According to a robust body of research, consuming seaweed is associated with a lower incidence of chronic illnesses, both physical and mental. One of the most promising strains of seaweed is nutrient-dense wakame—a brown or deep green seaweed often used in Japanese cooking, especially for miso soups and seaweed salad. Wakame is renowned its array of health benefits, from boosting immune function to improving hormonal balance to fighting diabetes and cancer.
Wakame Boosts Immune Function
The earliest studies of wakame and immune function were conducted in vitro, which means in the lab, rather than with human subjects. According to Dr. Michael Greger, New York Times bestselling author of How Not to Die, those studies showed that “wakame can quadruple the replication potential of T cells, which are an important part of our immune defense.”
Such positive results led to subsequent testing of wakame’s effects in real people. In one study, researchers gave 15 people suffering from various herpes infections (ranging from oral herpes to chicken pox to mono, etc.) about two grams a day of pure powdered wakame (that’s equal to about a quarter-cup of seaweed salad). Results were impressive: for every single subject, symptoms improved or even disappeared.
Wakame Reverses Diabetes and Promotes Fat Burning
Wakame could help in the fight against diabetes, thanks to the fuxoxanthin it contains. Fucoxanthin is a substance known for its strong anti-diabetic effect. In 2009, a group of Japanese researchers examined fucoxanthin-rich wakame lipids with obese mice. In addition to being obese, the mice showed signs of hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, and hyperleptinemia. The wakame lipids normalized all of these conditions and significantly reduced body weight. The study team concluded that wakame may help prevent diabetes (and related disorders) and stave off obesity by reversing the insulin resistance caused by a high fat diet.
Wakame Helps Balance Hormones
Wakame is high in the minerals iron, calcium, and manganese—all three of which help to balance hormones naturally. Results of one study published in American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that lower blood levels of manganese in women were associated with greater pain and mood-related symptoms during PMS and menstruation.
Wakame Reduces Breast Cancer Risk
A small body of research suggests that seaweed consumption may even decrease breast cancer risk. This is especially interesting given the fact that in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in Japanese folk medicine, practitioners use seaweed to treat tumors. Not only that, but people who eat seaweed regularly, most notably in Japan, have dramatically lower rates of breast cancer. However, in scientific research, an association does not prove a causal link. For this reason, high-quality research studies with human subjects are important—like the one conducted in 2013 by researchers at the University of California. In that three-month clinical trial, wakame was introduced into the diets of 15 healthy postmenopausal women:
- 5 of the women had no history of breast cancer (they served as the control group)
- 10 of the women had survived breast cancer
Wakame lowered levels of a protein that is usually higher among postmenopausal women and that is known to influence cell surface signaling, call adhesion, and growth factor communication and responsiveness in breast tissue. The researchers speculated that wakame’s ability to lower levels of this protein may help to explain the lower breast cancer incidence and mortality among postmenopausal women in Japan.
Fucoxanthin may also play a role in fighting cancer. A 2004 study suggested that fucoxanthin in wakame may act as a chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic compound in colon cancer cells. Additional studies of wakame are underway to test its ability to prevent or treat cancer.
How to Add Wakame to Your Diet
Wakame is readily available both as a food and as a supplement both in health-food stores and online. Experts advise always seeking out the purest, most reliable source of seaweed in order to avoid contaminants.