How can Atlantic sea vegetables help you maintain a healthy immune system?

Sergio Baamonde López. Biologist specialising in marine macroalgae. Grupo Algamar.

After the unfortunate interference of the coronavirus in our lives, and the COVID-19 it can cause, our most recent focus has been on the search for a pharmaceutical solution to alleviate and remedy the damage it causes and prevent its proliferation. And not without good cause: these tools are obviously necessary and essential to achieve that end, according to the criteria of medical professionals studying this particular case.

However, it is important to reflect on this question and to be aware that you and your body are the main line of defence and barrier against diseases and pathological agents.

In addition to primary natural barriers, such as the skin and mucous membranes, you have an immune system composed of certain organs, tissues and cells, as well as certain processes. All these have developed and become perfected over thousands of years of evolution to fulfil their objective: to defend you from the aggressions of external pathogens such as viruses and bacteria and, in the event that they manage to infect you, to eliminate them while maintaining the “homeostasis” or internal balance of your body.

Logically, the stronger and healthier your immune system, the better it will fulfil its mission. This can be achieved by maintaining a healthy physiological and mental state. Therefore, it is essential to rid yourself of defeatism and the idea that contagion is inevitable, focusing passively only on the possible consequences of COVID-19, which, as we already know, range from being asymptomatic to the (less likely) possibility of developing a serious illness. In contrast, you should become aware that it is possible to proactively stimulate your natural defences and reinforce the specific and nonspecific immunity of your immune system. In this respect it is possible to control certain habits and hygienic-sanitary conditions that can help you achieve this objective, such as reducing stress, engaging in physical activity, taking adequate rest, and moderating sun exposure, among others. Most notable is the enormous importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet and this is where sea vegetables have a lot to contribute.

It is important to emphasise that the premise of this article is to deal with nutritional deficiencies derived from unhealthy eating habits that are, in turn, due to various current socioeconomic or cultural factors. These include a shortage of time to cook fresh food; the mass availability of low-cost, low-quality processed foods; a lack of economic resources; the junk food and convenience food culture; the absence of a gastronomic culture in younger generations; the overuse of phytosanitary products in conventional food, etc. Therefore, “in a situation of a clear deficiency of a nutrient involved in the immune system, taking it can have an effect on your immune response” (Vilaplana, 2015).

Marine algae or “sea vegetables” constitute an extraordinary and varied source of nutrients, in many cases superior to that of terrestrial vegetables. They are therefore often called “nutrient cocktails” or “superfoods” since they have a wide and abundant spectrum of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fibre and other essential elements to meet the nutritional needs of the body and, specifically, many of the nutrients directly involved in the immune system.

To support this exposition and to demonstrate that sea vegetables can make an important contribution as natural supplements of these nutrients, we will highlight the nutritional virtues directly related to the immune system of the five most commonly eaten varieties of Atlantic sea vegetables. They are all sustainably harvested on the coasts of Galicia (northwest Spain) by companies belonging to the Algamar Group (Algas Atlánticas Algamar, SL and Conservas Mar de Ardora SL).

Edible seaweed

Commercial name

Himanthalia elongata

Sea spaghetti

Undaria pinnatifida

Wakame

Laminaria sp.

Kombu

Porphyra sp.

Nori

Ulva sp.

Sea lettuce

Table 1. Sea vegetable species selected and shown in our nutritional comparison

The nutritional data for sea vegetables, both minerals and vitamins (Tables 2 and 4), were compiled from analyses carried out and published by the French Centre for the Study and Evaluation of Algae (https://www.ceva-algues.com/en/). The data are expressed in units per 100 g of dehydrated sea vegetable.

In the case of minerals, we can highlight, according to the EFSA recommendations (Vilaplana, 2015), that copper (Cu), iron (Fe), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn) are the essential minerals needed to maintain a healthy immune system. You can see the nutritional contributions of the selected sea vegetables in Table 2.

Sea vegetables

Sea spaghetti

Wakame

Kombu

Nori

Sea lettuce

Iron (mg) 2.5 12.1 5.9 42.5

79

Copper (mg) 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.7 1.5

Zinc (mg)

4.5 2.3 3.9 3.8 3.8
Selenium (µg)

16

70

9.4
Table 2. Minerals present in sea vegetables that favour the maintenance of a healthy immune system (unit/100g dehydrated sea vegetables).

In order to see the nutritional potential of sea vegetables as a supplement in this case, we can extrapolate the data and compare them with the NRV or daily reference intake according to Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 (Table 3).

Sea vegetable minerals

NRV*

% NRV Sea spaghetti

% NRV Wakame

% NRV Kombu

% NRV Nori

% NRV Sea lettuce

Iron (mg)

14

17.9 86.4 42.1 303.6 564.3
Copper (mg)

1

20.0 30.0 40.0 70.0 150.0

Zinc (mg)

10

45.0 23.0 39.0 38.0 38.0
Selenium (µg)

55

29.1

127.3 17.1
Table 3. Percentage minerals present in sea vegetables in respect of the NRV (NRV * = daily reference intake according to Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011).

With respect to the vitamins directly involved in the immune system, the EFSA (Vilaplana, 2015) mentions as essential vitamins C, E, A, D and folates (especially B9, B1, B2, B5, B8, B12) (Table 4).

Sea vegetable vitamins

Sea spaghetti

Wakame

Kombu

Nori

Sea lettuce

Vit. A Retinol (µg)

253

367

20

4,470

196

Vit. D (µg) 0.3

2

1

1.3
Vit. E Tocopherols (mg) 5.8 0.7 0.5 4.6 1.6

Vit. C (mg)

66

36.8

62

57

Vit. B1 Thiamine (mg) 0.3 0.4

0.5 0.1
Vit. B2 Riboflavin (mg) 4.5 0.9

1.9 0.3
Vit. B5 Pantothenic acid (mg)

0.1

Vit. B8 Biotin (µg)

33

14

32

4

Vit. B9 Folic acid (µg)

60

312

31

38

Vit. B12  (µg)

0.25

43.9 10.7
Table 4. Vitamins present in sea vegetables that favour the maintenance of a healthy immune system (unit/100 g dehydrated sea vegetable).

In the same way as for minerals, we can compare these data with the NRV or daily reference intake (Table 5).

Sea vegetable vitamins

NRV*

% NRV Sea spaghetti

% NRV Wakame

% NRV Kombu

% NRV Nori

% NRV Sea lettuce

Vit. A Retinol (µg)

800

31.6 45.9 2.5 558.8 24.5

Vit. D (µg)

5

6.0

 —

40.0 20.0 26.0
Vit. E Tocopherols (mg)

12

48.3 5.8 4.2 38.3 13.3

Vit. C (mg)

80

82.5 46.0

 —

77.5 71.3
Vit. B1 Thiamine (mg) 1.1 27.3 36.4

 —

45.5 9.1
Vit. B2 Riboflavin (mg) 1.4 321.4 64.3

 —

135.7 21.4
Vit. B5 Pantothenic acid (mg) 6.0

 —

1.7

 —

 —

Vit. B8 Biotin (µg)

50

66.0 28.0 64.0 8.0
Vit. B9 Folic acid (µg)

200

30.0 156.0

 —

15.5 19.0
Vit. B12  (µg) 2.5

10.0

 —

1756.0 428.0
Table 5. Percentage vitamins present in sea vegetables in relation to the NRV (NRV * = daily reference intakes according to Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011).

Both in terms of minerals and vitamins essential for the immune system we can see that sea vegetables provide a wide spectrum, some in amounts much higher than in other sources found in nature.

Sea vegetables, especially the brown varieties (kombu, wakame and sea spaghetti) are an important source of dietary fibre with a high prebiotic capacity (Wells et al. 2017; Zaporozhets et al. 2014). In other words, they are very favourable for the development of a beneficial intestinal microbiocenosis. This has an immunomodulatory function, since, according to Vilaplana (2015), “it is capable of acting on acquired immunity and can even protect the organism against infections and chronic inflammation processes such as Crohn’s disease”. This author highlights the important role played by some of these probiotic strains belonging to the intestinal microbiota in reducing the incidence of respiratory diseases or the severity of their symptoms.

However, in addition to all the characteristics of sea vegetables as promoters of a healthy immune system, it is necessary to highlight them as functional foods; in other words, foods that have, in addition to the nutrients mentioned above, other types of substances or bioactive components in their composition that in some way have a beneficial effect on the body. These substances are naturally present in sea vegetables and by including them in our diet we can benefit from their properties. They are usually compounds of a diverse nature (polysaccharides, polyphenols, carotenoids, etc.) that have been intensively studied by the scientific community. They are used in pharmacology, precisely due to their extraordinary capabilities and beneficial effects, among which immunomodulatory, antiviral and antibacterial functions, among others, have been demonstrated.

According to Shu-Ying et al. (2017), sea vegetable polysaccharides “can act directly or indirectly on the immune system, triggering several pathways or signals that lead to its activation”, both on an innate and adaptive level. In the same way, these polysaccharides can be applied in antiviral therapies, preventing the formation of the complex, since they have the ability to block the adhesion of viruses with target cells, as well as acting against respiratory viruses, such as respiratory syncytial virus. Their ability to reduce antigen levels in viruses of different kinds has also been demonstrated.

These conclusions are also supported by other scientists, including Tatyana A. Kuznetsova (2018), who considers sea vegetables and their polysaccharides to be powerful inducers of cellular and humoral immune responses.

The carotenoids present in sea vegetables stimulate and strengthen immune responses (Fernández Sáa, Clemente; 2002).

In recent studies by Hee Kyoung Kang et al. (2019) it has been shown that the protein hydrolysates in red Nori and brown Ecklonia sea vegetables have immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects, showing positive results in increasing splenocytes, lymphocytes, monocytes and granulocytes during in vivo experiments.

In summary, thanks to their excellent nutritional and functional properties, incorporating sea vegetables into a varied and balanced diet as a natural source of nutrients (added to the care of the other essential factors for this) can contribute preventively to maintaining and strengthening a healthy immune system and, therefore, to preventing the probability of contagion or to attenuating the symptoms or effects of diseases such as COVID-19, among other viral, bacteriological or fungal infections.

References

Fernández Sáa, Clemente. Algas de Galicia. Alimento y Salud (2002). Algamar.

Kyoung Kang, Hee; Hyung Ho Lee, Chang Ho Seo and Yoonkyung Park. Antimicrobial and Inmunomodulatory Properties and Applications of Marine-Derived Proteins and Peptides (2019). Marine Drugs. Research Gate.

Kuznetsova, Tatyana A.; Elena V. Persiyanova, Svetlana P. Ermakova, Maxim Yu. Khotimchenko and Natalya N. Besednova. The Sulfated Polysaccharides of Brown Algae and Products of Their Enzymatic Transformation as Potential Vaccine Adjuvants (2018). Natural Product Communication. Vol.13, No. 8, 1083 – 1095.

Xu, Shu-Ying; Xuesong Huang, Kit-Leong Cheong. Recent Advances in Marine Algae Polysaccharides: Isolation, Structure, and Activities (2017). Marine Drugs. Research Gate.

Vilaplana i Batalla, M. Nutrición y Sistema Inmunitario (2015). Farmacia Profesional. Vol. 29, Núm. 6, Noviembre-Diciembre 2015.

Wells L., Mark; Philippe Potin, Sabeeha S. Merchant, Mary Ellen Camire, James S. Craigie, Katherine E. Helliwell, Susan H. Brawley, John A. Raven and Alison G. Smith. Algae as nutritional and functional food sources: revisiting our understanding. J Appl Phycol (2017) 29:949–982

Zaporozhets, T.S.;  N.N. Besednova, T.A. Kuznetsova, T.N. Zvyagintseva, I.D. Makarenkova, S.P. Kryzhanovsky, V.G. Melnikov. The Prebiotic Potential of Polysaccharides and Extracts of Seaweeds (2014). Russian Journal of Marine Biology. Vol. 40, No. 1, pp. 1–9.

Utilizamos cookies para mejorar su experiencia y nuestros servicios, analizando la navegacion en nuestro sitio web.<br> Si continua navegando, consideramos que acepta su uso. Puede obtener más información pulsando aquí.

Use of cookies

This website is using cookies for improving your experience as a user. If you keep on navigating you are giving your consent to the use of these cookies ond our cookies policy. Click on the COOKIES POLICY, the link for more information. You can also check our LEGAL NOTICE and to our website PRIVACY POLICY.

Close