Wakame: Super Seaweed that Fights Diabetes, Breast Cancer, Fat & More

June 15, 2017
Wakame - Dr. Axe

Seaweed has long been a staple of Japan, which is one of the longest living cultures in the world. Is there a connection? You bet. Most notably, wakame seaweed is rich in a number of vitamins and minerals. It provides a great nutritional boost while supporting the cardiovascular system, maintaining hormonal balance, strengthening bones, improving circulation and promoting skin health.

A promising study conducted at the University of California even suggests that wakame may lower breast cancer incidence and mortality among postmenopausal women. (1) No wonder Japanese sea farmers have been growing wakame for hundreds of years.

A brown or deep green seaweed that is commonly used in Japanese cuisine, wakame has a briny and salty taste with a slight sweetness. Typically, wakame is used to make miso soup and seaweed salad.

Like many sea vegetables, wakame adds a delicious component to a variety of meals, but recently it has gained popularity because of its many health benefits.


10 Wakame Benefits – the Seaweed Superfood

1. Reverses Diabetes

An important component in wakame, fucoxanthin, exerts an anti-diabetic effect. A 2009 study conducted in Japan examined the anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects of fucoxanthin-rich wakame lipids on obese mice. When wakame was added to the high fat diet, it significantly suppressed body weight.

Before the wakame treatment, the mice showed signs of hyperglycemia, hyperinsulinemia and hyperleptinemia, but adding wakame into the diet normalized these conditions. The researchers concluded that wakame has the ability to prevent diabetes, related disorders and obesity by reversing insulin resistance that is due to a high fat diet. (2) (3)

2. Promotes Fat Burning

A Japanese study conducted at Hokkaido University suggests that the fucoxanthin present in wakame promotes fat burning within the fat cells of animals. According to the study, fucoxanthin fights fat in two ways: It encourages the action of protein that causes fat oxidation and is found in the type of fat that surrounds organs. It also promotes DHA production in the liver, which helps to decrease bad cholesterol or LDL. Fucoxanthin also reduced abdominal white adipose tissue weights of rats and mice, thereby making it one of the great fat-burning foods. (4, 5)

3. Helps to Balance Hormones

Wakame provides manganese, iron and calcium, three minerals that help to balance hormones naturally. Manganese and calcium help to improve symptoms of PMS; in fact, a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that women who have lower levels of manganese in their blood experienced more pain and mood-related symptoms during PMS and menstruation.

Because manganese helps with hormone regulation and it displays antioxidant activity, wakame may also work as a natural infertility treatment. (6)

4. Strengthens Bones

One hundred grams of wakame provides 15 percent of your daily value of calcium, which is essential for preventing osteopenia or osteoporosis. Calcium-rich foods help to increase bone growth and speed up bone repair, while a calcium deficiency happens easily because we lose the mineral through our bowels, kidneys and skin.

Osteoporosis is a common feature of aging; it involves the loss of bone that starts in women at the time of menopause and in men at about 55 years old. It can lead to an increase in fracture rates, which is why it’s so important to get enough calcium in your diet. (7)

5. Lowers the Risk of Breast Cancer

There is a small body of research that suggests there is a relationship between seaweed and a decreased risk of breast cancer. In Traditional Chinese Medicine and Japanese folk medicine, seaweed is used to treat tumors. People who eat seaweed regularly, most notably in Japan, have dramatically lower rates of breast cancer. (8)

In 2013, researchers at the University of California assessed the impact of introducing wakame into the diet of American postmenopausal women. Fifteen healthy postmenopausal women were recruited for the three-month clinical trial; five of the women had no history of breast cancer (they served as the control group) and 10 were breast cancer survivors.

The seaweed consumption lowered urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor concentrations (uPAR), a protein that is present in several physiological locations and is usually higher among postmenopausal women. uPAR concentration is known to influence cell surface signaling, call adhesion and growth factor communication and responsiveness in breast tissue. Researchers believe that wakame seaweeds’s ability to lower these receptors may help to explain lower breast cancer incidence and mortality among postmenopausal women in Japan. (9)

Another interesting study published in 2004 suggests that the fucoxanthin found in wakame may act as a chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic compound in colon cancer cells. (10) There’s no doubt about it, science is backing up these amazing wakame benefits and more studies are being conducted to assess its efficacy as a cancer treatment or preventive measure.

Wakame Benefits - Dr.Axe

 

6. Supports a Healthy Pregnancy

Folate, or B12, is an essential vitamin is present in wakame. It’s needed for copying and synthesizing DNA, producing new cells, and supporting nerve and immune function. Folate is known to be one of the most critical vitamins or a healthy and vibrant pregnancy.

For pregnant women, a folate deficiency is especially risky because it may lead to neural tube defects such as spina bifida, anencephaly, malformations of the limbs and heart complications. Because folate is needed for DNA copying and building new cells, it’s vital that pregnant women eat enough folate foods, like wakame, to decrease the risk of developmental issues. (11)

 7. Reduces High Blood Pressure

Several studies have investigated whether wakame has the ability to naturally prevent high blood pressure. One such study, published by Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, found that wakame treatment significantly decreased systolic blood pressure of spontaneously hypertensive rats. (12) Another study conducted in Japan supported that dietary wakame may have beneficial effects on hypertension. (13)

An interesting study on the topic was conducted in 2011 and examined whether seaweed might affect blood pressure in children. Healthy Japanese preschoolers, aged 3–6 years had their blood pressure and pulse measured before and after a three-day period that involving seaweed intake. Blood pressure measurement, complete dietary records and parent-reported height and weight were obtained for 223 boys and 194 girls.

The researchers found that girls with higher seaweed intake had significantly lower systolic blood pressure readings. The results suggest that seaweed intake was negatively related to diastolic blood pressure in boys and to systolic blood pressure in girls, displaying that seaweed might have beneficial effects on blood pressure among children. (14)

8. Lowers Cholesterol Naturally 

The fucoxanthin present in wakame serves another purpose: It stimulates the liver to produce DHA, helping to reduce the amount of harmful cholesterol in the body. Therefore, it’s a great cholesterol-lowering food.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that dried wakame powder altered the activities of enzymes involved in fatty acid metabolism in the liver in rats. The rats that were fed diets containing wakame powder had lower triacylgycerol levels, suggesting that wakame seeweed is useful as a food to prevent hyperlipidemia. Hyperlipidemia means that there are too many lipids, or fats, in the blood. This leads to high cholesterol and high triglycerides, which can lead to the development of plague and dangerous blockages. (15)

9. Good Source of Iron

The iron in wakame increases the production of red blood cells and helps with the metabolic enzyme processes that the body carries out to digest proteins and absorb nutrients from food. An iron deficiency is the world’s most common nutritional deficiency and is associated with developmental delay, impaired behavior, diminished intellectual performance and decreased resistance to infection.

Excessive iron supplementation can cause iron overload and should be avoided, so the safest and purest way to get enough iron per day is to stick to iron-rich foods like wakame. (16)

10. Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Wakame is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is an essential fatty acid because it’s not made by the human body, but it is still needed for normal metabolism. Omega-3 foods can be used to lower cholesterol, fight depression, reduce anxiety, reverse diabetes, reduce inflammation, relieve arthritis and promote skin health. They have also been shown to support weight loss, healthy pregnancy, athletic recovery and thickening hair and nails.

Because of the excess consumption of omega-6 fats in the Western world, it is important that we crowd in omega-3 foods that our bodies need. (17)


Wakame Nutrition Facts 

The scientific name for wakame is Undaria pinnatifida. It comes from the cold temperature waters off the coasts of Japan, China and Korea. Wakame is rich in vitamins and minerals, such as folate, vitamin B2 and manganese. It has been used for centuries for its therapeutic and healing properties, with the power to support cardiovascular health, boost energy levels and supply the body with omega-3 fatty acids.

100 grams of raw wakame contains about (2):

  • 45 calories
  • 1 gram fat
  • 9 grams carbohydrate
  • 1 gram sugar
  • 3 grams protein
  • 196 micrograms folate (49 percent DV)
  • 0.2 milligrams vitamin B2 (14 percent DV)
  • 1.6 milligrams vitamin B3 (8 percent DV)
  • 360 international units vitamin A (7 percent DV)
  • 5.3 micrograms vitamin K (7 percent DV)
  • 0.7 milligrams vitamin B5 (7 percent DV)
  • 3 milligrams vitamin C (5 percent DV)
  • 1 milligram vitamin E (5 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligrams vitamin B1 (4 percent DV)
  • 1.4 milligrams manganese (70 percent DV)
  • 872 milligrams sodium (36 percent DV)
  • 107 milligrams magnesium (27 percent DV)
  • 150 milligrams calcium (15 percent DV)
  • 0.3 milligrams copper (14 percent DV)
  • 2.2 milligrams iron (12 percent DV)
  • 80 milligrams phosphorus (8 percent DV)
  • 0.4 milligrams zinc (3 percent DV)

 

Wakame nutrition - Dr. Axe

 


How to Use & Cook Wakame

You can find wakame dried or fresh. It may be stored in a refrigerator, where it is preserved with sea salt, or it may be found in a sealed package where it is dehydrated and brittle, similar to nori (the seaweed used for rolling sushi).

If you have dehydrated wakame, start by cutting it into small pieces, as it will expand after being rehydrated. To rehydrate wakame, soak it in water for about 30 minutes or until it is soft; it can then be added to soups, stir fries and salads. The water used to rehydrate wakame is also full of nutrients, so it can be used as the base of your soup.

Wakame is a versatile seaweed that can be added to so many recipes. Here are some simple ideas to get you started:

  • Add wakame to a stir fry with soba noodles, fish, mushrooms, daikon and other vegetables.
  • Rehydrate wakame and add sesame seeds, chili powder, ginger and sugar to create a simple and delicious Japanese seaweed salad.
  • Mix wakame, cucumber, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar and sesame seeds to make to make wakame salad.
  • Combine buckwheat noodles, wakame, shrimp and avocado for a filling and nutritious meal.
  • Rehydrate wakame and add miso paste to the water. Then add small cubes of tofu, dashi, shredded cabbage and carrots.
  • Roll wakame salad and daikon spouts into nori sheets to make wakame sushi.

Potential Wakame Side Effects

Although wakame is a nutritious food that offers a handful of health benefits, it does contain a good amount of sodium, 872 milligrams for 1 ounce of wakame. People with high blood pressure may want to watch their wakame intake to make sure that they aren’t consuming too much sodium in one day, as sodium works against potassium to lower blood pressure levels.


Final Thoughts

  • Wakame is a brown or deep green seaweed that boasts a number of health benefits, including its ability to support the cardiovascular system, aid weight loss, support a healthy pregnancy and even fight breast cancer.
  • Wakame is full of essential vitamins and minerals, helping to boost the immune system and keep the organs functioning properly.
  • Wakame can be purchased dried or rehydrated. It can be added to soups, salads, stir fries and crockpots to create delicious and healthy meals.

Read Next: NATTO — The Fermented Soy Superfood


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