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Finding Health in the Sea Brown Algae with Unlimited Potential


Extracts of brown algae fucoidan has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects, with high economic development value (Image courtesy of the institute provided Dr. Huang Peian) Surrounded by the sea, Taiwan is rich in marine resources. Driven by the trend that people in Taiwan have attached more and more importance to health, such functional foods developed out of algae as blue algae, green algae, red algae and brown algae have gradually penetrated the health food market. Even brown algae, which had been used mainly as animal feed in the past because of its poor taste, are deemed as a health food market star of tomorrow with unlimited potential for future development after experimental researches in recent years have confirmed that Fucoidan extracted from brown algae have anti-cancer and anti-inflammation effects.

How hot are brown algae? Fisheries Research Institute (FRI) under the Council of Agriculture (COA) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Program Office jointly sponsored a seminar on Fucoidan’s inhibition of tumor cells in July 2009, inviting scholars and medical doctors from different disciplines to discuss this irsue from different viewpoints and share research results of various studies on Fucoidan in the hope that domestic biotechnology industry will be encouraged to research and develop techniques to extract Fucoidan and market related products.

Tumor cells can be inhibited in three major ways: inducing cancer regression, inhibiting formation of new tumor cell blood vessels, and revitalizing the immune system. Initial FRI experimental study on Fucoidan found that brown algae extracts produced in Taiwan were effective to induce HePG2 tumor cell regression and enhance vitality of the immune system. To further understand the effects of Fucoidan on inhibiting formation of new blood vessels, FRI researchers conducted experiments on joint culture of brown algae extracts produced in Taiwan and bovine vascular endothelial cells and preliminary results confirmed that brown algae extracts can inhibit new blood vessel formation. Further studies are being carried out on related experimental results, hoping to expand the effects of cooperation between industry, academia and research institutions through scholastic exchanges. However, cancer is caused by many factors and whether brown algae extracts can have the same effect on human beings as on animals has to be researched more thoroughly by the medical community.

In addition to the above-mentioned experimental results, cell and animal experiments have proved that brown algae extracts have anti-inflammation effects and the extracts are expected to be developed into dressing for external use.

Algae from the functional foods develop more and more (Image courtesy of the institute provided Dr. Huang Peian) In the aforementioned seminar on Fucoidan’s inhibition of tumor cells, Taiwan Agricultural Chemicals and Toxic Substances Research Institute also pointed out that rude brown algae extracts have liver cancer and lung cancer inhibition effects. And the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Program Office noted that Fucoidan produced in Taiwan can not only effectively inhibit tumor cells but also has some effects on regulating inflammation, improving metabolism of liver functions and healing wounds as dressing, demonstrating the potential to be developed into medicines for human beings and pets as well as health care products in the future.

According to the ITIS Plan survey and estimates by the Food Industry Research and Development Institute, the scale of domestic health food market still maintained its upward trend even under the impact of global financial crisis in 2008-2009, with the overall market sale reaching some NT$67.7 billion. The same survey and estimates forecasted that the sale of health food market can reach NT$91.5 billion in 2010 and bright market prospects can be expected in the future.

Such health food items as Fucoidan being developed from functional elements contained in marine animals and plants are not only in line with the key items being developed currently by the agricultural biotechnology industry, their high economic values and advantages of being helpful for human health can also invigorate domestic health food market too.