Bladderwrack has been generating buzz as a supplement over the past several years, but this brown seaweed has been used in traditional folk medicine for centuries. Officially known as Fucus Vesiculosus, Bladderwrack has sometimes been called Rockweed, black tang, bladder fucus, rock wrack and red fucus. Whatever you want to call it, healers have used iodine-rich algae to treat obesity, joint pain, aging skin, thyroid issues, urinary tract infections and digestive problems.
This sea plant grows along the coastlines of the Atlantic, Pacific and Baltic oceans and features a central stem surrounded by various floating sacks, which is where it gets the name “bladderwrack.” Rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, it was even used as food in some cultures.
Today it’s still touted for its many health benefits and can be found in dry form, powders, teas and capsules. However, like many natural remedies, research is still being conducted to verify its positive effects on our well-being.
Though the science is still lacking to prove certain claims, early studies seem to indicate that bladderwracks’ benefits for the skin and its anti-inflammatory properties are legit. But before you rush out to the health food store, there’s more you should know about this supplement.
To find out if bladderwrack is for you, let’s go over its nutritional content, benefits and some precautions you should know about before adding this sea plant to your diet.
Like many seaweeds, bladderwrack is a nutritional powerhouse that’s rich in vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc and vitamins A and C.
It’s also a great source of iodine and is packed with plant compounds called phytochemicals, specifically phlorotannins and fucoxanthin. Yes, that’s a mouthful! But the important part to take away is that they help maintain a balance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body.
Bladderwrack is also a good source of fiber, which means it helps you to maintain a healthy gut.
So obviously, bladderwrack is highly nutritious. But what about all of those health benefits that it’s reported to have? Read on to find out more.
So What Can Bladderwrack Do for You?
Up to now, there is actually no evidence that bladderwrack powder can help with urinary tract infections, weight loss, joint pain or infertility. Unfortunately, these are areas where modern science hasn’t caught up with folk medicine yet.
That being said, there is research that supports that this seaweed can help with skin issues, inflammation and iodine deficiency. Let’s talk a little more in detail about the positive effects of bladderwrack.
Bladderwrack and Skin Health
Bladderwrack has long been used topically to treat burns, aging skin and cellulite. And though long-term studies are still scant, early research does indicate that these claims are well-founded.
In fact, the antioxidant fucoidan found in this seaweed can promote collagen synthesis, which helps promote healing, delay premature skin aging and improve the appearance of cellulite.
In one investigation, a bladderwrack extract was applied to skin samples. These samples showed a 228% increase in collagen production compared with a 0% change in the control group.
In another phase of the same study, a mixture of algae and bladderwrack extracts were applied on human leg skin for 12 weeks, which resulted in a significant reduction in the appearance of cellulite.
Furthermore, bladderwrack was also shown to prevent the breakdown of collagen when applied to human skin.
While all these investigations are positive indications of bladderwrack’s effectiveness in collagen production and maintenance, it’s important to keep in mind that in these instances, the seaweed was applied topically. Up to now, there’s still no research that proves taking it orally will yield the same results.
Bladderwrack, as an Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory
Free radicals are harmful agents that can damage our cells and lead to chronic disease and even premature aging. To fend them off, our bodies need antioxidants like vitamins A and C, alginic acid and fucoidans, which are all found in bladderwrack.
Phlorotannins and fucoxanthin, two more antioxidants found in this seaweed, are especially effective at fighting off free radicals and decreasing oxidative stress.
More positive news where bladderwrack is concerned are animal studies in which it was found that brown algae with similar compounds may have anti-inflammatory effects, reduce tumor growth and balance blood sugar levels.
In another human study, brown algae was also linked to a decreased risk of heart disease.
While all of this sounds promising, more long-term studies on humans are needed to confirm these benefits.
Bladderwrack and Thyroid Function
The thyroid gland is one of the most important glands in our body and is responsible for controlling our metabolism, hormones, neurological development and more.
Bladderwrack contains high levels of iodine, a mineral that’s vital to proper thyroid function. In fact, insufficient iodine can lead to hypothyroidism which is characterized by symptoms like weight gain, dry skin and fatigue.
That being said, hypothyroidism due to a lack of iodine is fairly uncommon in industrialized countries like the United States. Instead, hypothyroidism is often linked to an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. And anyone suffering from hyperthyroidism or a goiter should take caution before jumping on the Bladderwrack bandwagon.
While iodine is an important trace mineral, it’s important to note that consuming high amounts of seaweeds like bladderwrack could be too much of a good thing. That’s why individuals with any type of thyroid condition should exercise caution when taking this supplement and definitely consult with a healthcare professional before doing so.
Bladderwrack and Eye Health
Not only is bladderwrack rich in vitamin A, but it also contains the nutrients fucoidan and fucoxanthin. Though studies are still preliminary, Chinese scientists have found that these two components may help fight against age-related macular degeneration by reducing extraneous blood vessel growth in cells that have not been receiving enough oxygen and by preventing premature cell aging and death.
Although it’s not time to throw away your glasses just yet, Chinese scientists are starting to refer to fucoidan and fucoxanthin as the eye nutrients of the future.
Other Bladderwrack Benefits
Erik Pham, editor at Health Canal, provided a little more insight on this seaweed. “Being very high in fiber, Bladderwrack can help aid digestion and is a good food to eat if you’re suffering from constipation.”
He adds that Bladderwrack also can help promote weight loss and increase HDL cholesterol.
Precautions of Taking Bladderwrack
Though usually considered safe when taken in small amounts, there are some precautions to exercise when taking bladderwrack. Pham notes that eating large amounts of Bladderwrack or taking the supplement daily isn’t recommended.
As we mentioned earlier, bladderwrack, like other seaweeds, contains high amounts of iodine, which can be an issue for people with thyroid conditions. It can also contain high amounts of heavy metals. If you do decide to try this supplement, look for one that’s been tested for toxicity. Pham notes, “The seaweed might be safe to eat, but the environment it grew in can play a big factor in its safety. Being a very common seaweed, it could have been harvested in heavy metal-rich waters.”
Bladderwrack may also interfere with medications such as blood thinners, heart and thyroid medications and herbs like St John’s Wort and Ginkgo Biloba.
If you’re using bladderwrack topically, avoid applying it on open wounds and be sure to discontinue use if you break out in a rash or have other adverse effects.
Overall, be sure to consult with your doctor before using bladderwrack, especially if you’re on any form of medication or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Like many seaweeds, bladderwrack is packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and has long been used in traditional folk medicine. Though many of its supposed health benefits haven’t been backed up by science yet, the most promising investigations suggest that this dietary supplement may help with inflammation and oxidative stress when taken orally and may also increase collagen production when used topically.
If you decide to add this supplement to your diet, be sure to consult with your doctor, as it can have side effects when taken with certain medications and is especially high in iodine.
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