Seaweed Hits the Sweet Spot
Medicinal Food for your Glycocalyx
Nori, wakame, dulse, kombu, kelp, arame, hijiki - there are so many types of seaweed! Probably the most well known seaweed is nori, used to wrap up a delicious sushi roll. But seaweed comes in many colors, shapes and textures to explore. And, extra bonus, they all offer a punch of nutrients making it a superfood. Check out the below nutritional table from VitaminSea Seaweed on the vitamin and mineral content of various seaweeds.
But seaweed offers more than micronutrients. It interacts with a part of the human body, a part that rarely gets discussed, known as the glycome. I first learned about the glycome from Dr. Peter D’Adamo, creator of the famed Blood Type Diet, who repeatedly stressed the importance of considering an individual’s glycome when treating disease.
The glycome is the entire complement of sugars in an organism. When we hear sugar, we think of the sugar from a candy bar or a big pasta dinner, and there may be a negative connotation attached to it. These sugars are simple (monosaccharides) and disaccharides (such as table sugar). But the glycome refers to the sugars in the body that are longer chains oligosaccharides and polysaccharides. These longer chains are referred to as glycans and can attach to proteins (to become glycoproteins) or to fats (glycolipids).
Not to go into too much detail but there are:
N-glycans that interact with chaperone proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum of the cell and are found to be decreased in Alzheimer’s Disease
O-linked glycans most commonly found in mucous secretions and are referred to as mucins, which aberrant expression can result in adenocarcinomas in the pancreas and colon etc.
These glycans serve as nature’s biologic modifiers. They are significant because they modify the behavior of the cell’s response to external stimuli.
Remember your old biology lesson and the central dogma of life which is that DNA makes RNA which makes proteins. These proteins carry out the biological activity of our cells. However the proteome, or the proteins encoded for by your genetics and epigenetic modifications, are further influenced by glycosylation, or the addition of long chain sugars. Glycosylation makes the possible combinations and interactions much greater and more varied than we originally thought.
Simply put, the body’s glycome is the long chain sugars (glycans) that attach to proteins (glycoproteins) and fats (glycolipids) to create the glycocalyx on the cell’s outer layer that modifies how cells behave. About 11% of the human body is the glycocalyx.
One of the most familiar examples of glycosylation is the different blood types. Blood Type O have a fucose sugar attached to the outer layer of the red blood cell, while Blood Type A is a fucose and a N-acetylgalactosamine sugar, and Blood Type B is a galactose sugar. These different sugars interact with the food you eat and modify the behavior of the cells. This is an explanation of the value of following your Blood Type Diet to ensure food is medicine and influences positive epigenetic changes.
Aberrant glycosylation is a hallmark of:
The malignancy process, including metastasis
Rheumatoid factor, a marker of rheumatoid arthritis
Advanced Glycation End Products (AGES), which indicate oxidative stress (aka rusting) from inadequate antioxidants
And the list goes on.
Our cells are surrounded by a lipid (fat) bilayer with glycoproteins and glycolipids attached to it, creating the glycocalyx, which communicates with the external environment around it and determine what happens inside the cell. The impact of the glycocalyx on cell behavior includes immune cell interactions, blood vessel signaling, gastrointestinal lining resilience, immune system robustness, neurotransmitter signaling, and much more. 11% of our body is this combination of long chain sugars attached to proteins and fats on our cells that influence more behaviors in our body than we currently know.
Seaweed and the Glycocalyx
Bringing this back to sushi rolls, new research is pointing to seaweed’s ability to alter the glycocalyx and provide an effective treatment for areas where the glycocalyx may be eroded, inflamed or disrupted.
Seaweed is 50% dry weight carbohydrates and contains algal polysaccharides (long chain sugars). Some seaweed offers polysaccharides similar to those in the human glycome, it can be used medicinally as treatment.
The Vascular Glycocalyx
One area with emerging research in this space is the endothelial glycocalyx and its role in the development of atherosclerosis. The glycocalyx reaches from the endothelial single cell layer lining the arteries into the blood flow. This fuzzy layer communicates with the blood flowing by to release factors for coagulation (or anti-coagulation), produce nitric oxide (to dilate the artery and lower blood pressure), regulate inflammation and permeability. High blood sugar, oxidative stress, toxicity, infections, stress, trauma, electrolyte imbalances and simple aging can cause the endothelial glycocalyx to breakdown. The breakdown of the glycocalyx is caused by and contributes to deposits of atherosclerosis plaques. The green seaweed Monostroma, found in the supplement Arterosil, can repair the glycocalyx in arteries and improve cardiovascular health.
The Digestive Glycocalyx
The entire digestive tract is lined with the glycocalyx that has multiple functions including protection from pathogens, lubrication, ulcer prevention, cell signaling and more. Impairment of the digestive glycocalyx can result in various gastrointestinal diseases including Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and cancer.
Seaweed serves multiple functions for gut health including:
providing a FODMAP friendly form of fiber that serves as a prebiotic
blocking biofilm production (think Candida), and as an
anti-adhesion molecule to block lectins and pathogens from binding inside the digestive tract.
The supplement Fucus Plus from D'Adamo Personalized Nutrition is a combination of whole Bladderwrack seaweed and Larch arabinogalactan that works to adhere to problematic lectins making it anti-adhesive & anti-inflammatory for the digestive tract.
Even before knowledge of the glycome existed, seaweed has long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda for its various health benefits. It is a kapha food in Ayurveda with a cold and salty quality in TCM.
It softens hardness, detoxifies, benefits the thyroid, protects against radioactive iodine, benefits lymphatic system and can be a diuretic. It has been used for swollen lymph glands, goiters, to heal ulcers, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system.
As written by Maine Seaweed: “Seaweeds have admirable qualities: they are flexible, they are tenacious, they are prolific, and they are the oldest family of plants on earth. These plants link us to the primitive vitality of the sea. They strengthen our own primitive glandular system and nervous system.” Source: https://theseaweedman.com/about-maine-seaweed/
Seaweed is high in sodium alginate (which is medicinally used for GERD), calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, sodium, selenium, potassium, chlorine, silicon, vitamin C, vitamin B12 and iodine.
Iodine is an essential mineral required for normal thyroid hormone production. The body contains 20-30 mg of iodine with more than 75% found in the thyroid gland.
There is increasing evidence that iodine also has a positive interaction with estrogen receptors in the breast and ovaries and impacts hormone stimulation and metabolites. Iodine can be used to reduce the estrogen quotient converting estrone and estradiol to estriol in the liver. The gastric mucosa, salivary glands and choroid plexus seem to concentrate iodine as well.
Iodine can be used therapeutically to treat a goiter, thyroid dysfunction, fibrocystic disease, asthma, sebaceous cysts, atherosclerosis, lymphadenopathy, salivary duct stones, Peyronie’s disease and sarcoidosis. Iodine is anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial making it useful for a depleted immune function.
Eating - and enjoying! - seaweed
Seaweed offers so many health benefits across multiple systems, I am encouraging incorporating more seaweed into our daily meals. Below are three tried and true seaweed recipes that are easy to prepare. I look forward to eating more seaweed and maybe next summer learning about how to wild harvest and dry it. If anyone has experience with harvesting wild seaweed, please get in touch.
Sweet Potato Arame Salad with Ginger Dressing
Contributed by Theresa’s Table, a culinary nutrition service providing delicious meal plans to help individuals meet their health goals.
½ Cup lemon juice
3 Tbls coconut aminos
3 Tbls olive oil
2 Tbls honey
1-2 Tbls fresh grated ginger
Add all ingredients to a mason jar and Shake, Shake, Shake.
1/3 Cup arame seaweed
¾ Cup water
4 cups peeled and grated sweet potato
2 cups matchstick-cup green apples
½ Cup celery
¼ Cup sesame seeds, toasted
1. Rinse the arame seaweed and soak in the water for 10 minutes to soften.
2. Combine the grated sweet potatoes, apples, celery and ginger to a large bowl.
3. Drain the seaweed and add to sweet potato mixture
4. Mix in dressing top with toasted sesame seeds
Serve and enjoy!
Sea Vegetable Salad
With pickled sour plums and sweet miso dressing
I love this salad because of the mix of vibrant flavors. The sour plums can be found in the Asian section of the grocery store.
Adapted from Raw Food real world by Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis
Sweet Miso Dressing
1/2 cup white miso
1/3 cup agave
1/2 cup mirin
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped ginger
In a blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Makes about 2 cups. Can store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
1 ounce dried wakame seaweed
1 ounce dried hijiki seaweed
1 ounce dried arame seaweed
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and julienned
2 large beets, peeled and julienned
1 medium daikon radish, peeled and julienned
1 green onion, white and 1 inch of green, very thinly sliced on the bias
2 Tbsp black sesame seeds
2 Tbsp white sesame seeds
1/2 sheet dry nori, cut in half, stacked and cut into thin strips
1 cup sour plums pitted and quartered
In separate bowls, soak the vegetables in water until soft and pliable. They should not be soggy. Soak just long enough to make “al dente”, roughly 10-20 minutes depending on the type of seaweed.
Drain the sea vegetables and use your hands to squeee out as much of the water as possible. Roughly chop wake into smaller eatable pieces.
Place the sea vegetables in a large bowl and add the cucumber, beets, radish and sour plums.
Do not add the dressing until ready to serve. Add half the dressing and toss to combine.
Top with green onion, sesame seeds and nori strips.
Mediterranean Sea Vegetable Salad
From Rainbow Green Live-For Cuisine by Gabriel Cousens, M.D.
1/4 c up wakame or sea palm, soaked
1/4 cup dulse, soaked
1/2 cup sun-dried black olives, pitted and chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
6 radishes, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
Dash of cayenne
Sprinkle of sesame seeds
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Serve on crackers or cucumber rounds.
1. Abdul Khalil, H. P. S. et al. "Biodegradable Polymer Films From Seaweed Polysaccharides: A Review On Cellulose As A Reinforcement Material". Express Polymer Letters, vol 11, no. 4, 2017, pp. 244-265. Department Of Polymer Engineering, Scientific Society Of Mechanical Engineering, https://doi.org/10.3144/expresspolymlett.2017.26.
2. Peter D’Adamo. Practical Glycomics. Notes from lecture January 2020.
3. Dr. Kara Fitzgerald Clinic Immersion Teach-In Webinar. “A Revolution in Vascular Health: Clinical Impacts of the New Glycomic Science with Dr. Helen Meissner”. July 2021.
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