The primary reason sea cucumbers are eaten is for their perceived health benefits. Sea cucumbers have long been a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and they have also been the subject of a number of studies looking at the various compounds within the animals.
Antioxidants – the biggest consensus is that sea cucumbers contain high levels of antioxidants. A 1999 Malaysian study found very high levels of antioxidants and suggested they might be a good source for supplements. Antioxidants are compounds that minimize the effect of free radical oxygen molecules, which are oxygen isotopes that are thought to cause damage to cells within the body in excess.
Collagen – A Japanese study found that about 70% of the animal was made up of collagen that was generally inedible, although cooking the animal appears to significantly break down the cell walls allowing the nutrients to be digested. Collagen is known to have a variety of health benefits for heart disease, joint pain, arthritis, and the effects of ageing on skin appearance.
Chondroitin sulphate – sea cucumbers have also been found to contain high levels of chondroitin sulphate, a common dietary supplement often used in conjunction with glucosamine to elevate osteoarthritis. Although widely used and generally considered safe, some studies have cast doubts on its overall effectiveness in alleviating knee pain. However, the Arthritis Foundation has cited recent studies in 2010 and 2011 that suggested that symptoms of osteoarthritis were alleviated by taking chondroitin sulphate.
Amino acids – amino acids are essential for the healthy functioning of the cells and are considered important nutrients in a healthy diet. A recent study found that all species of sea cucumber have high protein levels, low lipid content, and adequate to high amounts of essential amino acids. The rich amino acid variety along with the high protein levels make sea cucumbers compatible with high protein diets.