Meadville Tribune

December 2, 2013

Not much to look at, but jellyfish are beneficial

By Nina Bell
Special to the Tribune

— Just before Halloween, our friends in the United Kingdom produced the world’s first glow in the dark ice cream.

From the company known as Lick Me I’m Delicious, they have combined the luminescent properties from jellyfish with ice cream to obtain their newest invention. According to scientists in China, jellyfish contain a calcium-activated protein that actually has glowing properties when warmed. Or, in the case of ice cream, when licked.

Invented by UK resident Charlie Harris Francis, the ice cream has been met with mixed reviews, most of which come from the $220 per scoop price tag. However, safety issues of consuming the product are now being discussed more than the actual taste or cost of the product. There are no scientific studies performed on this particular product, so I decided to look at the actual ingestion of the luminescent protein — more specifically the luminescent protein known as apoaequorin obtained from jellyfish.

In general, jellyfish contain potent venoms, which differ in strength depending on the species. The most deadly is a box jellyfish, which can kill an adult human being in minutes. Despite that particular unsatisfying news, jellyfish can be eaten safely. According to marine biologists, jellyfish prepared for human consumption are soaked in salt and alum, which inactivates the stinging cells the jellyfish.

Jellyfish consist of mostly water and protein; therefore, they have no cholesterol or fat and only trace amounts of sugar. Thus, they are considered a healthy food. Furthermore, the protein content is rich in collagen, which is a basic body building substance — again, something good for our bodies.

Studies of jellyfish — particularly apoaequorin — have uncovered several significant health benefits:

n Fights age and age-related diseases. The collagen in jellyfish has been used to treat inflammation associated with psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis and can prevent skin wrinkling. It has also been shown to reduce vulnerabilities to dementia because of its brain protective qualities. Studies have also found that it can improve memory function.

n Improves eyes and brain health. Jellyfish have a high concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is known to assist in building and restoring eye and brain tissue.

n Prevents asthma. Studies have shown that children who consume jellyfish on a regular basis are less vulnerable to developing breathing issues such as asthma.

n Reduces premature delivery. Jellyfish consumed while pregnant have been shown to reduce the risks of premature delivery, improving the health of a newborn.

n Decreases cardiovascular disease. Studies have found people who consume jellyfish at least twice a week have a lower chance of developing blood clots, lower risk of high blood pressure, and reduced cholesterol level.

n Reduces diabetes risk. Recent studies have shown that jellyfish consumption can assist in regulating sugar levels in people with diabetes.

With that many benefits to jellyfish (i.e. apoaequorin), why aren’t we, as Americans, consuming it regularly? The answer to that is simple: jellyfish aren’t really tasty. In fact, they are rather bland and those who do eat them generally cook them in various spices to beef-up the flavor. Of interest, Asian countries view jellyfish cuisine as a delicacy despite its bland taste.

Of course, now that it’s part of an American favorite — ice cream — it may be eaten more often (if you can afford it). However, there is a cautionary notation: in large amounts, eating jellyfish can nurture some types of cancers. Therefore, moderation is your best approach. However, at $220 a scoop, I imagine eating too much will not be a problem.

Nina Bell, Ph.D., MPH, is a public health professor with Ashford University and works in health promotions for the Meadville Family YMCA. She is a co-author of the book “Community and Public Health,” published by Bridgepoint Education Inc. You can email her at nina@w2w4life.com.