RISING FROM THE OCEAN
Although the oceans account for over 70% of the Earth’s surface the underwater realm remains largely untapped and unexplored. In recent years, scientists have turned their attention to the potential opportunities that lies beneath the surface. This surge of new research has prompted a notable rise of global interest in novel marine ingredients.
Fucoidans are long chain polysaccharides found in brown seaweeds. This class of natural marine compounds are characterised by a complex molecular structure and varying degrees of sulfation and acetylation. High purity fucoidans have been extensively researched over the past 30 years and shown to exert beneficial bioactivities across a range of human health settings. Primary focus areas for global research have included immune support, gut and digestive health, anti-viral, anti-cancer, anti-inflammation and anti-ageing indications.
As a result of this research, fucoidan is increasingly being utilised in dietary supplements, functional foods and beverages, and increasingly in skincare and dermatology products. High quality organic fucoidan is typically easy to formulate, water soluble, non-allergenic and stable in various delivery formats.
High purity, certified organic fucoidan extracts tick three key boxes for nutritional formulators. They are natural plant ingredients, they are well supported by independent scientific evidence, and they have global regulatory acceptance. It is this trifecta of attributes that makes them attractive inclusions in dietary supplements targeting immune support.
One of the trends that emerged from the 2020 pandemic was heightened consumer interest in scientific credibility. Ingredients supported by the ‘seal of science’ create unique opportunities for savvy brand owners. Fucoidan is well supported by a strong portfolio of evidence, with over 2000 scientific papers now attesting to its wide-ranging physiological benefits. It is this evidence, combined with a renewed global interest in immune health, that has seen demand for fucoidan steadily rise.
THE INGREDIENT TRIFECTA
High purity fucoidan has been shown to enhance both the body’s innate immune system and specific immune system across a range of different models. The innate immune system acts a first line of defence and includes physical barriers, chemicals in the blood and existing immune cells that begin to attack pathogens. In comparison, specific immune responses see the body rapidly expand its lymphocyte production to target specific foreign invaders.
Research suggests that fucoidan is a compound that may assist in boosting immune modulation, supporting immune function, reducing allergic responses and activating cells that have critical roles in immune regulation such as dendritic cells, natural killer cells and T cells. Studies have also shown that fucoidan has the potential to boost anti-viral and anti-tumour responses.
THE IMMUNE HEALTH EVIDENCE
Fucoidan has demonstrated an ability to support immune function by improving the gut health of high performance athletes. A recent Australian study measured key markers of immunity and inflammation in football players, including faecal lysozyme – an anti-microbial peptide that is considered an indicative marker of mucosal immune function. The intense training regimes of elite athletes often results in reduced lysozyme levels and associated changes in immune function.
Following supplementation with high purity fucoidan, lysozyme concentrations in the athletes increased by 45%, returning them to levels akin to those of healthy adults. The results indicate that fucoidan has the potential to restore beneficial anti-microbial activity and suggest a potential future role for fucoidan to be utilised in the sports performance category.
SUPPORTING IMMUNE FUNCTION
A Japanese study demonstrated that fucoidan may assist in the boosting of immune responses to seasonal flu vaccinations. A randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind study undertaken with elderly volunteers measured antibody production in response to three different strains of influenza within a vaccine. The study showed that those who took oral fucoidan had higher antibody titers against all three strains in comparison to the placebo group. The group that ingested the fucoidan, a modest 300mg per day, also recorded increased natural killer cell activity.
Other published research supports the potential of fucoidan to improve vaccine efficacy. In vivo studies have shown that fucoidan can increase the production of antigen-specific antibodies, promote the generation of T cells and has strong immunostimulating potential.
These findings hold particular promise for the elderly and immunocompromised patients who typically do not respond well to vaccines. Fucoidan as a novel oral adjuvant to boost vaccine response is the subject of active investigation for leading fucoidan research teams.
BOOSTING IMMUNE RESPONSES
The ability of fucoidan to block the entry of viruses into cells and inhibit the adhesion of viruses to host cells has been the subject of numerous research studies. Fucoidan has been shown to be an effective inhibitor of the Herpes Simplex virus and several different strains of influenza including H1N1, H5N1, H5N3 and H7N2.
The oral ingestion of fucoidan has also been shown to inhibit lung damage and clinical signs of respiratory infection in vivo via indirect anti-inflammatory activity. Research in a severe Influenza A H1N1 mouse model utilising high purity fucoidan showed attenuation of both clinical symptoms and lung damage.
The potential value of fucoidan in treating viral lung infection and lung damage has recently been summarized in a new Australian review. Fucoidan preparations have potential as supplementary dietary agents to limit the damage caused by respiratory viral infections by restoring innate immune function and inhibiting inflammation. Preserving lung function and limiting lung damage not only benefits individual patients, but also global health systems that are periodically overloaded.
REDUCING ALLERGIC RESPONSES
Fucoidan extracts have been shown to reduce allergic responses, both after ingestion and topical application. A fucoidan extract suppressed IgE, an antibody produced by the immune system and commonly associated with allergic responses, in patients with allergic dermatitis. Fucoidan extracts have also been shown to decrease the number of cells producing IgE. More recent studies support fucoidans ability to exert an anti-allergic response and point to the up regulation of galectin-9 as a likely mechanism of action. This research suggests that fucoidan holds potential as an effective therapeutic agent for patients suffering from allergic conditions.
Fucoidan is increasingly being utilised as an active ingredient in topical skincare and dermatological formulations. It has shown potential to significantly limit inflammation caused by allergic conditions. A new in vitro study investigating the effects of high purity fucoidan on the most common type of eczema, atopic dermatitis (AD), found that fucoidan significantly altered the expression of genes typically associated with skin barrier function, wound healing processes and fluid accumulation. It also demonstrated that fucoidan significantly inhibited the adhesion of Staphylococcus aureus – a bacterium known to aggravate AD. A further beneficial outcome was that fucoidan did not affect the adhesion of Staphylococcus epidermidis – a common bacterium found on healthy skin.
Like all ingredients, formulators are advised to perform due diligence when sourcing fucoidan. Verification of the provenance, identity and attributes of fucoidan ingredients is critical. Fucoidan extracts from the seaweeds Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus are amongst those that have been the most widely researched.
High purity, certified organic fucoidan extracts with global regulatory acceptance are versatile, efficacious and stable across a wide range of applications. Questions to ask a potential fucoidan supplier should include; Is it certified organic? What seaweed has it been extracted from? What is the extraction process? Where is the supporting science? What is the quality control process, and does it comply with global regulations?
In recent years fucoidan extracts have attained regulatory approvals in a number of global jurisdictions for use in food and dietary supplements. Of particular note, Maritech® fucoidan extracts from Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus have been granted ‘Generally Recognised as Safe’ (GRAS) status with the US FDA and also have EU novel foods approval.
SOURCING AND SAFETY
Natural, certified organic fucoidan extracts are well suited to brands seeking to utilise ingredients that align with their ethical and environmental standards. Seaweeds are a rapidly renewable marine resource and their sustainable harvesting is front of mind for the world’s leading fucoidan producers. Be mindful where and how your fucoidan producer is sourcing their seaweeds and insist on material that comes from pristine ocean waters and is harvested according to world’s best practice.
Green chemistry techniques now enable fucoidan to be manufactured without the use of solvents or other harmful chemicals. Advanced manufacturing technologies also see industry innovators capturing seaweed waste residues and converting them into other products such as horticultural additives. A holistic approach to manufacturing has become a driving force for fucoidan producers genuinely committed to sustainability and whose attention is firmly focussed on a ‘blue’ future.
Kevin Krail has extensive international experience in developing new markets for nutraceuticals, dietary supplements and novel functional food ingredients. Kevin is a passionate advocate for the marine ingredient fucoidan, utilising his specialised knowledge and experience to support new product developers commercialise science-based nutritional products.
Marinova Pty Ltd | Australia