Seaweed May be a Breast Cancer Super Food
Seaweed is known to be exceptionally rich in iodine, but did you know it's also brimming with rare antioxidants such as fucoidan and fucoxanthin? These directly suppress a variety of cancer cells in lab studies. In population studies on humans, eating seaweed regularly has been linked to reduced risk for breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, lung cancer and others. This super-vegetable has also been shown to boost metabolic rate, increase fat-burning, suppress weight-gain, improve insulin sensitivity in type II diabetes, and may even keep our minds sharp as we age. It may also be the ultimate anti-aging food at a biochemical level: an intriguing new study out of China showed that people eating seaweed had longer telomeres than non-consumers. Longer telomeres are the hallmark of younger cells.
Eucheuma cottoni: a potential natural treatment for breast cancer?
The researchers in this new study wanted to find a seaweed even more powerful at suppressing cancer cells than the types normally eaten for food. Enter Eucheuma cottonii L., a tropical edible red seaweed which grows naturally within about 20 degrees of the equator and is most commonly found around Southeast Asia (and is eaten by Malaysians). The Euchema group of seaweeds is already widely commercially farmed for use in the production of carrageenan. Researchers at the University Putra Malaysia harvested the seaweed from the coastal waters of North Borneo during January. It was then shade-dried for three days and extracted using an 80 percent ethanol solution which was then evaporated to leave a dry powder extract. The extract was found to be rich in iodine, quercetin, catechin, rutin, carotenoids, and more exotic antioxidants such as phytopheophylin and phlorotannins.
To test the extract against breast cancer, Sprague-Dawley rats were injected with LA-7 breast cancer cells and divided into three groups: one group was not treated at all, the second was treated with the most commonly used breast cancer chemo drug at 10 mg/kg body weight, and the third group was treated with the seaweed extract at 100 mg/kg body weight. According to the researchers, this dose is equivalent to giving a 50 kg woman an 800 mg tablet of the extract.
Kills breast cancer cells like a chemo drug while improving antioxidant status
The results of the study were incredibly promising. Rats treated with the chemo drug for four weeks showed a 71 percent decrease in the size of their tumors, but those treated with the seaweed extract had their tumors shrink by 91 percent – an improvement of 27 percent over chemo. The chemo drug also caused significant toxicity to the rats' kidneys and livers, causing visible lesions on those organs. Not only did the seaweed show no toxicity (no liver or kidney lesions), it actually improved the rats' antioxidant status in two ways. First, the extract decreased levels of MDA (a key marker of oxidative damage) by 46 percent, implying that the rats were experiencing far less oxidative damage in their bodies. Second, seaweed treated rats saw their levels of glutathione (an important antioxidant made by our own bodies) increase dramatically by 78 percent. Not surprisingly, chemo treated rats showed just the opposite trend, and their glutathione levels actually dropped by 57 percent.
As promising as these results appear, don't forget that the efficacy seen in lab mice doesn't always translate into efficacy for human patients. Also, this is just the first step in turning Eucheuma cottonii L. into an approved cancer treatment—which is a process that could easily take another 5-10 years to complete. In the meantime, always remember that an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Including seaweed regularly in your diet could not only reduce cancer risk but bring many other health benefits.
Seaweed for Cancer Prevention: an Established History
Various sea-vegetables have been used for centuries in Chinese and Japanese traditional medicine against breast cancer, and this is now supported by recent population studies. In Korea, women eating about 7 grams of dried red seaweed per week showed a 52% reduced risk of breast cancer. Older women seemed to benefit the most, with postmenopausal women showing 73% reduction in breast cancer risk when they at 7 grams weekly. This common red seaweed, called "gim" in Korea, is also known as "nori" in Japan and it is what is used to wrap sushi in. Each sheet of "sushi nori" weighs about 2 grams, so 3-4 of these per week is all that is needed to get the required seven grams. This may help to explain why Japanese women have 83 percent less breast cancer than those in the West. As for other cancers, seaweed consumption has been linked to risk reductions of 52% for endometrial cancer, 23% for lung cancer, and for men 60% less kidney cancer and 38% less pancreatic cancer. Western doctors are now looking seriously at the anticancer potential of this superfood, and a recent clinical trial in the USA showed that just 5 grams per day of dried seaweed (Undaria) decreased levels of a key pro-cancer protein (uPAR) by 47 percent in postmenopausal women.
This promising new study on Eucheuma cottonii provides yet more good science in the already strong case for using seaweed against breast cancer. And while we have to wait a few years more for researchers to turn this into an approved treatment, it's impressive that the effective dose for mice in this study is likely attainable in human patients, and that Malaysian locals have already been eating Eucheuma cottonii for decades with apparently no ill effects.
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