Ecklonia Cava: Brown Algae For Better Health?

I received literature in the mail promoting Ecklonia cava as a supplement for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and as an antioxidant. Is there any evidence that this supplement can help in all of these areas?

– July 20, 2010

Not that I know of. Ecklonia cava is a species of brown algae found off the coasts of Japan, Korea and China. Supplements in extract form are being aggressively promoted online as the answer to a wide range of disorders from cancer to insomnia to Gulf War syndrome and obesity. But I’ve seen no medical evidence that supports any of the many claims made for it. Ecklonia cava is said to be higher in antioxidants than green tea, red wine, and other known sources of these health protective compounds.

If you’re eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, you should already be getting plenty of antioxidants. Remember these micronutrients include:

  • beta-carotene in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables
  • lycopene in tomatoes, watermelon, papaya and pink grapefruit
  • anthocyanins in blueberries and other blue and purple fruits and vegetables
  • lutein, zeaxanthin and other carotenoids found in carrots and leafy greens.

Green tea provides important antioxidants called catechins, and red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant from the skin of grapes. Chocolate and olive oil contain similar compounds (polyphenols) to those in red wine and green tea. A quality daily multivitamin can help fill in nutritional gaps, but will not make up for a poor diet.

If you’re concerned about your cholesterol, your best bet is to lose weight if necessary, decrease the amount of saturated fat in your diet, get regular exercise, don’t smoke and follow my cholesterol recommendations. You may be able to lower your blood pressure with lifestyle changes and by taking the supplements I recommend.

Brown algae is just the latest in a long list of products based on clever marketing without any real science. Be skeptical of claims that you can achieve good health by taking any supplement said to deliver improbably wide-ranging results. Most of the time, the only change you’ll observe is a lightening of your wallet.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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