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Fucoidan: A new wave in digestive health

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Fucoidans are bioactive compounds found naturally in brown seaweeds. Their role in nature is to protect the seaweed plant against a range of stresses. The same protective benefits of fucoidans that are of value to the seaweed plant have sparked interest in both human and animal health. High purity fucoidan extracts are now utilised in a range of therapeutic health care preparations, particularly as ingredients in nutritional, medical device, skincare and dermatological products.

The efficacy of fucoidans has been investigated across a diverse range of health indications, including gut and digestive health, immune support and healthy aging. There are now more than 2,300 published scientific studies investigating the bioactive properties of fucoidans, and it is this research that is fuelling global demand for this versatile marine ingredient. Based on the latest clinical evidence, high purity fucoidans are fast becoming ingredients of choice for innovative digestive health formulations. To help explain the merits of this natural polysaccharide, the global fucoidan experts at Australian biotechnology company Marinova Pty Ltd have addressed the top 10 most frequently asked questions. 

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1. Why haven’t I heard of fucoidan before?

A look through the history books will reveal that fucoidan-containing seaweeds have been prized for their dietary and therapeutic properties for centuries. The earliest records of use date back to circa 12000BC in South America, however a history of traditional consumption is most well known in Asian cultures. Fucoidan-containing seaweeds - and in recent decades, fucoidan extracts - have been used to support good health, particularly in Japan and Korea. The people of the Japanese island of Okinawa, are often cited as the longest-lived population in the world. Research suggests that one of the key reasons for this is their seaweed rich diet.

The commercial availability of fucoidan extracts in the 1970s kickstarted a wave of global fucoidan research. The extensive dossier of scientific evidence that is now available, coupled with recent regulatory approvals, including FDA-notified GRAS in the USA and EU Novel Foods approval, means that global awareness and understanding of fucoidans is rapidly increasing.

2. What type of seaweeds do fucoidans come from?

Fucoidans are found in brown seaweeds. Fucoidans derived from two seaweed species in particular have been the most extensively studied and clinically tested – Undaria pinnatifida​ and Fucus vesiculosus​. 

Undaria pinnatifida​, commonly known as wakame, is native to Japan. Today however, it also inhabits the cool, pristine waters of the Southern Hemisphere. Undaria ​is commonly found in the intertidal zone. It’s exceptional growth rate makes it a rapidly renewing marine resource.
In comparison, Fucus vesiculosus​, or bladderwrack, is typically found along sheltered coastlines in the Northern Hemisphere. It is particularly prolific in the clean waters of Nova Scotia.

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Fucoidan-containing brown seaweeds Fucus vesiculosus​ (top) and Undaria pinnatifida

3. What are the key research findings supporting the inclusion of fucoidans in digestive health formulations?

The rapidly expanding dossier of scientific evidence is driving growing interest in the properties of fucoidans that support gut and digestive health. Published research shows that fucoidan extracts have the potential to balance good and bad bacteria, which may in turn support a healthy gut microbiome. In animal studies, dietary fucoidan extracts have been shown to increase the abundance of the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus​ and Ruminococcaceae​ that naturally reside in the gut and decrease the abundance of the potentially harmful Peptococcus​ and Enterobacteriaceae​.1

A recent study also showed that high purity fucoidans may support mucosal immune function, thereby promoting the healthy function of the gut.2​ A recent Australian study assessed gut markers in high performance athletes, including lysozyme - a known indicator of innate immune function. The intense physical activity undertaken by athletes is reflected in depressed lysozyme levels and associated with changes in immune function. The study reported that depressed lysozyme levels were restored to healthy levels in athletes ingesting a high purity fucoidan supplement.

4. Are all fucoidans the same?

Like most ingredients, fucoidans can vary in quality and efficacy. They are not all the same. Research conducted by Marinova has confirmed that the bioactivity of fucoidan extracts is dependent upon two key factors - the method of extraction and the seaweed species from which the fucoidan has been derived. These two factors are the ultimate determinants of efficacy. Traditional methods of extraction can compromise the integrity and functionality of the resulting fucoidans. In contrast, Marinova's proprietary aqueous technology – the Maritech extraction process - yields natural extracts of superior quality with enhanced bioactivity.

5. Does fucoidan purity vary?

Fucoidan extracts can vary significantly in purity and, subsequently, quality. As with most ingredients, due diligence is required when it comes to sourcing fucoidan. Marinova routinely tests fucoidan ingredients on the market, and regularly observes that there is a wide variation in purity.

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High purity fucoidan is supplied in dry powder form

6. How is fucoidan extracted from the seaweed?

Traditionally, manufacturers of fucoidans have utilised solvents to precipitate the fucoidan polymer from crude seaweed extracts. Fucoidans manufactured in this way can suffer from many shortfalls; contaminants may be present in the final extract, quality can be inconsistent and chemical integrity may be compromised. Importantly the bioactivity of the fucoidan may be affected.

Marinova's exclusive fucoidan extraction technology overcomes these problems. The process does not use organic solvents and produces fucoidan extracts that remain unadulterated in chemical structure and free from solvent residues. The mild, aqueous process also ensures the resulting extracts comply with the most rigorous quality standards and regulatory requirements.

7. Do fucoidans have global regulatory acceptance?

In recent years, fucoidan extracts have attained regulatory approvals in a number of global jurisdictions for use in food and dietary supplements. High purity fucoidan extracts from Undaria pinnatifida​ and Fucus vesiculosus​ have been granted Generally Recognised as Safe (GRAS) status with the US FDA and have EU Novel Foods approval.3

The daily consumption of high concentration fucoidan extracts from both Undaria pinnatifida​ and Fucus vesiculosus​ have been accepted at rates of up to 250mg/day. This provides the market with sound confidence that fucoidan can be safely consumed in a wide variety of products. However, it is important to note that only Maritech organic fucoidans have been granted FDA-notified GRAS approval at this daily rate.

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High purity, certified organic Maritech fucoidan extracts hold global regulatory acceptance.

8. How do fucoidans complement global consumer trends?

High purity fucoidans are an excellent addition to innovative healthcare supplements. They are natural, certified organic ingredients supported by extensive scientific evidence. Quality fucoidan extracts also boast impressive sustainability credentials making them attractive to consumers demanding products that meet high standards of environmental and social responsibility.

9. Fucoidan and sustainability – is it a good match?

Manufacturers of high purity, certified organic fucoidans with global regulatory acceptance are committed to sustainability. They hand-harvest the renewable seaweed resource in accordance with world’s best practice, sourcing seaweeds from only the cleanest ocean waters. An exclusive aqueous extraction process avoids the use of harmful chemical solvents, whilst the diversion of by-products for other applications and the use of renewable energy makes them advanced manufacturing leaders.

10. Where is fucoidan research headed?

Global fucoidan research continues to accelerate. Formulators and brands can expect to see an increasing volume of peer-reviewed papers exploring the potential benefits of fucoidans over the next decade, particularly from companies like Marinova. In addition to gut and digestive health, this research will span health indications as diverse as healthy aging, immune health, cancer, inflammation and skincare. In addition to these established research themes, emerging areas of study include the potential effects of fucoidans in sports performance, wound healing and dermatology.

Interestingly, countries such as Australia are investing significantly in the development of innovative marine bioproducts. Australia has just announced a government-backed, decade long $270 million research consortium into the further development of novel bioproducts. Marinova, the global leader in fucoidan science, is a partner in the Marine Bioproducts Cooperative Research Centre and will use the opportunity to fast-track a number of significant research projects planned for its unique Maritech organic fucoidan extracts.

For further details visit www.marinova.com.au​ or www.maritechfucoidan.com.au

1. Shang Q, Shan X, Cai C, Hao J, Li G, Yu G. Dietary fucoidan modulates the gut microbiota in mice by increasing the abundance of Lactobacillus and Ruminococcaceae. Food Funct. 2016 Jul 13;7(7):3224-32. doi: 10.1039/c6fo00309e. Erratum in: Food Funct. 2018 Jan 24;9(1):655.
2. Cox, A.J.; Cripps, A.W.; Taylor, P.A.; Fitton, J.H.; West, N.P. Fucoidan Supplementation Restores Fecal Lysozyme Concentrations in High-Performance Athletes: A Pilot Study. Mar. Drugs​ 2020, 18​, 412.
3. Fitton, J.H.; Stringer, D.N.; Park, A.Y.; Karpiniec, S.S. Therapies from Fucoidan: New Developments. Mar. Drugs​ 2019, 17​, 571.

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