Laminaria is a brown algae comprising 31 species, mostly found in Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is a seaweed and also known as Laminaria Japonica. It is also found in Mediterranean Seas. Ancient humans used Laminaria as a food item. Nowadays it is used by people all over the world for various health benefits. It has attained commercial value due to its industrial applications. China is the largest producer and consumer of Laminaria products even though many countries produce them.
Laminaria is rich in iodine followed by calcium content. It is estimated that just one gram of dried Laminaria or seaweed provides 500 microgram of iodine while the daily requirement of iodine for any individual is only 150 microgram. One gram of seaweed provide 70 mg of calcium equal to 7% of Recommended Daily Amount-RDA. Seaweed contain omega 3 fatty acids, anti-oxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins A, B, C, E & K and dietary fiber. The other important nutrient present is protein but in very small quantity, based on the variety of Laminaria.
Laminaria has many culinary uses common to Asian countries. Phycocolloids extracted from seaweed is used as food additives or preservatives in bakeries and fish and meat dishes.
More than culinary uses, the benefits derived from medicines based on Laminaria are far more valuable. As there are as many as 31 varieties of Laminaria like seaweed, kelp etc. are known the benefits derived may be common for all but some of them may be specific to a particular specie.
Rich source of Iodine
Iodine is a vital nutrient needed for proper and healthy growth of humans of all ages. Deficiency in iodine is a major cause for malnutrition of children in many developing countries including India and China. Indian population is worst affected by iodine deficiency followed by china. Iodine regulates the functions of thyroid glands. Functioning of thyroid glands involves the pituary gland and the brain. Abnormalities like hypothyroidism, goiter and mental aberration are due to deficiency in Iodine. Such deficiency during pregnancy can affect the development of the brain and intellectual growth of the new born child.
Fucoxanthin present in Laminaria prevents accumulation of fat by promoting their oxidation. These are anti-obesity factors that help weight loss and prevent obesity. Seaweed lotion preparations are topically applied to reduce obese.
Due to the laxative property present in it, Laminaria stimulates release of digestive enzymes and enhance absorption of nutrients. It also facilitate metabolism of fats consumed through various food items. Polysaccharides present in the seaweed protects the beneficial bacteria in the stomach. It protects the stomach wall against harmful bacteria by eliminating them.
Protects the heart
Laminaria possesses anti-oxidant and anti-coagulant properties. Anti-coagulants are blood thinners which prevent the clotting of blood. The thinning property prevents obstruction in the veins and arteries thereby decreasing the risk of stroke and heart attack. Fucoidans , a poly-saccharide present in brown algae, is also effective in protecting the cardiovascular system. Laminaria lowers the triglycerides level and cholesterol level in the blood ensuring smooth blood circulation and healthy heart.
Fucoxanthin present in Laminaria has anti-ocular inflammatory property. A particular disorder occurring in the eye after cataract surgery is called capsule opacification. Fucoxanthin has the potential to prevent this after-cataract disorder and ensure better vision.
Alginate is a natural absorbent in Laminaria. It has the ability to detoxify and clean the body. Alginate facilitate excretion of toxic wastes like mercury, lead and other indigestible pollutants from the body through bowel movements. It acts as a bulking agent.
Abortion and delivery
Laminaria has water absorbing capacity. By placing a layer of laminaria at the mouth of the uterus (which is called placing a tent) the cervix is enlarged to facilitate Dilation and Curettage (called D & C). This is a process of scrapping the uterus needed for performing diagnostic procedures of uterus. The tents of Laminaria are used to expand or ripen the cervix in pregnant women to induce labor and make delivery easier and pain free. The tents are also used during the first three months of pregnancy to abort the pregnancy.
Glycoprotein and fucoidans present in Laminaria have anti-cancer properties. They have the potential to reduce the cancer promoting hormones like estrogen and prevent spreading of malignant cancer cells in the body. Colon cancer and leukemia are also prevented.
Protection from radiation
Ultraviolet-B radiation from sunlight damages the skin due to exposure. Fucoxanthin present in Laminaria prevents cell damage and wrinkle formation. Due to this property Laminaria is used in manufacture of sunscreens and lotions prepared for skin care. The anti-inflammatory property of Laminaria makes it useful in treating rashes and wounds in the skin besides making the skin glow by enhancing blood flow.
Due to the high Iodine content excess consumption may result in thyroid problems. As the metals and chemicals can lead to medical complications, appropriate variety of Laminaria as may be suitable to the person concerned, must be selected. Extra care should be taken in consumption of Laminaria products during pregnancy as it can affect the mother and the baby.