January 28, 2020 at 08:18PM
The notion that algae is beneficial for our health is not so shocking—various species of algae have been studied for decades due to their vitamin, fiber, and antioxidant content. We’re already familiar with algae as a superfood, not only in our diets but topically for our skin as well.
What is new, however, is that scientists have discovered a particular species of algae (called C. reinhardtii) to target a pretty big health concern: leaky gut.
A team of researchers at the University of California–San Diego found that this type of algae could improve some of the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including diarrhea, gas, and bloating. They also received the green light to use human participants in this study, which makes the results even more promising.
Because C. reinhardtii has already gone through rigorous testing, it received the “Generally Recognized As Safe” designation by the FDA. That said, scientists were excited to study human volunteers and see whether consuming this type of algae could positively affect their microbiomes.
Here’s how it went: The researchers gave 51 volunteers (some of whom experienced symptoms of IBS) daily spoonfuls of the powdered algae for one month. After reporting their gut symptoms at the end of the month, scientists found that volunteers who suffered from IBS-like symptoms reported less bowel discomfort, less bloating, and more regular bowel movements.
Even more intriguing, the volunteers also sent over stool samples in order to assess any changes to their microbiome, and the results came back with no significant changes in healthy individuals. Meaning, the algae helps those with gut issues without hurting those with already optimal gut health. In fact, the antioxidants in algae can benefit any person’s diet, no matter the status of their gut.
While people have been studying algae long before this study, it only confirms what we know to be true: Algae has some serious health benefits. “This is exciting because it demonstrates a clear benefit: If you have IBS-like symptoms, this is good for you,” lead researcher Stephen Mayfield, Ph.D., says.
More research is needed in order to discover what particular molecule in algae enhances our gut bacteria, but scientists are hopeful that their study will pave the way for incorporating more algae and algae-based products in our food system.
“[Algae] is a fantastic source of nutrition, and we have now shown that this species of algae has additional benefits to animal and human health,” lead author of the study Frank Fields, Ph.D., states in a news release.
In other words, it’s time to stock up on the seaweed—leaky gut or not.