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Explained: The Benefits of Sea Moss, TikTok’s Favorite New Ingredient

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Sea moss is having a moment. On TikTok, the term has 1.3 billion views. On Shark Tank, Mark Cuban and Kevin Hart recently invested in a company that sells sea moss gel. And at many high-end grocery stores, such as Los Angeles–area Erewhon, the gelatinous substance has been given pride of place next to cold-pressed juices in the refrigerated aisle.

But what exactly is sea moss and why is it suddenly everywhere? And, more importantly, are the purported health benefits—which allegedly include everything from weight loss to immune support to glowy skin—really true?

What is sea moss?

Sometimes called Irish moss, Irish sea moss, or by its scientific name, Chondrus crispus, sea moss is a frilly sea vegetable similar to other types of edible seaweed, such as nori, kelp, wakame, and kombu.

“Sea moss is a specific type of red algae that is naturally rich in nutrients such as magnesium, iodine, iron, folate, calcium, and vitamins,” explains Kylene Bogden, a board certified registered dietitian, who specializes in sports nutrition at FwdFuel. “It can be eaten raw, but it also comes dried, in capsules, powder, or gel form.”

Consuming sea moss isn’t exactly new. “Sea moss has been used by coastal communities for centuries for various medicinal, nutritional, and cultural purposes,” explains Eddie McAleer, a registered and licensed dietitian and advisor at Moss. Commercially, the sea moss derivative carrageen is commonly used as a thickener in manufactured foods like ice cream, jelly, and soup, as well as toothpaste, lotions, and gummies.

What does sea moss taste like?

While researching this story, I purchased a 16 ounce jar of sea moss gel that cost almost $40 (approximately AED 147), and, because of the high price tag, I was expecting it to taste like something. It did have a pleasant, aloe vera-like consistency, but there was virtually no flavor—maybe just the slightest whisper of sea water. Bodgen says that’s exactly how good quality sea moss should taste: “Fake sea moss tends to be more salty. Real sea moss will always come at a higher price point because of its laborious harvest process. It’s important to know that you get what you pay for.”

What are the benefits?

“Sea moss is said to improve energy, thyroid function, digestion, and skin health,” says Bogden, but she notes that there isn’t yet a ton of scientific evidence to back these claims up.

However, there have been plenty of clinical trials that study the benefits of other types of seaweed, which is closely related to sea moss—and the few early studies that have been done on sea moss using animals have shown promising results. “While there are not a lot of human studies showcasing a benefit to sea moss, we know that the nutrients found in sea moss have been linked to health and longevity,” explains registered and certified dietician nutritionist Jennifer Scheinman, an advisor at Timeline Nutrition.

Those nutrients include vitamin B12, calcium, iodine, magnesium, potassium, calcium, amino acids, omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants, iron, and many more.

Immune health

As mentioned, there really isn’t enough evidence to prove that consuming sea moss will improve your overall health—and that includes immune function. But studies have shown that consuming other types of seaweed and algae may boost the immune system and even help guard against viral and bacterial infections. “Dietary seaweeds contain numerous components that can exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects, directly and indirectly, by improving the gut microbiota,” found one study examining seaweed’s potential for fighting COVID infections.

However, that same study noted that the bioavailability of nutrients in seaweed depends on a variety of factors, so it was unable to make a prescriptive recommendation. Since the jury’s still out, you’re probably better off just eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet that contains known immune system boosters (like turmeric) and engaging in practices that support a healthy immune system, like getting enough sleep.

Thyroid health

Sea moss is a natural source of iodine, a micronutrient that is vital for supporting thyroid health. Since the body doesn’t make iodine itself, obtaining it through food is essential, and may prevent hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones to regulate metabolism. But experts warn that those affected with thyroid disorders should definitely consult a medical professional before embarking on a sea moss feeding frenzy—especially if they’re already taking thyroid medication. “Sea moss comes directly from the ocean so it is affected by its ever-changing environment,” says McAleer. “Consuming large quantities consistently should be done with caution due to the high levels of iodine that can be found in ocean waters.”

Digestive health

Sea moss contains fiber and prebiotics, both of which promote good gut health. One study found that sea moss really does have “multiple prebiotic effects, such as influencing the composition of gut microbial communities, improvement of gut health and immune modulation,” but it’s important to note that this study was only conducted on rats. Other studies on human subjects, using seaweed instead of sea moss, conclude that more research must be done: “There is a dearth of data available in the literature on human dietary intervention studies with seaweed polysaccharides, polyphenols and peptides,” a recent study notes. So, while it’s likely that sea moss won’t harm your gut health, in terms of proven benefits, the jury’s still out.

Skin health

We all know that consuming vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids is essential for skin health, so it makes sense that consuming nutrient-rich sea moss would only help—we just don’t have enough data yet to back up the assumption. Studies do suggest, however, that the bioactive compounds in seaweed can be helpful in terms of preventing hyperpigmentation, photoaging, and acne—but those studies have only tested the topical application of those compounds. In another study that looked at sea moss gathered from the Red Sea, an impressive roster of flavonoids, polyphenols, and tannins were found, as well as “remarkable” anti-inflammatory, and ant-itumor properties—enough that the study recommends that “Chondrus crispus extract be further studied for its pharmacological application in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases particularly human cancers.”

So, should I eat sea moss?

While sea moss probably has some benefits, most of them are anecdotal or inferred. Still, it couldn’t hurt to consume high quality, carefully-sourced sea moss in small amounts. Experts advise sticking to the recommended serving size: no more than one or two tablespoons per day in gel form, and no more than 1000 mg in capsule or powder form. The main worry when it comes to sea moss is overdosing on iodine—which can cause everything from GI upset to delirium to serious thyroid conditions. And, since most of us get enough iodine already from eating fish, dairy, and iodized table salt, this is a worthwhile concern. There’s also the potential for sea moss to contain toxins like mercury: “Pregnant and nursing women should especially be careful with sea moss as it marine-sourced, and can be contaminated with heavy metals,” Scheinman warns.

Bottom line, go ahead and enjoy the occasional sea moss-infused Erewhon Skin Glaze Smoothie—just don’t overdo it. And, don’t expect sea moss to replace a healthy diet consisting of a wide variety of proven foods. When it comes to taking care of your wellbeing, sea moss could be a useful tool, but the science isn’t there yet. And it’s definitely not a magic bullet.

Originally published in Vogue.com

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