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Irish Moss Herb Description - Drug Interactions, Dosage and Some of its Useful Properties

Taxonomic Class

Gigartinaceae

Common Trade Names

Irish moss

Common Forms

Used extensively in small quantities as a binder, an emulsifier, or a stabilizer in creams, hand lotions, tablets, and toothpastes. Also found in some teas.

Source

The name Irish moss usually refers to a seaweed, Chondrus crisp us, or is applied to a mixture of C. crispus and Mastocarpus stellatus. It can be collected at low tide on the rocky Atlantic coastlines of northwestern Europe and Canada. Carrageenan, a seaweed gum, is processed from C. crisp us to commercial status through several procedures that can involve cleaning, extraction with sodium hydroxide, filtration and drum rolling, or precipitation with alcohol. Carrageenan gels rapidly degrade in an acidic environment or when exposed to heat. Degraded carrageenans lack the "gelling" or viscous properties.

Chemical components

Irish moss contains a large percentage of mucilage, carrageenan, iodine, bromine, iron, and vitamins A and B. Carrageenan is a variable mixture of potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and ammonium sulfate esters of galactose and 3-6 anhydrogalactose copolymers. The major types of hydrocolloid copolymers are kappacarrageenan, iotacarrageenan, and lambda carrageenan. Carrageenan readily dissolves in water to form various types of gels with a wide range of characteristics, depending on the type of algae used, the manufacturing process, and the desired function.

Actions

Irish moss is reported to have demulcent and emollient properties. Carrageenan extracted from the seaweed is used in the pharmaceutical industry as an emulsifying, suspending, and gelling agent. The gelling fractions are kappacarrageenan and iotacarrageenan; lambdacarrageenan does not gel. These hydrocolloid properties also make this plant useful to the food industry for various types of jellies.

Carrageenan has exhibited numerous pharmacologic effects in vitro and in animals, including lowering cholesterol levels, limiting food absorption, decreasing gastric secretions (osmotically active), and producing cathartic effects and hypotension, as well as anticoagulant and immunosuppressive activities. Carrageenan has demonstrated antiproteolytic activity against pepsin and papain in vitro. Interestingly, carrageenan has been reported to cause GI ulceration in various animals .

When carrageenan is injected into a rodent's paw, it produces a consistent inflammatory response. The carrageenan-induced rat paw edema model is a popular and reliable model for testing potential anti­inflammatory compounds.

Reported Uses and Benefits for Irish Moss

The herb's actions as a smooth binder have led to its use as a demulcent in treating ulcers and gastritis. Irish moss has also been reported to be valuable for bronchitis, colds, and other respiratory disorders, such as tuberculosis. There are no human data to verifY these claims. It is used by the pharmaceutical industry as an emulsifYing agent for such products as liquid petrolatum and cod liver oil.

Carrageenan has also been studied as a carrier for the GI delivery of various drugs. Absorption wa, enhanced with a carrageenan formulation of doxycycline.

Dosage

No dosages have been established based on controlled clinical trials. Irish moss is available in some countries in tablet form but usually is taken as a decoction.

To prepare the decoction, 1 oz of dried plant is added to 1 to 1/2 pt of boiling water, simmered gently, and strained. It may be sweetened with lemon, cinnamon, or honey and taken b.i.d. or t.i.d. in 1-cup doses.

Adverse Reactions

CV: hypotension.

GI: abdominal cramps, diarrhea, GI ulceration (in animals).

GU: renal disease (I.V. carrageenan-induced renal lesions in animals).

Hematologic: bleeding.

Other: infection.

Interactions

Anticoagulants: Increased risk of bleeding. Avoid administration with Irish moss.

Antihypertensives: May enhance hypotensive effects. Monitor the patient.

Other oral drugs: May impair absorption of these drugs. Avoid concomitant use of significant quantities of carrageenan.

Contraindications And Precautions

Irish moss is contraindicated in patients with active peptic ulcer disease or in those with a history of peptic ulcer disease. Avoid using this herb in pregnant or breast-feeding patients; effects are unknown.

Special Considerations

Monitor blood pressure.

Monitor for signs of bleeding.

Instruct the patient to avoid dizziness by rising slowly from a sitting or lying position.

Urge the patient with a history of peptic ulcer disease to avoid using Irish moss until its safety and efficacy have been established.

Instruct the patient to watch for signs of bleeding (bleeding gums, easy bruising, epistaxis, tarry stools).

Inform the patient that carrageenan is considered safe only in small quantities in various foodstuffs and commercial creams and lotions. Consumption of larger quantities has not been adequately evaluated.

Points of Interest

Degraded carrageenan is used in preparations for treating peptic ulcers in France.

Food-grade carrageenan (molecular weight over 50,000 daltons) is thought to be nontoxic because it is not absorbed.

Carrageenan is used in milk products (chocolate milk, ice cream, sherbets, cottage cheese, evaporated milk, puddings, yogurts, and infant formulas) and to thicken sauces, gravies, jams, and jellies.

Carrageenan is included in various herbal drinks, weight-loss products, fruit juices, and aloe vera lotions.

Commentary

Although carrageenan (main derivative of Irish moss) is widely used in the pharmaceutical and food industries, therapeutic claims have not been confirmed in controlled clinical human trials. Further study is warranted before Irish moss or its constituents can be recommended for any medical conditions.

   

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