Is Irish Moss Really Good for You?

Irish moss

Move over last month’s superfood, Irish moss is here. According to some, it has the power to boost immunity, gut health, and skin health, and take your inner and outer beauty to the next level.

Where have you heard that before?

What Is Irish Moss?

Irish sea moss (Chondrus crispus), a type of red algae, is getting its 15 minutes. Found along the shores of Ireland, mainland Europe, North America, and the Caribbean, it’s been used for centuries for its purported benefits.

In other words, it isn’t new. And although it’s been used by many countries sharing Atlantic coastlines, its Irish tradition has found a way to emerge on top.

The folklore might go like this: The algae were used as a source of nutrition during the Irish Potato famine of the 1800s.

There is also a storied history of its use in Jamaica, where Irish moss was employed for immune strength and as a male libido enhancer.

The exact nutritional makeup of sea moss ultimately depends on where it comes from. It’s likely that the shores of different regions have slightly varied makeups of the sea vegetation based on geography.

Is Irish Moss a Superfood?

Seaweed and sea moss are both algae and are highly nutrient-dense. Aside from packing plenty of essential vitamins and minerals into one small serving, algae like Irish sea moss are also a good source of phytochemicals that may offer additional health benefits.

That said, there is little evidence to support any of the purported benefits of Irish moss. These storied benefits include:

  • Greater immune strength
  • Improved digestion
  • Better gut health
  • Anti-aging
  • Glowing skin
  • Sore throat relief
  • Boosted energy
  • Better thyroid health

Many of these claims stem from the fact that red algae are an excellent source of:

  • Fiber
  • Folate
  • Vitamin K
  • Iodine
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

Even without the scientific evidence lending support, the sheer density of nutrition in algae can earn them a “superfood” label.

Potential Health Benefits of Irish Moss

So, do the claims behind this current wave of Irish moss love hold any weight? It’s hard to say.

For one thing, Irish moss is not new. It is not a new discovery, nor is it a novel ingredient in the health food industry. It’s actually used in a number of commercial products.

Carrageen, an extract of Irish sea moss, is used in hundreds of products, including foods and cosmetics, as a stabilizing or gelling agent. In fact, high intake of carrageen may lead to inflammation. There is even some data identifying it as a possible carcinogen.

Of course, extracts are “megadoses,” and these findings don’t necessarily translate to moss in its whole, natural form.

But let’s take a closer look at some of the potential health benefits:

Digestion

One of the most likely benefits of Irish algae is improved digestion. It is a high-fiber food and a great source of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is the type of fiber that dissolves in water to form a gel-like substance, which can help add bulk to stools.

Heart Disease

Another benefit of soluble fiber is its effect on heart disease. Research suggests it can remove cholesterol from arterial walls, thereby reducing total cholesterol and the risk for heart disease.

There is evidence to suggest that adding small amounts of seaweed to unhealthy foods may decrease rates of cardiovascular disease. Of course, avoiding unhealthy foods is a better approach to achieving good heart health.

Gut Health

Fiber is a great path to better gut health. Irish sea moss may be a strong source of prebiotic fiber, which serves as food for healthful gut microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc.).

A healthy, diverse microbiome, or population of gut microbes, may have positive influences on inflammation, digestion, mood, bowel function, and more.

Skin Health

Some suggest that algae could have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory benefits that may help with acne and skin aging. The active ingredient responsible for this potential effect is sulfur.

Thyroid Function

Irish moss is a great source of iodine that could improve thyroid function. Consuming too much, however, could threaten thyroid function.

How to Include Irish Moss in Your Diet

Irish moss is rarely eaten in raw or in large amounts. Instead, it is boiled down in water to create a gel. It’s also taken as a powder.

Currently, its most popular use is in smoothies. Adding some gel or powder to a shake or smoothie is likely the easiest way to take it, too. If you have access to fresh moss, it’s used to make drinks. A popular Jamaican recipe, for example, includes condensed milk, moss, vanilla, and nutmeg.

Because it is generally used as a thickening agent, you could use it to add texture to puddings, stews, and soup.

Irish Moss Precautions

Irish moss does not come without some controversy. As mentioned, carrageen extract may lead to inflammation and pose a potential cancer risk if consumed in large amounts.

Iodine is also point of contention. Although you need iodine for healthy thyroid function, too much of it can lead to hyperthyroidism. Watch out for claims of Irish sea moss’s energy-boosting abilities. These claims almost certainly relate to its effects on the thyroid.

Potential dangers of Irish sea moss can likely be averted if you’re not overdoing it. Having a little bit (following the directions on the bottle) a few times per week is likely to be safe, but there is little information available about dosing guidelines. That said, the algae are not, nor have they ever been, intended to be a high-intake dietary staple. Use sparingly, and you should be fine.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that the supplement industry is largely unregulated. That means due diligence is required before buying any supplement, including Irish moss or other algae supplements.

Things to look for when buying supplements include:

  • Third-party testing for efficacy and purity
  • A NSF or GMP certification stamp on the label
  • A reputable manufacturer

Irish Sea Moss: Is It Worth the Hype?

So, is Irish sea moss really the superfood it’s cracked up to be? It can definitely add some extra nutrition to your morning smoothie. But should you spend extra money or go out of your way to get it, let alone expect it will improve your health?

Likely not.

At this point, there just isn’t enough research to confirm any of its reported health benefits. There are countless foods out there than can offer similar benefits and supply larger overall doses of the same important nutrients, without the risk.

Sources:
Langan, S., “Learn about the health benefits of Irish moss,” Irish Central, June 18, 2020; https://www.irishcentral.com/culture/food-drink/health-benefits-irish-moss, last accessed October 7, 2020.
Krempa, F., “Why Sea Moss Is the Latest Hot Add-in to Healthy Smoothies,” Well and Good, February 11, 2020; https://www.wellandgood.com/sea-moss-health-benefits/, last accessed October 7, 2020.
Sass, C., “Does Sea Moss Have Health Benefits? Here’s What a Nutritionist Says,” Health, February 25, 2020; https://www.health.com/food/sea-moss-benefits, last accessed October 7, 2020.
Jackson-Gibson, A., “Is Sea Moss Healthy? Here’s How to Eat It for Maximum Benefits,” Good Housekeeping, January 17, 2020; https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/diet-nutrition/a30499092/sea-moss-health-benefits/, last accessed October 7, 2020.
Creveling, M., “Is Sea Moss a Legit New Superfood?” Shape, March 6, 2020; https://www.shape.com/healthy-eating/diet-tips/irish-sea-moss-benefits-carrageen, last accessed October 7, 2020.
Kirkpatrick, K., “Does Irish sea moss have health benefits — and should you try it?” Today, September 4, 2020; https://www.today.com/health/irish-sea-moss-benefits-should-you-try-it-expert-weighs-t191022, last accessed October 7, 2020.