Green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) only grow in the unique marine conditions found around New Zealand. The beautiful green-lipped mussel is prized for its plump, juicy flesh and attractive shells, but interest in their health benefits and medicinal properties arose when researchers noticed that Maori living in coastal regions experienced fewer joint pains and arthritis than those living inland. The main difference between these groups was diet, and researchers homed in on raw green-lipped mussels as the most likely source of their joint health benefits.
Green-lipped mussels benefits
Freeze-dried green-lipped mussel powder and lipid extracts are a popular natural treatment for osteoarthritis and may have anti-inflammatory effects against asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.
New Zealand green-lipped mussel extracts are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers therefore compared the pain relief achieved with a 1200mg daily dose of either green lipped mussel or omega 3 fish oil (EPA 18%, DHA 12% ) to see if they had similar effects.
Out of 47 people with hip or knee osteoarthritis, those taking green lipped mussel extracts showed significantly greater improvement in joint pain than those taking fish oil, with an 89% decrease in pain symptoms and physical discomfort, with 91% reporting an improved quality of life. These results suggest that green-lipped mussel extracts have an additional mechanism of action to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids.
How green-lipped mussel extracts work
As well as containing long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) raw green-lipped mussel extracts are a source of other unique omega-3 fatty acids with significant anti-inflammatory actions. Green-lipped mussels also contain rare, furan fatty acids that act as powerful antioxidants.
This combination of omega-3 fatty acids is not found in any other known marine oils.
Together, these fatty acids inhibit the production of immune chemicals (leukotrienes) involved in triggering inflammation. These fatty acids also block key enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2) in a similar way to aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These actions mean that green-lipped mussel extracts help to reduce the migration of inflammatory white blood cells into joints, so that pain and swelling improve.
Green-lipped mussel extracts reduce osteoarthritis symptoms
A small pilot study involving 21 people with knee osteoarthritis found that green-lipped mussel extracts significantly improved knee-joint pain, stiffness and mobility. Interestingly, the green-lipped mussel extract also improved gastrointestinal symptoms by 49%. As indigestion is a common result of taking analgesic medication use, this may benefit people who are unable to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
The results from four clinical trials that tested green lipped mussel extracts as an add-on treatment to conventional medication for mild to moderate osteoarthritis reported meaningful clinical benefits in those taking the green lipped mussel extracts. The conclusion was that green-lipped mussel may be superior to placebo for the treatment of mild to moderate osteoarthritis.
Green lipped mussel gel
Green lipped mussel gel is a popular way to use these extracts, and can be rubbed in over a painful joint. The active ingredients usually include essential oils such as menthol, eucalyptus, rosemary and pine extracts for a rapid, analgesic, cooling effect. Some products also include chondroitin, glycosaminoglycans and cayenne pepper extract (capsaicin).
Green-lipped mussels for asthma
Asthma is associated with inflammation of the airways and raised levels of inflammatory chemicals called leukotrienes, which are targeted by some anti-asthma drugs. By reducing the formation of leukotrienes, green-lipped mussel extracts may improve asthma symptoms. A trial involving 46 people with asthma found that taking green-lipped mussel extracts, twice a day for 8 weeks, significantly decreased daytime wheeze compared with placebo trial.
Green-lipped mussels dose
While you can eat New Zealand green-lipped mussels as a delicacy, heat may destroy some of their anti-inflammatory benefits. Green lipped mussel extracts therefore contain freeze-dried raw powdered mussel extracts, or lipid extracts in an oil base.
A typical dose is 1000 mg to 3000mg a day, depending on the concentration of the extract.
Green lipped mussel extracts have not been associated with any serious side effects, but obviously avoid green-lipped mussel extracts if you are allergic to shellfish.
Image credit: natotake_murayama/flickr;