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How Certain Seaweeds May Help Type 2 Diabetes

Seaweed and type 2 diabetes

If you think of seaweed as squishy strands that wrap around your legs when you swim in the ocean, the results of a new study about how they may help type 2 diabetes may change your perspective of this sea flora. It appears that certain seaweeds have antidiabetic powers and exert specific beneficial effects.

Not all seaweed is the same

If you have type 2 diabetes, you know managing the disease can be a challenge. You also may be aware that taking medications for diabetes can cause side effects, while a drug-free approach that includes natural supplements may make it possible to avoid such problems.

A new study in Food Chemistry reports that certain seaweeds have an inhibitory impact on alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase, two enzymes involved in processing carbohydrates and thus affecting glucose levels. Which seaweeds demonstrated this benefit?

The study’s authors evaluated 15 different seaweeds and selected five brown seaweed species from the group that showed strong inhibitory effects against certain carbohydrate-hydrolysing enzymes. Among the seaweeds selected were the following:

  • Ascophyllum nodosum, which demonstrated the most inhibitory activity against alpha-amylase
  • Fucus vesiculosus Linnaeus,which was effective in inhibiting alpha-glucosidase
  • Pelvetia canaliculata

The authors concluded that brown seaweed extracts appear to have the ability to interfere with the release of simple sugars from the gut, which in turn reduces postprandial (after eating) hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels).

What do these findings suggest? The authors noted that “due to their availability and strong inhibitory properties, these algal extracts have potential for use in functional food applications aimed at lowering glycaemic response.”

Therefore, it’s possible you will see these brown seaweed extracts listed on the ingredient panels of functional foods for diabetes in the future.

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Other ways seaweed may help diabetes
Most people with type 2 diabetes are overweight, and so efforts to lose weight are encouraged. Previous research shows that seaweed supplements have been helpful in weight loss.

For example, a 12-week, double-blind study among 80 obese individuals found that those who consumed a seaweed supplement containing brown seaweed (Laminaria hyperborean and L. digitata) lost 4 more pounds than did participants who did not take the seaweed.

Other research indicates that seaweed may help lower blood pressure, another common condition among people with type 2 diabetes. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the scientists reported that some seaweed proteins help reduce blood pressure.

More specifically, the authors reviewed nearly 100 studies and reported that peptides found in edible seaweeds act similarly to drugs prescribed to lower blood pressure. Three seaweeds discussed in the research included two brown (Himanthalia elongate and Undaria pinnatifida) and one red (Porphyra umbilicalis).

A number of supplements have been studied for helping with blood sugar control, such as cinnamon, turmeric, fenugreek, and bitter melon, among others. Certain seaweeds may be added to the list of natural approaches to management of type 2 diabetes.

ALSO READ about seaweed secrets

Jensen MG et al. Effect of alginate supplementation on weight loss in obese subjects completing a 12-wk energy-restricted diet: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012 Jul; ajcn.025312
Lordan S et al. The a-amylase and a-glucosidase inhibitory effects of Irish seaweed extracts. Food Chemistry 2013 Dec 1; 141(3): 2170-76

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