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Treasure Filled Sea Garden

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French women, it seems, have always known about the tissue-restorative powers of seaweed. Seaweed spas are dotted all over Paris.

French women, it seems, have always known about the tissue-restorative powers of seaweed.

Seaweed spas are dotted all over Paris. More vacation-oriented versions pepper the French countryside, especially near Atlantic coasts, where an abundance of fresh, clean seaweed is available for extended treatments (which include French wines and gourmet dinners!).

Seaweed has long been taken seriously by a number of French medical doctors. This plant has healing powers for humans that are quite unlike those of any other herbal remedy. Seaweed "breathes" under salt water--an environment normally hostile to plant life so, not surprisingly, the chemical make-up of these underwater plants is quite unlike that of other plants used in phytotherapy.

One of the most important aspects of seaweed therapy is its external application. The patient is submerged in a warm bath containing the extract of one, or sometimes a combination of three or four different species. The plant material for the bathing session is provided in the form of a cotton sachet, tightly sewn around the edges. This is placed in the bath while hot water is still running and is gently squeezed from time to time in order to extract the healing properties of this natural medicine. The whole-body bath provides an opportunity for the skin to absorb any shortage of trace minerals or other micronutrients, which are released into the warm water for easy absorption.

Briny Benefits

Five of the most widely used seaweed species in France are deep sea tangle (Laminaria digitata), kelp (Fucus vesiculosus), Icelandic moss (Chondrus crispus), and spirulina (Spirulina maxima). These species reveal an abundance of the ocean's natural richness.

There are a large number of amino acids present in seaweed and they include the eight for which the human organism has a daily need: isoleucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, theronine, tryptophan and valine. In addition, they boost a wide range of vitamins including vitamins A (retinol), B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalmine), C (ascorbic acid), D3 (cholecaliterol), E (tocopherol) and K (phylloquinone).

Added to that, nature has compounded into seaweed a wealth of minerals: potassium, sodium, magnesium, sulphur, phosphorus, iodine, iron, copper and manganese as well as a long list of trace elements. This is why the refreshing seaweed bath replenishes and rebalances subtle nutrients in the body. It also explains why seaweed has always been a popular food in Asia. (Just think of all that sea vegetable power in your next bite of Japanese vegetable sushi.)

Seaweed Rejuvenates

The French maintain that the external application of seaweeds rehydrates and firms up skin cells and tones the support fibres of the skin, exerting a noticeable slowing down in the aging of the skin. The preventive and regulating activity seen from seaweed when used in treating various dermatological problems is the result of its ability to improve the action of sebaceous and other glands in the skin itself.

Each seaweed species possesses its own healing properties and has specific indications. One of the most useful and most widely obtainable is bladderwrack or kelp (Fucus vesiulosus). In addition to properties already listed and that are common to most seaweeds, this plant is reported to possess stimulatory properties for the circulation of the blood with vasodilation of the vessels. Kelp is also thought to be slimming. It's used in aesthetic or fatigue states, especially with aging persons and is specifically indicated for menopause, eye fatigue, nervousness and constipation.

Most people benefit from seaweed, but there are a few who do not. Because of the richness of iodine, the internal use of seaweed as a medicine should be monitored medically. It can provoke hyperthyroidism if the dose is too strong or too prolonged. Nor can everyone use seaweed baths. They are not appropriate for people with infectious diseases in the acute phase, acute inflammations, cardiac problems, tuberculosis, hyperthyroidism, some mental health problems and skin problems.

According to the German Commission E Monograph, no health risks have been observed in preparations with a daily dose of up to 150 mg iodine. Above that dose there is a danger of inducing and aggravating hyperthyroidism. Symptoms resulting from prolonged or uncontrolled use include palpitations, restlessness and insomnia.

Gradually, seaweed products are creeping into the Canadian marketplace. Canadian manufacturers and consumers will want to make sure that our governments come up with viable measures to protect this valuable health resource.

The Healing Power of Kelp

Fucus vesiculosus is used in England both as an internal supplement and as an external preparation. A.W. Priest, the eminent London medical herbalist and author of the Handbook for Clinical Practice, recommends a kelp poultice for painful arthritic joints. The finely powdered kelp is made into a mushy poultice by soaking in olive oil for 24 hours in a warm place. It's distributed evenly over a clean piece of cotton which is wrapped, kelp down, over the joint and further secured with towels and plastic to prevent drying out. It's then held in place for 24 hours.

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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD