Have you ever struggled with afternoon drowsiness after a big lunch? Clinical research has confirmed that brown seaweeds like kelp and bladderwrack immediately boost cognitive performance, especially after a big meal. Furthermore, these seaweeds can help type-2 diabetes and even help us drop a few pounds.
When the findings are compared to other research, we can safely arrive at the conclusion that brown seaweed will positively affect brain health and long-term cognitive skills, as well as glucose metabolism.
Kelp and Bladderwrack seaweeds tested
In a 2018 study, researchers from the UK’s Northumbria University tested a combination of Kelp (Ascophyllum nodosum) and Bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus) on 60 healthy adult volunteers.
The researchers divided the volunteers into two groups. They were given a number of tests related to their cognitive abilities. These included reaction time, word recall, digit response and moods.
Then the subjects ate a large lunch consisting of four waffles and maple syrup. This was followed by the supplement and then another test of the same components.
Of the two groups, one group was given a 500 milligram kelp/bladderwrack supplement. The other was given a placebo.
After conducting the same cognitive testing, the researchers found that the group taking the kelp supplement performed better at the cognitive tasks than the placebo group.
The kelp supplement group scored higher in most of the tests, but they scored significantly higher in the tests related to digit responsiveness and choice reaction time.
The researchers concluded:
“These findings provide the first evidence for modulation of cognition with seaweed extract.”
Blood glucose and the brain
One of the key issues of this finding is the fact that the brain must have a steady supply of fuel. Steady blood sugar levels require a slow and consistent release of glucose from the digestive system.
Foods that easily convert to blood glucose – refined foods – tend to overload the brain with blood sugar. This is then followed by the inevitable blood sugar deficit. This, other research has found, tends to rob the brain with its ability to function consistently well.
Part of this issue relates to how the brain responds to being overloaded with glucose spikes, followed by glucose deficits.
When glucose is overloading the brain, those glucose molecules that aren’t utilized can become free radicals. These glucose free radicals form what are referred to as oxidative glycation products. Another term used to describe this is glucose auto-oxidation.
These glucose free radicals essentially damage the blood vessel walls. This in turn will damage cells in that region. This overload of glucose free radicals is what occurs in diabetes, often due to a lack of insulin or insulin reception in the cells. This is why diabetics tend to have a higher rate of tissue damage and lower limb edema (foot and ankle swelling).
This occurrence is also one of the reasons why diabetics have a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Glucose free radicals are difficult for the body to remove. Antioxidants will help remove them of course. But the best method of reducing glucose free radicals is to help prevent the surge of glucose. This can be done by eating smaller meals consisting of whole foods and fiber (which slows glucose release).
Why seaweeds help slow glucose release
Other research – some of which we reported on in an earlier article – has shown that seaweeds reduce the action of two glucose enzymes. The two enzymes are amylase and glucosidase (alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase to be precise).
These two enzymes – amylase and glucosidase – break down sugars in the digestive tract. Once broken down, this allows the digestive system to release glucose into the bloodstream.
When amylase and glucosidase are partially inhibited, that slows the release of glucose into the blood.
Brown seaweeds are a natural inhibitor of these two enzymes.
As we showed in this article about seaweed and insulin and glucose, a human study showed that brown seaweeds normalized glucose and insulin response in people.
Other glucose enzyme inhibiting agents
Other seaweeds have been found to have similar effects. In a 2013 study from Ireland, researchers screened 15 seaweed extracts. They found five significantly inhibited the two enzymes. Of these, kelp and bladderwrack inhibited the enzymes the most.
In a 2017 study, the Japanese Okamurai seaweed (Caulerpa okamurae) was also found to significantly inhibit amylase and glucosidase.
There are other natural agents that naturally slow the release of glucose by inhibiting these glucose enzymes. These include Eucalyptus bark and Maitake mushrooms.
Western medicine has also synthesized a number of drugs that inhibit these enzymes. They are called glycoside hydrolase inhibitors and they are often prescribed for type-2 diabetics to control the release of glucose into the system. Examples include Acarbose, Vogibose and others.
The problem with some of these drugs is they may go too far in blocking the enzymes, leaving carbohydrates built up in the intestines – causing bloating, flatulence and distention. They can also leave the body in a state of hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia can produce headaches, fatigue and light-headedness.
Natural glucose enzyme inhibiting agents like seaweeds don’t appear to produce these side effects. This is likely because their enzyme-inhibiting actions are buffered with an array of phytocompounds, including an array of polyphenols.
These give seaweeds the ability to create somewhat of a timed-release of glucose into the bloodstream. That is, a steady and slower release of glucose from meals.
This is confirmed by the clinical research from Northumbria, where the researchers found no side effects of the seaweed extract supplements.
Further to this, the 2011 study from Canada’s Laval University also found no side effects:
“Consumption of the seaweed capsules was not associated with any adverse event.”
Seaweeds alter gut microbes – diabetes and obesity
Due to this ability to more slowly release glucose into the bloodstream, seaweed has also been identified with an ability to help type-2 diabetics and those who are challenged with obesity.
The ability to help type-2 diabetics was highlighted in the 2011 study discussed in the previous article. It was found that taking the seaweed supplements normalized insulin levels and glucose levels.
A 2018 study from China’s Nanjing Tech University found that kelp alters the gut’s microbe contents. More specifically, they found healthy probiotics were increased, and families of gut bacteria associated with controlling weight were boosted. The researchers stated:
“AnPs [constituents from kelp] significantly modulated the composition of the gut microbiota; in particular, they increased the relative abundance of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, suggesting the potential for AnPs to decrease the risk of obesity.”
My book on probiotics also illustrates research proving that altering our gut’s microbiome can significantly help reduce weight.
This is because nature is smart.
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Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.