A long time ago, a really long time ago—between 6-2 million years ago, early hominids started to walk uprightly and were able to create primitive tools. It was because of their slightly increased brain size which helped them overcome novel environmental challenges. This evolution saw early man develop complex larger brains that could store and process information.
However, during that time something remarkable happened that could have quite possibly led Homo Sapiens to diverge from their primitive hominoid ancestry. Scientist now speculates that this evolutionary turn of hominoids might have been influenced by seaweed and its nutritional contents.
This evolutionary diversion could be the key to explaining the intricate complexities of our brain’s functions that allowed us to develop an organ which by definition shapes our humanity. Our hominoid ancestors required a lot of energy-rich food, but for our significant brain evolution, they needed specific nutrients.
Zinc and magnesium fuel brain functionality and from research studies, it is possible that for our brain to evolve to what it is today, access to these vital minerals was necessary. According to Ole G. Mouritsen, a molecular biophysics professor at the University of Southern Denmark, the nutrients required for the evolutionary turn that led to use to become Homo Sapiens are and were in seaweeds.
Our ancestors were natural foragers, and for them, seaweeds were plentiful along the coastal shores which provided a constant supply of these trace minerals.
Mouritsen is also a co-author of a recently published research study which highlights the probable effects of the ingestion of an array of seaweeds on the health of the human brain, which also includes the significance they had to early man. You can find the review in the Journal of Applied Phycology.
In the study, researchers estimated that our human lineage deviated from the of the chimpanzee nearly 5-7 million years ago. Additionally, the dynamic of resource distribution attributed to the expansion and drying that occurred between 2.5 to 2 million years ago, triggered the deviation in the foraging behavior of early hominoids.
Furthermore, the great distance covered by early hominoids in search for food influenced bipedalism, atypical physical stature and a change in diet. Early hominoids were attracted to coastal regions as they would find fish, snails, seaweeds, crustaceans, bird eggs and the occasional washed up marine vertebrate.
However, it is likely that they didn’t understand the basic tidal cycles and the influence it has on the availability of shellfish. On the other hand, a variety of seaweeds could be found along the intertidal region and were a consistent source of readily available food for all members of the family. Mouritsen added that seaweeds are still an important source of food packed with nutritional value for modern humans.
Nutrients essential for brain development include Taurine—from red algae, shellfish, meat from mammals and marine fish and is abundant in the nervous system and the developing brain. Magnesium—from pumpkins, legumes, squash seeds, and is vital for cognitive ability and neuroprotection.
Zinc—bountiful in the liver, oysters, seaweeds and crustaceans, and promotes learning and memory development. Vitamin B12—from animal products like eggs, meat, milk, species of seaweeds known as Pyropia, and is significant in promoting blood circulation in the brain and linguistic, cognitive function.
Iodine—plentiful in brown seaweeds and is vital in the production of thyroid hormones which are vital for the development of the central nervous system. PUFAs—from macro and micro algae such as seaweed.