Brown seaweed health benefits
What is fucoidan?
Fucoidan is a sulfated polysaccharide which is found in brown seaweed such as mozuku , wakame, and kombu (Laminaria japonica). It is a common element of kelp (general name for brown seaweed) and other sea plants.
The "slimy" component of seaweeds is a rich source of fucoidan, which is a general term referring to a group of polysaccharides containing sulfated fucose - an essential sugar.
Numerous studies have found that polysaccharides, a class of dietary fiber contained in brown algae, have many health benefits.
In Japan, fucoidan extracted from brown seaweed has been clinically shown to increase natural killer cell activity as well as improve activation of macrophage, T-cells and B-cells.
Refer to the Immune System page for definitions of immune system cells and basic facts about immune system functions and disorders.
Ancient secrets of a coastal diet
People in Pacific coastal societies have enjoyed the wonderful health benefits of the fucoidan polysaccharide for centuries.
For example, the population of Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, is known to have the highest rate of longevity in Japan. (Here is an official document with Okinawa statistical data, including longevity statistics.)
According to the National Cancer Center of Japan, Okinawa is also where the mortality rate from all cancer types is one of the lowest in the nation.
On the National Cancer Center website you can find cancer statistics for Japan.
Scientists believe that the reason for this health phenomenon is the unique diet of the Okinawan people, that includes fish, soy foods (tofu) and a variety of vegetables and sea plants, including kombu (brown seaweed that has very long leaves).
Here is a link to an interesting related study.
Coastal communities can benefit from fucoidan because of their diet, rich in brown seaweed and other sea plants.
Today everyone can take advantage of this wonderful natural ingredient by using dietary supplements with fucoidan.
Scientific research proposes that many health conditions could be positively impacted by the regular consumption of fucoidan.
Among the conditions That can be affected are: immune system modulation, cancer, heart disease, rheumatism and arthritis (types of inflammation), high blood pressure, infectious disease, gastrointestinal function, and more.
Immune system modulation
One of the primary ways in which fucoidan can benefit your health is in its ability to interact with, and modulate the immune system. The ability of a substance to modulate the immune system is extremely useful.
Modulation is a term used to describe the process of reducing the extremes of cellular activity – either stimulation or inhibition. Immune modulating substances have the ability to work in both directions. They can boost the immune system when it is depressed (referring to conditions such as chronic fatigue) and can also suppress the immune system when it is over-stimulated (such as in the case of autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis).
Most immune modulating agents work by improving inter-cellular communication. One way that cells communicate is by presenting on their surface complex, information-rich protein (glycoprotein) macromolecules linked with molecules of saccharides or sugars (polysaccharides). An inter-cell “message” depends on the structure of saccharides.
For example, one message might tell a cell to start producing specific chemicals, and another message might tell a cell when to divide. Cells have glycoprotein receptor molecules, which can read messages from other cells and respond accordingly.
The immune system depends heavily on this kind of communication to co-ordinate cellular defense, apoptosis, cell attack and repair processes. When any of saccharides required to build capable glycoprotein – and thereby to pass on a correct message – is missing, the quality of that communication is jeopardized.
It has been shown that a dietary supply of certain saccharides from brown seaweed improves the integrity of glycoprotein production. Fucoidans provide an abundant supply of fucose, one of the necessary saccharides, and also provide smaller amounts of several other required sugars. This is likely to be one mechanism which enables the fucoidans to have their immunomodulatory effect.
Below is a partial list of potentially significant health and wellness benefits of fucoidan that is extracted from different kinds of brown seaweed.
Help in maintaining immune system health
Fucoidan supports the immune system in a number of ways. Some research suggests that it may cause an increase in the number of white blood cells, which are an integral part of the body's natural immune system. (Refer to the Immune System page for more information on cells of the immune system.)
Findings from other studies suggest that fucoidan supports the immune system by activating important immune responses, such as phagocytosis - a process by which phagocytes “swallow” enemy cells or microbes.
Here are some reference links to research studies:
- Antitumor activity of fucoidan (a study from Japan where fucoidan was extracted from the brown seaweed Sargassum thunbergii.)
- Antibacterial and immunomodulating activity of fucoidan
- Antiviral properties of fucoidan (Fucoidan used in this study was derived from Leathesia difformis - another kind of brown seaweed.)
Inducing process of eliminating harmful cells
Fucoidan may also prove helpful in eliminating harmful cells through a process called apoptosis.
Apoptosis is a term for the programmed process of a cell "bursting" and dying. Sulfated polysaccharides like fucoidan have been shown to assist in inducing appropriate programmed apoptosis, which is a natural process where living organisms eliminate harmful cells.
The ability to induce apoptosis is desirable, for example, when attempting to kill tumor tissue. Reference links to research studies:
- Antitumor activity and immune response of Mekabu fucoidan
Quote from the abstract: "We showed that fucoidan, extracted from dietary seaweed, could inhibit tumor growth."
- Antitumor activity and immunological properties of marine algal polysaccharides, especially fucoidan
Quote from the study conclusion: "These results suggest that the antitumor activity of fucoidan is related to the enhancement of immune responses. The present results indicate that fucoidan may open new perspectives in cancer chemotherapy."
- Fucoidan extracted from brown seaweed (Cladosiphon okamuranus Tokida) induces apoptosis of adult T-cell leukemia cells
Quote from the study conclusion: "Our results indicate that fucoidan is a potentially useful therapeutic agent for patients with ATL (adult T-cell leukemia)."
- Antitumor effects of fucoidan extracted from brown seaweed (ascophyllum nodosum)
Quote from the study's conclusion: "These preliminary results indicate that HF exhibits inhibitory effect both in vitro and in vivo and is a very potent antitumor agent in cancer therapy."
Much of the fucoidan research has focused on its ability to support processes of cell regeneration.
There is evidence that fucoidan might support mobilization of stem cells that enable replacing of dead cells in the body. This would also enable enabling tissue and organ regeneration.
Here is a sample study about using fucoidan for stem cells mobilization.
The study concludes that the use of sulfated glycans, including fucoidan "represents a powerful, novel method for rapid mobilization of long-term-repopulating stem cells."
Support of the circulatory system and health functions
Fucoidan has also been shown to support healthy blood flow and cardiac functions. Sustained strong blood flow helps your body organs work more efficiently and helps you feel better and healthier. Efficient functioning of our vital organs essentially helps us reduce the effects of "wear and tear" of the normal aging process.
Additionally, one study suggested that fucoidan helps slow the absorption rate of glucose, into the blood stream. A slower absorption rate means a more regulated blood sugar level that minimizes the potential damage caused by high blood sugar levels.
Reference links to research studies:
- Fucoidan is a non-anticoagulant inhibitor
- Anticoagulant activities of highly sulfated fucoidan
- Anticoagulant properties of a fucoidan fraction (Here fucoidan was extracted from Pelvetia canaliculata, a brown seaweed from European waters.)
Maintain normal cholesterol levels
Your body produces a "good" cholesterol (HDL) and a "bad" cholesterol (LDL). Optimum health is achieved when you can maintain LDLs and HDLs in the normal range.
There is some evidence suggesting that fucoidan can help us maintain existing healthy levels of cholesterol by influencing the metabolic activity in the liver where fatty acids are processed.
In this study from Japan a brown seaweed (wakame) was tested.
Conclusion from the research: "... wakame may be useful as a food to prevent hyperlipidemia."
(Hyperlipidemia is a condition of excess levels of fatty substances called lipids, largely cholesterol, in the blood.)
Detoxification and antioxidant potential
The negative effects that free radicals have on our bodies are well documented.
The beneficial effect of antioxidants in helping neutralize the oxidative stresses placed upon our organs and metabolic processes is also very clear. (Please visit Benefits of Antioxidants page for more details.)
Fucoidan has a long list of health and wellness properties, not the least of which is that it is also a potent antioxidant.
This study explored potential antioxidant capacity of fucoidan from Fucus vesiculosus (another brown seaweed). The conclusion: "Sulfated polysaccharides from edible seaweeds potentially could be used as natural antioxidants by the food industry."
Dietary supplement with fucoidan
Gel dietary supplement Agel UMI contains fucoidan.
Now you can enjoy all benefits of fucoidan - with all advantages of
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