When you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s really tempting to try to tip the scales in your favour any way you can. So, it’s not surprising that when claims about various health foods and supplements pop up, many women wonder if it could hurt to give it a try.
The latest trend making the rounds online is sea moss (also known as Irish moss), a form of red seaweed found mainly in the North Atlantic. Its scientific name is Chondrus crispus. Some say that mixing the dried form into your smoothie or swallowing a supplement can help boost your fertility because it’s such a rich source of fibre and nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium and potassium. (Kim Kardashian is apparently a fan, although there’s no word on if it’s for baby-making.)
Plus, in the Caribbean, some value sea moss as an aphrodisiac for men.
What does the science say?
While it’s true that “sea vegetables” like sea moss and other seaweeds are rich in a variety of nutrients and fibre, the studies on their benefits are pretty limited and mostly use animal and cellular subjects, not humans. In other words, the research is interesting but ongoing, and it’s tough to draw a straight line between sea moss and human health, much less fertility.
Keri Gray, a Calgary registered dietitian who specializes in nutrition and fertility matters, says that seaweed in general is a really good source of folate, and has some calcium as well. But she warns that those qualities may not be enough to warrant taking a supplement. “We have to take this with a grain of salt however, because a typical serving of Irish moss would be five grams of dried [material], which is about a teaspoon. When you’re consuming a five-gram portion, the amounts of these nutrients would be pretty negligible.”
Iodine is another crucial factor to consider. Gray notes that Irish moss tends to be high in iodine, and iodine is important in thyroid hormones.
“Issues with fertility can happen with both hyperthyroid and hypothyroid [problems,] so I can understand why people are looking at things like seaweed because of the iodine content,” she says. “However, when you look at the iodine levels in a five-gram portion of Irish moss, they can change a lot. It depends on the time of year it was harvested, and the location. Sometimes the iodine level is within the normal levels and that’s ok, but sometimes it can exceed the upper limit of what’s recommended by a lot.” That’s a concern, because too much iodine can contribute to thyroid problems.
Gray also says the source of the sea moss is another biggie. “Depending on where it’s harvested, seaweed can be contaminated with heavy metals like mercury and arsenic, so honestly I would be very cautious.”
5 signs you're ovulatingSonya Kashyap, a reproductive endocrinologist and medical director of a Vancouver fertility clinic says that while her patients haven’t been asking about sea moss in particular, when the topic of supplements comes up, she’s more likely to discuss an antioxidant called coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10. “CoQ10 is the energy source for the mitochondria that are the energy source for a woman’s eggs, and [in studies on animals] it’s been shown to improve egg quality and perhaps egg number,” she says.
In addition to taking folic acid, she may suggest a supplement with 600 mg of CoQ10 daily for her female patients. For men trying to conceive, she says 600 mg of CoQ10 isn’t associated with a fertility boost but is good for overall health, and that supplements that contain zinc and antioxidants like vitamin C and E may be helpful for sperm quality. (Always check with your health care provider to see what supplements and quantities are right for you.)
As for Gray, instead of a sea moss smoothie, she recommends both men and women eat a variety of healthy whole foods to help support fertility. “Most of the research backs up a more Mediterranean-style eating pattern: more fish and seafood, less red meat, lots of veggies, fruits and whole grains, and monounsaturated oils like olive and avocado,” she says.