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Health & Nutrition

Alaskan seaweed may treat diabetes and obesity

May 1, 2014
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

for treating conditions like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases

Bladderwrack is one of seven Alaskan macroalgaes showing potential for treating conditions like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases

Yereth Rosen reports in the Anchorage Daily News that scientists at North Carolina State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute have found extremely high levels of “bioactive phytochemicals” in edible plants gathered from waters and beaches in the Sitka, Alaska area.

A study published last year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry evaluated the chemical compounds of six species of seaweed and one tidal plant. The tested species were four kinds of brown algae – bladderwrack, sugar wrack, kelp and winged kelp – along with one type of red algae commonly known as laver, one type of green algae known as sea lettuce and a shore plant commonly known as goosetongue.

The results: All seven species contained compounds with potent antioxidant powers, though in varying forms and combinations. For people who eat them, the plants could offer protection against conditions like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases — all linked to oxidative-damaged cells.

“The tested plants have antioxidant qualities far superior to commercially harvested vegetables and fruits,” said Mary Ann Lila, director of NC State’s Plants for Human Health Institute. She is working with doctoral student Joshua Kellogg, the lead researcher on the seaweed project.

“There’s nothing in the grocery store that can really compare to the levels that we’re seeing in the Alaska seaweed,” Lila said.

These plants are important elements of the traditional diets of some of Alaska’s Native peoples. They’ve been used in soups and stews, dried and sprinkled on fish or other main dishes and eaten alone as crunchy snacks. But those traditional diets have gradually been replaced by mainstream American diets. And as Alaska Natives have shifted away from traditional foods, their rates of obesity and diabetes have risen, as is generally the case with obesity and diabetes among all Native Americans. That is no coincidence, health experts say.

The correlation between decreasing consumption of traditional foods and increasing obesity rates brings up another question: Can Alaska seaweed help ward off excess body fat and the ills it causes?

Follow-up research by the NC State scientists suggests that it can.

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