Kelp | Kombu | Herbal Medicine

This article discusses the medicinal uses, health Benefits, side effects and warnings of Kelp.

Kelp is an edible brown seaweed that is rich in vitamins and minerals especially iodine. Kelp has been traditionally used as natural iodine source and largely known for its health benefits for proper thyroid functions.


Scientific Name: Saccharina japonica

Also knows as:

Kombu, konbu (Japanese), dashima (Korean: 다시마) or haidai (simplified Chinese: 海带; traditional Chinese: 海帶; pinyin: Hǎidài).

"Kelp" is the general term given for large seaweeds that belong to the brown algae in the Order Laminariales. Kelp or Kombu as the Japanese would call them, grows in shallow cold water (6 feet to 90 feet) called “kelp forest” that receives much sunlight and nutrients from ocean currents.

Kelp does not only benefits marine and animal life but kelp has been harvested for food by man since ancient times and many benefits are derived from it. Kelp contains alginates that are now commercially used as thickeners for ice creams, toothpastes and other food products. The kelp thallus (or body) consists of blades that are leaf-like structures growing from stipes that are stem-like structures. The holdfast is a root-like structure that anchors the kelp to the substrate of the ocean. Some of the popular kelp species are the giant kelp, bull kelp and the southern kelp. Kelp can grow to as much as 2 feet per day reaching up to 200 feet in length.

Kelp Traditional Medicinal Uses

Kelp is largely used in traditional medicine for various conditions.

  • Kelp is a good source of glutamic acid, an amino acid responsible for its taste.
  • Kelp or kombu contains extremely high levels of iodine. While this mineral is essential for normal growth and development, the extreme high levels can cause overdoses resuting to hyperthyroidism.
  • Another health benefit from Kelp is that it is also a source of dietary fiber.
  • Algae including kelp also contain enzymes that break down complex sugars that are normally indigestible in the human gut.

Other Scientific Studies Relating to Kelp / Kombu

Kelp is a Natural Source of Iodine

Kelp is rich in natural iodine. Iodine is an essential need of the human body to be healthy. Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of mental retardation according to World Health Organization and symptoms may include dry, scaly skin and scalp, constipation, fatigue, dysfunctional thyroid operation, infertility, increased rate of still births and growth abnormalities.

Because of high iodine content, another kelp benefit is the protection against radiation poisoning. Iodine is also important for the thyroid, immune system, and female hormone regulation.

Kelp is rich in Vitamins and Minerals

Kelp benefits the whole body because in addition to iodine, kelp contains vitamins B1, B2, and B12 and minerals such as potassium, calcium and iron.

Kelp Benefits for Thyroid Health

Iodine benefits include the proper functioning of the thyroid glands. The high level of iodine in kelp regulates thyroid hormones. Although synthetic medications have long replaced iodine diet in the treatment of thyroid gland problems, the use of kelp or iodine rich diet can supplement the treatment.

Kelp Prevents Estrogen-Related Cancer

Statistics have shown that Japanese women have lower rates of reported ovarian, breast and endometrial cancers. In a study conducted examining the diets of Japanese women, it has been found that Japanese eat more of natural foods including kelp and soya. In related investigation, it has been found that  a diet containing kelp lowered serum estradiol levels in women and had phytoestrogenic properties. [1]

Anti Cancer Benefits from Kelp

Kelp belongs to the group of brown seaweeds that has been found to contain fucoidan, a  a sulfated polysaccharide that has been isolated to exhibits the ability to induce human lymphoma HS-Sultan cell lines apoptosis (cell death). [2]

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits from Kelp

Kelp contains fucoidan, a sulfated polysaccharide that displays a wide variety of internal biological activities. A study done in the Department of Pharmacy, Pusan National University, Busan Korea indicated that fucoidan treatment significantly inhibited excessive production of nitric oxide and prostaglandin in LPS-stimulated BV2 microglia that is the precursor of inflammation.

Kelp Benefits for Neurodegenerative Diseases

From the same study, fucoidan extracted from kelp attenuated expression of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), cyclooxygenase (COX)-2, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), and pro-inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α. Moreover, fucoidan exhibited anti-inflammatory properties by suppression of nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB) activation and down-regulation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK), and AKT pathways. These finding suggest that fucoidan may offer substantial therapeutic potential for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases that are accompanied by microglial activation. [3]

Antioxidants Benefits from Kelp

Studies have found that sea vegetables including kelp contain antioxidants that can protect fight free radicals and other potentially hazardous elements.

Kelp / Kombu Usage, Dosage, Warnings and Side Effects

Where can I get or buy kelp?

Kelp leavesKelp is a type of seaweed readily found in most health foods stores. Kelp comes in various forms, such as dried powder, sheets, noodles and even in capsule and tablet forms.

Kelp is available in online stores such ebay and amazon such as Organic Kelp Power, 1-pound Bags

Warnings and Side Effects

When cooked and properly prepared, eating kelp has been proven beneficial even for young children, pregnant women and breast feeding mothers.

However, some people are sensitive to seaweeds and sea vegetables and eating kelp may trigger allergic reactions such as itching, skin rash, hives, watery or itchy eyes, runny nose, and shortness of breath. Gastro-intestinal problems like nausea and diarrhea.

Adverse side effects from kelp almost always resulted to improper use of kelp supplements. Always follow directions from a competent medical practitioner or from the product label when using kelp supplements.

Reports of over dosage of kelp supplements have resulted to a side effect that disrupts the thyroid balance resulting to hyperthyroidism, Another side effect of overuse of kelp supplement is reduced fertility in women, the inability of the body to absorb vital nutrients like iron, potassium and sodium.

There also reports that prolonged use of kelp may also lead to heavy metal poisoning such as arsenic to which kelp has been exposed due to seawater pollutants.

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Article last reviewed:10.17.2016