The Health Benefits of Sea Cucumber

A pile of dried sea cucumbers
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Sea cucumbers are a type of marine animal. Most commonly found in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans, they're consumed as a food in some parts of Asia and used for medicinal purposes in traditional Chinese medicine (a form of alternative medicine that originated in China). Dietary supplements containing ground and dried sea cucumber are said to offer a range of health benefits, including arthritis relief.

Sea cucumber contains several substances thought to influence health, including antioxidants, triterpenoids (a class of compounds found to slow cancer growth in preliminary studies), and chondroitin sulfate (a substance found naturally in human cartilage and sometimes taken in dietary supplement form to treat arthritis).


In alternative medicine, sea cucumber is touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

  • The common cold 
  • Constipation 
  • Erectile dysfunction 
  • Fatigue
  • Gum disease
  • High blood pressure 
  • High cholesterol 
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Tendonitis 

Sea cucumber is also said to reduce inflammation and slow up the aging process. In addition, some proponents suggest that sea cucumber can help fight cancer.


So far, research on the health effects of sea cucumber is very limited. While clinical trials are currently lacking, a number of preliminary studies suggest that sea cucumber may offer certain health benefits. Here's a look at several key findings from the available research:

Gum Health

Use of a toothpaste containing sea cucumber extract may be beneficial to people with gum disease, according to a preliminary study published in the Journal of Oral Science in 2003. For the study, 28 adults with chronic gingivitis or early stages of periodontitis brushed their teeth with either a sea cucumber-enriched toothpaste or placebo toothpaste twice daily for three months.

At the study's end, participants who used the sea cucumber toothpaste showed significantly greater improvements in several markers of gum health (such as plaque buildup and bleeding) compared to those assigned to the placebo.


Some animal-based research indicates that sea cucumber may help keep cholesterol in check. In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002, for instance, tests on rats demonstrated that sea cucumber may help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol and total cholesterol levels while increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.

Although the study's authors suggest that sea cucumber holds promise for the prevention of atherosclerosis, further research is needed to determine sea cucumber's cholesterol-lowering effects in humans. 


A number of preliminary studies show that certain compounds found in sea cucumber may have cancer-fighting effects.

For example, a study published in the journal Pancreas in 2010 suggests that Frondanol-A5P (a substance extracted from a sea cucumber species called Cucumaria frondosa) may aid in the prevention or treatment of pancreatic cancer. In tests on human pancreatic cancer cells, the study's authors observed that sea cucumber extract may fight cancer by inducing apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).


Individuals with seafood allergies should avoid the use of sea cucumber.

There's also some concern that taking sea cucumber in combination with blood-thinning drugs may have harmful effects. 

It's important to note that, due to a lack of research, little is known about the overall safety of using dietary supplements containing sea cucumber.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 


If you're seeking a natural remedy for osteoarthritis, several types of dietary supplements may provide relief. These supplements include avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, glucosamine, and white willow bark.

For protection against gum disease, there's some evidence that vitamin C, cranberry, and tea tree oil may be beneficial. 

Where to Find It

Available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing sea cucumber are sold in many natural-foods stores and stores specializing in natural products. In addition, whole sea cucumber is sold in some grocery stores specializing in Asian foods.

A Word From Verywell

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend sea cucumber as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it for any health purpose, make sure to consult your primary care provider first.

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