Sea moss has been the standout health product of the year - so, does it actually work to boost gut health and immunity?

Holland & Barrett named it as their best-selling chilled product of the year.

Sea moss benefits: Clear gel
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sea moss might conjure images of colourful underwater corals and algae but did you know? It promises to impact your gut health if taken as a supplement and has been one of the standout wellness trends of the year, with searches up 158% year-on-year. Not au fait with the benefits of sea moss? Then listen up. Easily one of the year's most trending supplements, the sea moss TikTok hashtag has 1.1 billion views, with leading health brand Holland & Barrett revealing it as their best-selling chilled product of the year.

They're predicting the sales boom to continue into 2024, too. As Dr Anojan Arulananthan, retail health lead at Holland & Barrett explains: “Seaweed and sea moss superfoods continue to make waves in the wellness world and came out as one of the top wellness topics of the year."

So what exactly is it? Good question. Sea moss, also known as Irish moss or red seaweed, is a type of seaweed. The supplement comes from the extract carrageenan which, when harvested from the seaweed, turns into a jelly-like substance often used as a food thickener. Even Kim Kardashian is a fan, sharing a sea moss smoothie on Instagram earlier in the year.

While sea moss has been around since, well, the oceans have, the nutrient-rich supplement only started rising in popularity last year. It's been made into a number of products thanks to its high volume of minerals iodine, potassium, and calcium, as well as vitamins and protein. 

While you'll also find it in ice cream, non-dairy milk, cottage cheese, jelly, and even toothpaste, shoe polish, and infant formula, the wellness products we're talking about span gels, gummies and powders. So, question: have the health claims actually been proven? And is it worth supplementing? Below, two nutrition experts share their take. Don't miss what happened when MC UK writers drank lemon water daily, mint water daily, and green tea daily, too.

What are the benefits of taking sea moss?

Curious about whether this clear gel can actually boost your gut health and immunity, as influencers on TikTok seem to promise? Let's delve into the published research. While one 2018 study concluded that seaweeds including laminaria digitata can boost immune health, it's important to note that the study was carried out on salmon and not humans, meaning we simply don't know whether that's true of humans, too.

So what does a qualified expert reckon? Jenna Hope, a registered nutritionist and the author of How To Stay Healthy, says that while sea moss is believed to have plenty of benefits, more research needs to be done to conclusively prove how it can impact your health. 

“We know that sea moss is rich in a wide range of nutrients such as iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc, all of which play a role in supporting the immune system and general wellbeing." she explains. "Sea moss is also rich in iodine, which plays a vital role in supporting cognitive development and thyroid health.”  

Not just that, but sea moss is rich in protein and fibre and, like other high protein, high fibre foods, can support a healthy gut and build muscle, she goes on.

What are the drawbacks of sea moss?

That said, she points out that not only is it expensive and more challenging to find than other ingredients, but there simply isn't enough scientific research proving it's efficacy yet.

Her advice? "Try to focus on more accessible whole foods such as beans, pulses, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and animal products such as good quality meat, fish, eggs and dairy," she shares. "These all help to support muscle growth and general wellbeing.”

Not to mention, Hope points out that taking too many different supplements can be detrimental. “Supplements aren’t the only way of consuming these nutrients," she shares. "There's also a risk of nutrient toxicity if you’re taking a wide range of other supplements." 

Do make sure to check in with your GP, if you're on the fence. That said, if you are keen on incorporating algae into your diet, you’re best off opting for fresh seaweed where you can. 

“I’ve taken sea moss for two years – it’s helped me get in touch with my roots”

One person who's been trying sea moss for quite some time is Billie Dee, a 33-year-old PR consultant. 

For Dee, sea moss has holistic qualities that speak to her Caribbean and Irish heritage. She says: “I started taking sea moss after seeing Black influencers talking about its benefits and healing properties on Instagram."

“I’d started taking a lot of vitamins and supplements to help me manage my drug and alcohol recovery, and I was also seeking natural solutions to my severe menstrual pain. When I saw sea moss contains over 90 minerals and vitamins, I thought it could be a great alternative to popping dozens of pills every day. As I did my research, I saw that sea moss was used in Irish and Caribbean folk medicine – that’s my heritage and I’m always looking for ways to connect with it.”

Dee enjoyed being able to buy the products from independent, female, black-owned businesses she found on Instagram, though it took her a while to get used to the product. “The texture of the gel was weird but the taste wasn’t bad as I bought versions infused with fruit such as mango or blueberry. Each jar would last about two weeks and I took a couple of spoonfuls a day. I also used the gel on my skin as face masks or to dry out spots.”

But, due to its costs, Dee had to eventually cut back. “It is pretty expensive and the gel went out of date quickly. I stopped taking it as I’ve gone back to regular vitamins. They are just cheaper and last longer. That said, I’d consider using sea moss again in the future.” 

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Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.