Fucoidan - anti-cancer polysaccharide in brown seaweeds

Fucoidan -  anti-cancer polysaccharide in brown seaweeds

Fucoidan is a sulphated polysaccharide found in the cell walls of various types of brown seaweed, brown algae and in sea cucumbers; it has anticancer, antiviral, neuroprotective, radioprotective and anti-inflammatory activity and can cause leukemia, lymphoma, colorectal and stomach cancer cells to self-destruct, reduce metastases and appears to make some chemotherapy work better, improving survival.

The many benefits of Fucoidan and brown seaweeds

Fucoidan is a natural compound found in various forms of brown seaweed like kombu, limu, wakame and mozuku, plus animals like the sea cucumber. About 4 per cent of the dry weight of seaweed is fucoidan (Updated from a 2019 article by Chris Woollams).

Brown Seaweed survives in a harsh environment and experts believe this is why it contains so many compounds of benefit. Seaweeds contain very high levels of minerals, particularly iodine; high levels of soluble fibre - the favourite food of your good gut bacteria; they contain important compounds such as polyphenols, polysaccharides, phytosterols, carotenoids, antioxidants, proteins and long-chain omega-3.

Almost every species of brown seaweed contains Fucoidan. It is found in two forms -  

    * F-fucoidan, a complex sulphated polysaccharide containing the sulphuric ester L-fucose; and 

   * U-fucoidan containing the trace elements galactose, xylose, and about 20- per cent glucuronic acid.

Memorial Sloan Kettering also have a very positive review on Fucoidans stating that they:

   * Boost the immune system

   * Lower inflammation

   * Prevent Blood Clots

   * Reduce high blood pressure

However, a 2019 review of recent studies (1) showed even more benefits for your health, stating  "Activities include antitumor, antioxidant, anticoagulant, antithrombotic, immunoregulatory, antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects. More recently, fucoidan has been shown to alleviate metabolic syndrome, protect the gastrointestinal tract, benefit angiogenesis and bone health"

Fucoidans, or fucans, are polysaccharides, mainly sulfated L-fucose. Fucans have a wide structural diversity and many physiological properties. They have frequently been analysed as potential drugs. The variation in fucoidan levels in the plant seems linked to the depth at which they grow.

To Fucan's anti-coagulant properties were added antithrobotic properties, but then varies studies noted that they had anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. They were then found to have anti-adhesive benefits and to protect cells from viral infection. They were studied as an alternative to anticoagulent drug Heparin. A review of their benefits (2) took place as long ago as 1995.  They were also found to have significant immune-boosting effects, and was shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels and be effective in cases of meningitis!

Fucoidan and cancer

Research studies as far back as 2002 and 2005 labeled Fucoidan as an exciting new ingredient with potential for cancer treatment. Seaweeds containing fucans have been found to have anti-tumor activity in mice and Japanese researchers at the Biomedical Research Laboratories found that Fucoidan caused leukaemia, lymphoma, colorectal and stomach cancer cells to self-destruct.

Fucoidan has been shown to block EGFR and it has been shown to block the appearance of tumours in rats, fed Fucoidan for 55 days. There has been research with cancers such as lung and breast cancer. 

There are also small scale studies where Fucoidan has been used to improve the success of chemotherapy - for example with FOLFOX and FOLFIRI in colorectal cancer where it improved survival times. Research was attempted with cyclophosphamide and mice with lung cancer. No improvement occured in the group taking the drug, but those injected with fucoidan on its own had 33% less growth and significantly less lung metastases - 29% less. This was all in a 2015 review of latest research and showed that 'fucoidan retards tumor development, eradicates tumor cells and synergizes with anti-cancer chemotherapeutic agents' (3).

Put simply, the researchers concluded that this was a natural compound with anti-tumour potential.

Studies show lymphoma tumours respond to fucoidan

A series of studies on lymphoma were conducted by researchers from the Hashemite University in Jordan working with colleagues at University of California, Berkeley and using extracts from common brown seaweed. They noted that Fucoidan caused cancer cell death (apoptosis) and found that fucoidan suppressed cancer cell growth and caused a significant increase in apoptosis, or cellular death, and shrank tumours, in both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer while leaving healthy cells intact.In one study with mice, NHL tumours were shown to shrink (4).

'Some forms of B-cell lymphoma are especially resistant to standard treatment and thus new therapies are needed ', said Professor Mohammad Irhimeh adding, 'in this study, we looked at a new treatment strategy using novel active compounds derived from a natural source - seaweed.’ 

Fucoidan, seaweed and Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer risk has been shown to be reduced by antioxidant compounds (fucans and fucoxanthin) from seaweeds such as Wakame (5). Numerous studies suggest that Akt inhibition is related to decreased cell growth and reduced cancer cell migration, Fucoidan can inhibit Akt (6). Also Fucoidan treatment significantly inhibited growth, induced G1-phase-associated upregulation of p21WAF1 expression, and suppressed cyclin and cyclin-dependent kinase expression in HT29 colon cancer cells.

In a 2022 study that reviewed four studies on metastatic colorectal cancer and gastric cancer patients, two studies revealed a significantly longer survival time and chemotherapy treatment periods with fucoidan use, but researchers felt the overall number in the four studies supplied positive but insignificant benefits (7). 

There is a longer review (8) of the many benefits of seaweeds in potentially treating colorectal cancer including research studies. There's even research on it being an antioxidant, and also an agent for the unproven cancer death causing, Ferroptosis.

Review of the differing benefits of seaweeds

Another review (9) of the properties of seaweeds as a diverse group offering many active compounds, was produced in 2016. This looked at their potential to treat many illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus.The summary included - 

"Because of their harsh environments, each individual brown seaweed species produces its own array of Fucans (fucoidans).  They are complex polysaccharides and some are linked with anti-coagulant activity, others boost the immune system via cytokines, macrophages and dendritic cells. They are anti-viral and cyto-protective.

They enhance the performance of drugs such as 5-FU while protecting healthy cells and seems to reduce side-effects from many chemotherapy drugs. A large number of studies in mice have now shown high levels of anti-cancer and anti-tumour activity"

Fucoidan dose

This is the main problem. Which Fucoidan, and what are you trying to do?

Fucoidan can range from high levels found in Mozuko, which is produced and harvested in the waters around Tonga (also called South Pacific Mozoku), and can contain five times more active ingredients than standard wakame from cold waters.

For genera; health it would seem 30-50 mg might be appropriate. You should always take it on an empty stomach so it can line the gut wall.

Fucoidan seems generally safe to use with no side-effects reported, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Go to: Lymphoma overview - symptoms, causes and treatment alternatives

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1. Biological Activities of Fucoidan and the Factors Mediating Its Therapeutic Effects: A Review of Recent Studies; Yu Wang et al; Mar Drugs. 2019 Mar; 17(3): 183.

2.  Boisson-Vidal, C., Haroun, F., Ellouali, M., Blondin, C., Fischer, A.M., De Agostini, A., and Jozefonvicz, J. Biological activities of polysaccharide from marine algae. 

3. Fucoidan and Cancer: A Multifunctional Molecule with Anti-Tumor Potential; Farzaneh Atashrazm et al;  Mar Drugs. 2015 Apr; 13(4): 2327–2346 

4. Seaweed extract may hold promise for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma treatment; American Association for Cancer Research March 12, 2010

5. Fucoxanthin and Colorectal Cancer Prevention; Masaru Terasaki et al; Cancers (Basel), 2021 May 14;13(10):2379.

6. Antitumor Effects of Fucoidan on Human Colon Cancer Cells via Activation of Akt Signaling; Yong Seok Han et al;Biomol Ther (Seoul). 2015 May; 23(3): 225–232. 

7. Effectiveness of Fucoidan on Supplemental Therapy in Cancer Patients: A Systematic Review; Chih-jung Wu et al;  Healthcare (Basel). 2022 May; 10(5): 923

8. Anti-colorectal cancer effects of seaweed-derived bioactive compounds; Yunhua Fu et al; Front. Med., 19 August 2022

9. Looking Beyond the Terrestrial: The Potential of Seaweed Derived Bioactives to Treat Non-Communicable Diseases. Kenneth G. Collins et al; Mar Drugs. 2016 Mar; 14(3): 60..

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Please be clear: At CANCERactive we do not consider the above compound to be a cure for cancer, despite what the research says or experts doing the research may claim. The above, is an article on the compound from published research and expert opinion in the public domain. At CANCERactive we do not believe that any single compound (drug, vitamin, whatever) is a cure for cancer. We believe that people can significantly increase their personal odds of survival by building a body conducibve to health along with an Integrated Programme of treatments. Equally, cancer prevention is best practiced through a width of measures.

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