The ancient Chinese believed you could enjoy amazing health benefits by consuming certain “brown ribbons” from the sea.
And nowadays, many believe the “brown ribbons” may hold the secret to the low incidence of disease and health problems in Okinawa. Ever since records have been kept, the residents of that Japanese island have ranked as one of the longest-lived groups on earth.
Okinawa boasts up to 34 centenarians per 100,000 inhabitants — way better than the rest of the world. They also hold the record for the world’s lowest rate of death by cancer.
There are many theories to explain why they live so long. And, of course, there could be multiple reasons – six or a dozen good health habits, not just one. But hundreds of studies suggest the “brown ribbons from the sea” are high on the list.
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As you may have guessed, the brown ribbons from the sea are merely seaweed — in this case, a number of different species of brown algae and brown seaweed. A large part of their life-extending and cancer-fighting power is thought to come from a substance called fucoidan.
Fucoidan is actually a sugar – a beneficial and rare one. Because seaweed has been a central part of Japanese cuisine for hundreds of years, people there have benefited without knowing it from taking large amounts of a “cancer medicine.”
Fucoidan is now extracted from seaweed and is available as a potent supplement. This natural treatment avoids the side effects typical of anti-cancer drugs. The only cautions are for people already taking a blood-thinner, and the tiny number of people whose iodine levels are too high.
The anti-cancer food Westerners mostly avoid
If you choose to eat whole seaweed instead of supplements, you will also benefit from a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B, C, E, K, copper, zinc, manganese, magnesium, and selenium. But few of us in the West are going to eat therapeutic amounts of seaweed. Or any, as far as that goes. . .
We should reconsider. Brown edible seaweeds (especially kelps and wracks) have potent anti-cancer properties.
In fact, fucoidan fights cancer in at least five ways.
1. Induces Apoptosis.
Fucoidan tells cancer cells to commit suicide. Research shows that the active component of fucoidan kills dangerous tumor cells.1
A Japanese research trial showed astounding results. When fucoidan was applied to a petri dish full of cancer cells, it completely destroyed all the cancer cells within three days.
One Japanese study showed that fucoidan induces apoptosis in breast cancer cells but doesn’t affect normal epithelial cells.
Other studies show the substance triggers apoptosis in leukemia, lymphoma, stomach and colorectal tumor cells.
2. Inhibits angiogenesis.
Angiogenesis plays a key role in cancer formation. Angiogenesis is the process whereby a cancer creates its own network of blood vessels.
Studies show that fucoidan’s sulfated polysaccharides stop angiogenesis. In fact, fucoidan caused a major decrease in the intra-tumor expression of blood vessels compared to a control group.2
The same study also found that fucoidan inhibited metastasis of breast cancer to the lungs.
3. Boosts your immune system.
Fucoidan also helps you fight cancer by strengthening the immune system. So says an animal study showing that fucoidan restored the immune system in immunosuppressed mice. The seaweed extract functions as an immunomodulator and directly supports important immune cells called T-lymphocytes.
In lab studies, fucoidan also boosted production of disease-fighting interferon-y and interleukin-1.
Fucoidan enhances yet another immune function, macrophage production. You may recall from Biology 101 that macrophages are large white blood cells with the ability to find and ‘eat’ foreign particles.
Studies also suggest fucoidan helps restore immune function following radiation therapy.
4. Reduces fatigue.
One of the common side effects of cancer drugs is fatigue, which is risky not only because it makes you feel poorly, but also because it depletes your body’s vital nutritional and emotional resources.
A recent study from Tottori University in Japan showed that patients consuming fucoidan were able to endure prolonged chemotherapy without fatigue… although it had no effect on other chemotherapy side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
5. Reduces radiation side effects.
Some experts – including Phyllis Balch, author of the book Prescription for Dietary Wellness: Using Foods to Heal – suggest that fucoidan can help mitigate the damaging effects of radiation exposure.
Backing her belief, a 2004 study published in the journal Health Physics showed that fucoidan effectively prevented absorption of radioactive strontium from contaminated milk.
Good for you even if you don’t have cancer
As with many natural substances, fucoidan can boost your health even if you don’t struggle with cancer. Here’s how:
1. Protects your heart.
A published animal study out of India suggests you may be able to protect your heart muscle from injury just by taking fucoidan.
After heart injury was induced in rats, the fucoidan group fared better than the non-fucoidan group in the battery of tests designed to reveal heart injuries.3
2. Promotes weight loss.
Preliminary lab studies suggest that fucoidan may be beneficial for losing weight. It helped stimulate fat cell breakdown in the treated group, but not the untreated group.4
3. A potent blood thinner.
A major benefit of fucoidan is its blood thinning properties. This can be helpful for pulmonary embolism, phlebitis, and heart attack or stroke caused by blood clot.
In fact, studies suggest it worked just as well as the drug heparin. Please avoid using fucoidan if you take pharmaceutical blood thinners.
4. Reduces atherosclerosis.
A recent rat study proved that fucoidan helped lower lipid levels in animals with hyperlididemia (unhealthy levels of fats in the blood). It decreased triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol.
Scientists induced hyperlipidemia over 28 days. Then fucoidan was introduced at one of three levels (0.1, 0.2, and 0.4 g/kg), depending on the group, over the next 28-day period. The middle amount was best at boosting lipid metabolizing enzymes and clearing triglycerides.
5. Promotes gastrointestinal health.
Fucoidan helps control tissue damage and leukocyte infiltration common to inflammatory bowel disease.
6. And more…
- A human study found that fucoidan given orally was helpful against osteoarthritis.
- It helps prevent liver damage and liver fibrosis and aids detoxification.
- There’s evidence it protects your brain against Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Fucoidan may stop viruses and parasites in their tracks. Studies showed it guarded against herpes simplex and the malaria parasite.
On top of all this, its benefits may include. . .
- Restoring a better pH balance with high-alkaline seaweed.
- Providing ten times the calcium of milk, yet in a whole food, not a pill.
- Purifying your blood, since its chemical composition is similar to blood plasma.
Fucoidan has been the topic of 1260 studies investigating a range of health problems, but many of them have been animal studies. We still have limited knowledge about its benefits.
6 easy ways to add sea vegetables to your diet
If you’re ready to take your health up a notch, here’s how to get seaweeds into your diet:
- Add them to your eggs or omelets.
- Blend them into your soup.
- Use seaweed seasoning in all your foods. You can find options from Internet retailers.
- Enjoy crunchy seaweed chips – low in calories, and far healthier than a bag of potato chips!
- Enjoy sushi rolls that contain seaweed.
- Take them as supplements. They’re usually sold based on percentage of fucoidan content – and they can vary wildly in price. On Amazon, some brands are priced in the $20 range, but there’s one that’s $300 a bottle. (I kid you not!)
Read these cautions before taking fucoidan supplements
I doubt if putting whole seaweed in some dishes poses a health risk to anyone. But taking strong concentrations of fucoidan in the form of pills or cautions may. Side effects are uncommon, but not unheard of. Avoid fucoidan if:
- You’re on a blood thinning medication. Consult with your doctor; you may be able to phase out the medication.
- You’re allergic to soy.
- You have low blood pressure.
- You have hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). This is because the supplements may contain more iodine than some people need. Not a danger for most people, but there are always a few exceptions.