When it comes to niche nutrition foods and supplements, you have to be even more careful of what you read online about them.
Sometimes, there is unjustified excitement or exaggerations that are peddled by supplement marketers. Other times – or in conjunction with – you will have personal bloggers doing the same.
The worst scenario is when either of those parties incorrectly cites a piece of research and just like a game of telephone, everyone else begins repeating it.
The problem is, did any of those people go back to look at that original research to actually confirm it? Can it really spur the regrowth of hair with “results in as little as 33 days” as one website claims?
The ORAC value of ecklonia cava
ORAC is the gold standard testing method for measuring total in vitro antioxidant activity for a substance.
Right now you can find countless websites which claim that the brown seaweed ecklonia cava has an ORAC of 8,300 (or converted as 8.3, if using mmol instead of μmol TE/100g). They then go on to compare how that value is double that of blueberries, etc.
One supplement company further claims that the value of it so high, that apparently it was difficult finding a lab to measure it.
That claim is laughable, as Brunswick Labs (who is the go-to game in town for this test) measures substances 3,700% higher – i.e. sumac bran – without any problem whatsoever.
What else is laughable is that apparently, many people assume the various methods for testing how much antioxidants there are in a food are all the same as ORAC. They’re not.
We have searched all .gov and .edu online sources and are able to find a handful of studies which look at how much antioxidants are in ecklonia cava extract. But guess what? We can’t find a single one using the ORAC test (below you will find out how this all relates to the hair loss discussion).
Not having an ORAC for something is actually quite common. Given that it’s such an expensive test, we often see researchers use other cheaper and simpler assays. Off the top of our heads, there are a plethora of uber-niche superfoods we are aware of which have never had an ORAC test done.
What we were able to find were the results using the following methods:
- superoxide anion
- hydroxyl radical
If you’re not familiar with those, don’t worry. All you need to know is that while yes, they are considered useful, they’re not held in as high esteem as ORAC.
For the TPC (total phenol content) guess what it scores? An 8.3 (1):
Is it just a coincidence that almost everyone is claiming an ORAC of 8300, which would be the equivalent of 8.3 mmol converted to μmol? We think not.
It appears someone, some time ago, saw the 8.3 and misread it as being 8.3 mmol/100g (for ORAC) instead of what it actually is, 8.3 g GAE 100 g (for TPC). They then converted it to the more commonly reported μmol and published it online. Like a game of telephone, that value then began being cited by almost everyone.
Could we be wrong? Absolutely. It may be just a coincidence that both numbers are 8.3, but we think the odds of that are quite unlikely. Like we said, we cannot locate any published research report or study which cites this 8,300 number as being ORAC.
Now to be clear, there is very high amount of antioxidants in ecklonia cava seaweed and we would not be the least bit surprised if its ORAC value did happen to be around 8,000 μmol TE/100g, or even higher. But as now, that measurement – from a verifiable source – is unknown to us.
Does it work for hair growth?
Presently, it’s one of the biggest benefits being touted for this species of brown algae. Are there studies to back this up or is it another piece of research being misrepresented?
Well it turns out that the hair regrowth theories you’re reading about might actually correlate more closely with what the research suggests.
However it’s important to taper expectations and excitement.
There is one study we are aware of which was published in 2016 (2). It was conducted in South Korea which is no surprise, given that this seaweed is plentiful in the ocean waters surrounding that country, as well as Japan.
Furthermore, that one study did not involve humans. It wasn’t animals, either. Rather they used ex-vivo hair follicle cultures, which means they were using real human hair follicles, but in a Petri dish (or equivalent) outside of the human body.
Samples containing over 100 hair follicles each were obtained from 12 Korean men who were 20 to 50 years old.
As you would imagine, cell cultures can only survive so long in that environment, so it really only offers a limited perspective as to what happens biologically with them.
The thinking behind it
Fibroblasts are an important type of cell which are responsible for collagen and the extracellular matrix. Since extract from ecklonia cava has been shown to increase the survival of fibroblasts, the concept was to find out if it could also help the human dermal papilla cell (hDPC), which play a crucial role in the hair growth cycle and the dermal-epidermal interactions which control hair production.
The researchers used the dried seaweed, washed it thoroughly to remove salt and contaminants, and then extracted using ethanol to create a higher concentration of the active ingredients.
First they created what they called a dark brown powder (PPE), before further purifying to create what they called a light brown powder (PPEE). The latter contained:
- 16.8% dieckol
- 3.5% phlorofurofucoeckol A
- 1.9% eckol
The most concentrated form they used, the light brown powder, contained the most dieckol and phlorofurofucoeckol A. It as well as the less concentrated form showed enhanced proliferation of hDPCs when compared to the control samples. The concentration of the extract used was 10 µg/ml.
As far as hair growth, the follicles treated with 0.1 µg/ml PPE (the less concentrated form) led to longer follicle lengths versus control, however the PPEE (the more concentrated form) did not. Nor did other concentrations of PPE tested.
(B) phlorofurofucoeckol A (PF)
(C) purified polyphenols from Ecklonia cava (PPE)
(D) purified polyphenols from E. cava enriched with eckols (PPEE)
The positive control used in these was minoxidil 1.0 µM, which is the active ingredient in Rogaine.
They also looked at whether there was reduced oxidative stress in the hDPCs from the extract and indeed there was. However once again, no ORAC value for the antioxidant activity was ever listed or discussed.
There was also an earlier study from 2012 that didn’t use the entire Ecklonia cava plant or even the purified polyphenols. Instead they only used the the dieckol. Mice were tested and indeed, the results were impressive, but it’s hard to extrapolate from that and assume that using the plant on hair would have the same effect. (3)
The higher concentrated form did not produce better results than the less concentrated extract.
The conclusion suggested that the lower concentrated version may “promote human hair growth via the proliferation of hDPCs with ROS scavenging and increasing growth factors such as IGF-1 and VEGF.”
While this is good news to hear, it’s way to preliminary to claim that ecklonia cava hair regrowth is for real. The fact that the higher concentration did not produce better results could not be fully explained. For example, it was mentioned that “unknown molecules within PPE [the lower concentration] may be necessary to maintain the stability of those molecules.”
Also let’s not forget that this study looked at the direct application of ecklonia cava powder diluted in water. It did not look at whether something like an oral Seapolynol or Seanol supplement (brands of the extract) would have any effect. Our guess would be they don’t, give that there’s no such thing as Rogaine pills.
Hair study aside, this brown seaweed appears to still be quite beneficial. It is one of the highest known sources of phloroglucinols, which are antioxidants that are unique to marine plants.
Is ecklonia cava fat or water soluble? Actually both, which means you can take the antioxidant supplement with or without food. Taking it for that reason can make sense, but it’s far too early to claim it even might be a remedy for balding.
If you want to buy the powder and try using it as a direct application, know that you are doing so as a guinea pig and there may be side effects.
Since no one appears to sell the powder extract by itself, you likely would need to be a ecklonia cava supplement and open the capsule to get the powder. We have not heard any reviews from people who have used it for this purpose. If you have one to share, please do so in the comments.
On Amazon we saw this supplement with many intriguing reviews but it sounds like people are using it for various things, not just hair.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.