Interest in its medicinal properties began when researchers noticed that indigenous Maori people living in coastal regions, who regularly consumed these delicacies, seemed particularly agile and suffered less joint problems than those living inland.
Today the green-lipped mussel is used in supplements for supporting bone health and cartilage, the tough elastic tissue that cushions the inside of joints.
Dr Sarah Brewer says: ‘The green-lipped mussel is packed with essential omega 3 fatty acids and glycoproteins which help to reduce inflammation, and are widely taken to help improve painful joint conditions such as osteoarthritis.’
What does green-lipped mussel do?
Raw green-lipped mussel extract contains glycoproteins; these are proteins that have sugars attached and do many vital jobs in the body, including helping the immune system and reducing joint inflammation.
Green-lipped mussels contain the essential omega 3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which have powerful anti-inflammatory actions. They also contain furan fatty acids which act as antioxidants. These appear to inhibit the production of immune chemicals involved in the inflammatory process.
They also block key enzymes in a similar way to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen. Combined, these actions appear to help to reduce pain and swelling in joints.
Green-lipped mussel extract can produce significant reductions in pain and stiffness in people with osteoarthritis, a condition that causes swollen and painful joints. More than 8.75 million people in the UK seek treatment for osteoarthritis every year.
The omega 3 fatty acids in green-lipped mussels are believed to help osteoarthritis by supporting the maintenance of cartilage, the tough, elastic and fibrous tissue inside joints, which can thin and disintegrate as we age, causing joint pain.
Research suggests that, together with conventional treatment, green-lipped mussel extract provides clinical benefit to people with mild to moderate osteoarthritis. A study from 2012 found that it not only improved osteoarthritis symptoms when taken with NSAIDs, but also improved gastrointestinal symptoms by 49 per cent. This is significant because people with osteoarthritis who use NSAIDs often suffer gastric side effects.
Around 5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma, a common condition that causes breathing problems, including wheezing, coughing and a tight chest. One trial, involving 46 people with atopic asthma, found taking green-lipped mussel extract significantly decreased daytime wheezing compared with taking a placebo, and showed no significant side effects.
Getting green-lipped mussels from your diet
Green-lipped mussels are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids and are a delicacy in some sushi and seafood restaurants. They tend not to be part of a typical UK diet. Although they can be bought frozen they don’t retain their nutritional benefits when cooked or during the freezing process. So you either need to eat them raw or get them in supplement form.
In rare cases, stomach problems including diarrhoea, nausea and flatulence have been recorded and a temporary worsening of arthritic pain for some. Concerns have also been raised about taking green-lipped mussel extract with anticoagulant (blood thinning) medication such as warfarin. Not enough research has been done into its effects on pregnant and breastfeeding women, so they should avoid it – as should people who are allergic or sensitive to shellfish.
Always choose a supplement which has been made to a high pharmaceutical standard known as GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice).
Look for products made from green-lipped mussels harvested from unpolluted waters, as designated by the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
There is no recommended daily intake, but in arthritis trials doses of 1,150mg-1,500mg have been given in divided doses. A 1,000mg-a-day dose is commonly recommended, taken as two 500mg capsules.