect against radiation in the event of a major radiation disaster. This may not sound much but it is. Seaweed is normally taken in much smaller amounts and a 50-gram packet of, say, kombu seaweed or kelp would normally last a small family of four for a few weeks.

Seaweed benefits from iodine

Seaweed's anti radiation properties stem mainly from its content of iodine, which binds toxic and radioactive substances - such as mercury, lead, cadmium and radioactive strontium - and helps discharge them from the body. Other nutrients in seaweed play a role as well.

How much iodine do seaweeds contain. This is extremely difficult to say because the amount varies greatly, from about 15 micrograms per gram of seaweed, to several thousand micrograms. It depends not just on the type of seaweed, but also source, time of harvest, method of preparation and how it is used in cooking. For example, soaking seaweed in water can remove about 60 percent of the iodine.

As a general rule, red and green seaweeds, which are milder tasting, do not contain as much iodine - and other minerals and trace elements - as brown and black seaweeds, which are strong tasting. Nori, the type of seaweed used to wrap sushi, contains little iodine while kombu (kelp) and hijiki contain quite large amounts.

Note, however, that too much iodine can cause problems as well. Just as too little iodine can cause hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid gland function) and goitre (swelling of the thyroid glands), too much iodine can also cause hypothyroidism as well as autoimmune thyroiditis or Hashimoto's disease, which also causes the thyroid glands to swell.

If you don't eat seaweeds, or take only small amounts daily, it is virtually impossible to get too much iodine. You might need to worry only if you take large amounts of seaweeds everyday. Click here to learn about the common types of seaweeds and how much to take in order to enjoy seaweed benefits.

Note, however, that it is not just iodine that removes toxic and radioactive substances from the body, but seaweeds in general that does the job.

Radioactive strontium is one of the most hazardous pollutants present in the world today due to nuclear power plants, testing of nuclear weapons, etc. And studies have shown that seaweeds can remove up to 90 percent of radioactive strontium 90 from the intestinal tract. In addition, sodium alginates found in seaweeds chelate the remaining amount out of the bone structure.

Seaweed benefits from calcium

Another important benefit of seaweeds is its rich content of calcium. Now we all know that calcium is vital for strong bones and we also "know" that milk is the "best" source of calclium, right? WRONG! Milk is not the best source of calcium. Nutritionists and dieticians who say that milk is the “best" source of calcium are saying this out of ignorance - because they only study foods in a typical Western diet.

Seaweeds and sesame seeds are much better sources of calclum than milk. Depending on the variety, seaweeds may contain between seven and 14 times (in the case of hijiki seaweed) as much calcium as cow's milk. Sesame seeds also contain abouty 14 times as much calcium as milk.

More significantly, the calcium in seaweeds and sesame seeds (provided the seeds are crushed) is more readily absorbed by the body compared with the calcium from pasteurised or UHT (ultra-high temperature) cow's milk. Only the calcium from raw milk is more readily absorbed, but raw milk is extremely hard to obtain and banned in most countries or American states.

Seaweed benefits from other minerals

Overall, seaweed benefits stem from the rich content of minerals from the sea. So seaweed benefits are similar to the benefits of sea salt except that seaweeds tend to contain a lot more of the various minerals and trace elements present in sea salt, whereas sea salt is mainly sodium chloride.

This mineral content has become crucial today because modern, chemical-based agriculture has depleted the soil of minerals. As a result, chemically-grown land vegetables contain far less minerals than organically-grown vegetables. Even organic vegetables today may not be as rich as the vegetables of 100 years ago.

The many other seaweed benefits arise from, among other minerals and trace elements:

Some nutritionists / dieticians have expressed concern about the content of sodium in seaweeds. Some years back, a friend of mine wrote to the press recommending seaweeds instead of milk as an excellent source of calcium, and a nutritionist warned that consuming seaweeds might lead to high blood pressure.

Such a warning is not supported by any scientific evidence, There have never been any scientific studies that show that eating seaweeds causes high blood pressure. If anything, population studies indicate that people who eat seaweeds regularly tend to enjoy excellent health.

The Japanese are, of course, well known for their good health and long life as well as their high consumption of seaweeds. So are the Hawaiians. They have low rates of heart disease even though they tend to be stocky and highly overweight. They, too, eat plenty of seaweeds and they attribute their good health to seaweed benefits.

Traditional seaweed consumption

Seaweed benefits, in fact, used to be enjoyed by people all over the world and it is only in recent times that seaweeds have become considered as "Japanese food". For one thing, the Japanese, Koreans and Chinese all eat seaweeds regularly. As long ago as the first century AD, Chinese physicians prescribed seaweed to treat goitre, a sickness associated with iodine deficiency.

Seaweeds are also widely eaten in traditional societies across Southeast Asia, including the Filipinos and Indonesians, and other islanders across the Pacific and Indian oceans.

What about people who live far from the sea? Well, they traditionally traded for seaweeds with those living near the coast. Weston Price was a dentist who travelled to many countries during the early 20th century to study and health and diets of different populations. And he noted that even people living in the Andes mountains of South America ate seaweed which they obtained through trading with coastal people. They, too, enjoyed seaweed benefits.

Seaweed from clean waters

One final note - related to seaweed benefits from its ability to bind with toxic pollutants. Because of this, it is important to obtain seaweeds from clean waters. With the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, tests on many seaweed samples show that they contain high levels of radio active substances.

We need to be extra careful from now on about where our seaweeds come from.

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