Have you ever gazed at the vast expanse of the sea and wondered about its mysteries? I am reminded of this whenever I go to Florida, and drive along the beach, or stand beside a beautiful lake. Recently, I went to Cabo for a few days and it was exquisite! I stared at the crashing waves near Land’s End for hours and realized how small we all are!
The ocean is expansive, and it offers more than just stunning views. I am calling it marine medicine!
In fact, beyond its shimmering beauty, our oceans, rivers, and lakes are a treasure trove of potential medications, herbs, and vitamins. Today, we’ll sail through some amazing marine-derived substances that can be harvested from the ocean’s pharmacy.
The marine medicine that everyone knows about is fish oil. I’m not elaborating on it here because I’ve written many times on this topic. As you know, fish oil supplements are primarily derived from the tissues of oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. You should always take a fish oil supplement with your statin cholesterol medicine. Read why HERE.
Fish oil supplements provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. But there’s more, way more!
Now that we’ve covered fish oil, let’s dive in and explore 9 other interesting medical marvels hidden beneath the waves!
1. Ziconotide (Prialt®): Ever heard of a snail giving relief from severe pain? This powerful pain reliever, non-addictive and distinct from opioids, comes from the venom of the cone snail! Fun fact: It works by blocking calcium channels in nerve cells. For more information CLICK HERE.
2. Cytarabine (Cytosar-U® or Ara-C®): This anticancer wonder is derived from the Caribbean sponge Cryptotethya crypta and is a go-to for treating acute myeloid leukemia. For more information about this agent, visit MEDSCAPE.
3. Trabectedin (Yondelis®): From the intriguing Caribbean sea squirt, this drug offers hope for those battling soft tissue sarcoma. A sea squirt is a marine invertebrate that lives on reefs.
4. Dulse (Palmaria palmata): This red seaweed isn’t just a tasty treat but the edible seaweed is a fabulous source of protein, fiber, vitamin B12 and essential minerals like iodine. I’ve put some of this into my goitrogen-free Yummy Greens superfood drink mix.
5. Sea Lettuce: Found around coastlines worldwide, sea lettuce isn’t just for the fish. Packed with vitamins A, B, and C, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it’s a green wonder from the marine world. I’ve put some sea lettuce into Yummy Greens superfood drink mix!
6. Oyster Shells: Do you like to eat oysters? They are scraped out of oyster shells which are rich in calcium carbonate, these shells don’t just create pearls. They’re harvested and used because they provide a source of calcium! You’ve probably seen labels of supplements that say “Oyster Shell Calcium.”
I don’t think it’s the most bioavailable form of calcium, but it’s definitely a source. It’s most commonly used as an effective heartburn remedy as in “Tums” or “Rolaids.” Oyster shells a.k.a. “Mu Li” are used in other parts of the world (particularly Asia) to pacify the liver.
7. Shark Cartilage: Beyond the allure of this formidable predator, shark cartilage has drawn attention for its potential anti-cancer properties and chondroitin content, thought to support joint health. However, a tip from your favorite pharmacist: There are more effective alternatives out there. I say that because there is limited scientific evidence when it comes to shark cartilage for the treatment of either cancer or osteoarthritis.
you see, for all its virtues, chondroitin sulfate is kind of bulky – it’s a big molecule. It has a hard time penetrating the endothelial cells where it’s supposed to get in and stop angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels that feed cancer cells), and it’s sort of big to get into the chondrocytes too, those help with joint issues. I’d say the jury is still out because people do speak to the benefits derived from this fish.
8. Red Marine Algae (Rhodophyta): You’ve probably seen this on the beach. If not, then you may know rhodophyta’s ‘cousin’ which is similar, but it’s a dark green algae. That one is more famous because it’s used in sushi. The other name of that is “nori” and it contains many minerals and vitamins. Nori is often used in sandwiches and soup too!
Red algae is a beautiful addition to our coral reefs and some species are actually being studied for their potential antiviral properties, especially against herpes. Red Marine Algae is a mineral-rich superfood that is rich in both calcium and magnesium. Both red and green algae are considered a superfood (depending on the species).
Just to be clear: Not all algae is safe to eat, nor is all algae a superfood.
9. Sea Cucumber: I’m referring to a critter, not a vegetable. It can be eaten, but it contains saponin compounds which may hold anti-tumor activity. We’re not sure, there are no human studies to my knowledge. In other parts of the world, extracts can be used for joint pain, low libido, and frequent urination. Sea cucumber extract contains chondroitin by the way. I’ve discussed that compound above.
Caution: As with all medications and dietary supplements, always ensure you are buying products from reputable places. That’s because there is so much environmental pollution, algae blooms, and radioactivity.
With marine-derived products, there is the potential for contamination, heavy metals (ie lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc), dioxins, PCBs, microplastics, and more. Only high-quality supplements undergo rigorous testing needed to ensure they are free from harmful levels of these contaminants.
You always have my assurance with any of my supplements. As for marine-derived products that you buy elsewhere, especially online, always check for company certifications or lab tests to be sure they’re testing their formulas before selling them to you.
Our oceans, rivers, and lakes are not just vast bodies of water. They’re a testament to nature’s incredible ability to nurture and heal. From pain relief medications to nutritious seaweeds, these waters are more than just a scenic beauty. They’re a bustling pharmacy and virtual grocery store of goodies combined. The next time you stroll by the beach or enjoy a lakeside view, remember the hidden health treasures that lie beneath.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.