Health Benefits of Green Lipped Mussels
Green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) originate from the waters that surround New Zealand, and are known for being the largest type of mussel in the world. The name originates from the appearance of the mussels, whose shells are green in colour where the two sides meet, resembling a pair of green lips.
Aside from their attractive appearance, green-lipped mussels are revered for their nutrient density, as they are rich in minerals, essential amino acids, glycoproteins and also the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA – which are known to have a wide range of proven roles in the body.
In this article we are going to look deeper into the science behind green-lipped mussels to ensure you have enough information to determine whether their benefits would be a good addition to your diet.
What Are the Benefits of Green-Lipped Mussels?
Green-lipped mussels were subject to extensive research almost 60 years ago, when American scientists were looking to isolate specific compounds to create potent natural drugs. Green-lipped mussels originally had their efficacy tested in patients who were suffering from cancer. Although there were no clinically relevant effects with regards to cancer treatment, some of the patients who happened to suffer from osteoarthritis saw a reduction in pain and stiffness, along with an improvement in mobility.
Although this didn’t stimulate too much attention at the time, research into the potential arthritis-treating effects of green-lipped mussels began in the 1980’s, when doctors started to publish the impressive results of patients taking the supplement. These results, together with the rise in the prevalence of osteoarthritis, stimulated rigorous scientific investigations to quantify the effect. Let’s explore what they have found.
It is thought that almost 9 million people in the UK suffer from osteoarthritis with differing levels of severity. This health issue can be excruciatingly painful and may significantly impact mobility, independence and quality of life.
A meta-analysis of randomised control trials – a methodology widely regarded as the peak of scientific investigation - was published earlier this year and assessed the effectiveness of various natural supplements in treating osteoarthritis. The researchers used advanced statistical analyses to evaluate the results of 69 studies that investigated 20 different supplements, including green-lipped mussels.
Positive findings were reported for numerous supplements such as curcumin, MSM, glucosamine and chondroitin. However, the most impressive results were seen in collagen from marine sources and green-lipped mussels. The authors concluded that these two supplements resulted in pain reduction that was likely to be clinically relevant. The researchers did question the quality of some of the studies included in the analysis, but nevertheless these results are impressive and should stimulate further investigation.
When looking at green-lipped mussels and the potential effect they can have on osteoarthritis of the knee and hip specifically, one study published in 2003 reported very promising findings. This investigation included 60 participants who took green-lipped mussel extract twice daily. After 4 weeks, the authors reported that 53% of the participants experienced a significant reduction in pain sensations and an improvement in joint function and mobility. After 8 weeks, this rose to 80%. These impressive results were also realised without any report of adverse side effects, which importantly shows that green-lipped mussels are not only effective for supporting the treatment of osteoarthritis, they are also safe.
But how do green-lipped mussels compare to cheaper and more regularly available fish oils? After all, they contain the same omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. One study that assessed this very question was published in the Journal of Marine Drugs in 2013. The researchers found that in sufferers of osteoarthritis, green-lipped mussels were significantly more effective for reducing pain and increasing quality of life when compared to the fish oil supplement. As the levels of omega 3s were similar, this suggests that green-lipped mussels possess other compounds that are responsible for the beneficial effects. However, at the moment, scientists are unsure which compounds exactly are providing the heightened benefits.
Aside from helping to improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis, there is also some evidence that the compounds within green-lipped mussels can positively impact our gut health. The gut is often referred to as ‘the forgotten organ’, given its massive importance in the body. We are thought to have more cells in our digestive tract than the rest of our body, and research is only beginning to scratch the surface of the importance of a healthy gut.
Early research suggests that ensuring a healthy population of diverse, ‘friendly bacteria’ is important for immune function and to prevent obesity and metabolic diseases, to name a few.
To ensure a healthy and diverse gut, we need to regularly consume both prebiotic and probiotic foods. Prebiotics (fibre rich foods such as inulin) ‘feed’ the already present bacteria in our gut, whereas probiotics (certain dairy products and pickled vegetables) introduce new strands. There are numerous research studies that have shown green-lipped mussels can impact our gut health.
Firstly, a study from 2017 has shown that green-lipped mussels stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria whilst supressing intestinal inflammation. Many experts believe intestinal inflammation is a contributing factor to many chronic diseases, so diets high in fibrous foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes) that include both prebiotic and probiotic foods are a great way to maintain good health.
Many people with osteoarthritis partially rely on non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to help manage symptoms. Research has indicated that green-lipped mussels can work synergistically with NSAIDs to improve symptoms.
Unfortunately, NSAIDs are known to cause irritation to the mucosal lining in the digestive system which can lead to side effects such as heart burn and indigestion, as well as diarrhoea. However, the addition of green-lipped mussels can not only work with NSAIDs to improve treatment, but their anti-inflammatory properties help to reduce gastrointestinal side effects.
There is published research suggesting that green-lipped mussels can improve symptoms in people who suffer from asthma – a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways. A randomised control trial published in The European Respiratory Journal in 2002 showed that in 46 patients with asthma, the daily ingestion of green-lipped mussel extract led to significant improvements in the condition over an 8 week period. These results were noted without any side effects, which pays further testament to the safety of green-lipped mussels.
Complimentary findings were published over a decade later showing that in participants with hyperpnea-induced bronchoconstriction, compounds found within green-lipped mussels can significantly improve various markers of respiratory function. It is thought that again, these benefits are thanks to the powerful anti-inflammatory effect that green-lipped mussels can have.
How Much Green-Lipped Mussel Extract Should I Take?
Now that we have discovered the various health benefits that green-lipped mussels possess, it is important to understand what dose is likely to provide the most benefit. From the research available, it seems that 1000-1500mg of high-quality green-lipped mussel extract per day provides the amino acids, glycoproteins and omega 3 fats that will provide a benefit to joint health, the digestive system and individuals with asthma. Doses in this range have also rarely seen side effects in those free from shellfish allergies.
What Are the Side Effects of Green-Lipped Mussels?
As previously mentioned, side effects from green-lipped mussels are rare in those who are not allergic to shellfish. The few people that do report side effects normally experience gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhoea, nausea and flatulence.
There is persistent concern with regards to fish and seafood, however, due to fears over contaminants such as mercury. Fortunately, numerous research studies that have analysed the contaminant levels in green-lipped mussels have found them to be very low, largely thanks to the clean waters around the coast of New Zealand.
Although safe for most, green-lipped mussels are not recommended for individuals on blood-thinning medication as it may cause the blood to become too thin. Similarly, green-lipped mussel and other rich sources of omega 3 should be limited around surgical procedures to prevent excessive bleeding.
As there is little evidence for the safety of green-lipped mussels for children and pregnant/lactating women, usage of green-lipped mussel extract is not currently recommended for these demographics either.
Hopefully this article has covered the key aspects of green-lipped mussels and has provided the level of information required to enable you to make an informed choice on whether these would be a good addition to your balanced diet and healthy lifestyle. Let’s summarise the main features of this article in the take-home points:
- Green-lipped mussels originate from New Zealand and have been researched for almost 60 years because of their rich nutrient profile.
- Green-lipped mussels are best known for their ability to potently reduce sensations of pain, increase movement and improve quality of life in sufferers of osteoarthritis.
- Their powerful anti-inflammatory properties have also shown to improve gut health, by feeding the ‘friendly’ bacteria found in our digestive system. Green-lipped mussels also work synergistically with NSAIDs and can decrease the side-effects.
- Possibly though a similar mechanism, green-lipped mussels have been shown to improve symptoms of asthma.
- To realise the above benefits, an intake of green-lipped mussel extract at a dose of 1000-1500mg per day appears to be an effective range based on the current evidence.
- Green-lipped mussels have been shown to be a very safe supplement, as side effects are rarely reported, and when they are they are usually mild. They also contain low levels of heavy metals such as mercury.
- However, green-lipped mussels are not recommended for those on blood thinning medication or individuals who are near to having a surgical procedure. As there is a lack of evidence into the safety for children and pregnant/lactating women, supplementation is not currently recommended for these individuals.