Brown seaweed in all its many forms is a staple of East Asian cuisine, used in soups, as a wrap for rice and fish and many other culinary applications. These species of marine algae contain high levels of fucoidan, a sulfur-rich polysaccharide -- or complex carbohydrate -- that shows great potential for its medicinal properties. Preliminary laboratory testing indicates that fucoidan may help in the fight against cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity, as well as other disorders and diseases.
Eating fucoidan-rich foods or taking a fucoidan food supplement may help to protect your heart muscle from injury, such as occurs during a heart attack. Indian researchers conducted an animal study in which heart attacks were induced in laboratory rats that previously had been fed a diet of fuicodan extracted from Turbinaria conoides, a species of brown seaweed. As a control, heart injury was also induced in rats that had not received the fucoidan-rich diet. They then subjected all test animals to a battery of tests to measure the degree of injury they had sustained. Animals that received the fucoidan exhibited significantly lesser degrees of injury than those that were not fed fucoidan. Researchers theorized that the fucoidan helps to stabilize and strengthen the membranes of the heart muscle. They published their findings in the June 2012 issue of “International Journal of Biological Macromolecules.”
Angiogenesis and Cancer
One of the ways in which cancer spreads throughout the body is through its ability to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels to supply malignant tissue. This process is known as angiogenesis. Finding ways to inhibit angiogenesis in the presence of cancerous tissue is one of the goals of oncologists and others treating cancer. Researchers at China’s Dalian Medical University conducted in-vitro tests of fucoidan on human umbilical vein cells to determine what, if any, effect the polysaccharide would have on angiogenesis. They found that fucoidan, when administered for 48 hours or more, significantly inhibited cell proliferation, cell migration and vascular network formation. In the June 2012 issue of “Phytomedicine,” researchers said their findings confirm that fucoidan has a therapeutic role in treating angiogenesis-related disease.
If you’re fighting the battle of the bulge and making less headway than you’d like, you may find a South Korean study on fucoidan’s fat-fighting properties of particular interest. A team of researchers conducted an in-vitro study in which fucoidan was introduced into laboratory vessels containing adipocytes, the cells that collectively make up adipose tissue, or body fat. As a control, other fat cells were left untreated. They found that fucoidan stimulated lipolysis, the breakdown of lipids, in treated cells. Researchers said that their findings suggest fucoidan may be a useful tool in preventing and/or treating obesity. They published their findings in a 2011 issue of “Marine Drugs.”
Among its many health benefits, fucoidan also possesses potent anticoagulant -- blood-thinning -- properties, which can be beneficial in preventing or treating certain conditions such as phlebitis, pulmonary embolism or a stroke or heart attack caused by a blood clot. However, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center warns that fucoidan should be avoided by people who are already taking blood-thinning medications such as heparin or warfarin.
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Fucoidan
- International Journal of Biological Macromolecules: Turbinaria Conoides (J. Agardh) Sulfated Polysaccharide Protects Rat's Heart Against Myocardial Injury
- Phytomedicine: Fucoidan Extract Derived From Undaria Pinnatifida Inhibits Angiogenesis by Human Umbilical Vein Endothelial Cells
- Marine Drugs: Fucoidan From Marine Brown Algae Inhibits Lipid Accumulation
Don Amerman has spent his entire professional career in the editorial field. For many years he was an editor and writer for The Journal of Commerce. Since 1996 he has been freelancing full-time, writing for a large number of print and online publishers including Gale Group, Charles Scribner’s Sons, Greenwood Publishing, Rock Hill Works and others.