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Seaweed Supplement Helps with Weight Loss, Body Fat

Seaweed helps with weight loss

If you swim in the ocean, the seaweed that wraps around your legs may be a nuisance, but it could also help your weight loss efforts. A seaweed supplement has been shown to help obese individuals on a calorie-restricted diet lose weight, and most of the weight loss was body fat, according to a new study from the University of Copenhagen.

Seaweed, weight loss help from the ocean

There are no magic formulas, supplements, or drugs for weight loss, but when individuals try to lose weight the tried-and-true way--by reducing calorie intake and exercising more--there are some weight loss helpers that can boost the number of pounds dropped. Seaweed appears to be one of those helpers.

The 12-week double-blind study, which appears in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was completed by 80 obese individuals who were divided into two groups. Both groups consumed a calorie-restricted diet, but one group also consumed a placebo beverage three times daily before each meal while the other group consumed a beverage that contained the seaweed-based supplement.

At the end of 12 weeks, participants in the placebo group had lost an average of 5.04 kg (11.11 lb) while those in the seaweed supplement group lost an average of 6.78 kg (14.95 lb), for a difference of nearly 4 additional pounds lost in the seaweed group.

The seaweeds used in the supplement were Laminaria hyperborea and L. digitata. Both are species of a large brown alga and are found in the northern Atlantic Ocean. These brown alga contain a natural fiber called alginate, which is often used as a thickener and stabilizer in foods. Alginate has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of fat the body absorbs.

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For example, in a previous study conducted at Newcastle University, researchers used an artificial gut to evaluate more than 60 different naturally occurring fibers to see how much fat each one could digest and absorb. Alginate was superior, reducing the amount of fat absorbed by the body by about 75%.

When the researchers then tested the seaweed in people by adding the fiber to bread, they found that alginates significantly reduced digestion of fat. According to Dr. Iain Brownlee, who headed the Newcastle study, their "initial findings suggest alginates could offer a very real solution in the battle against obesity."

In the University of Copenhagen study, the researchers noted that "To our knowledge, changes in body fat mass in humans after alginate intake have not been reported previously. Besides the effect of weight loss on a reduction in fat mass, it could also be hypothesized that the decreased percentage of body fat could have been because of a prebiotic effect."

Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients (e.g., fiber) that promote the activity of bacteria in the digestive system. Such activity has been proposed to be involved in changes in fat tissue.

More research is needed to determine the role of seaweed and other ocean secrets in the fight against overweight and obesity. Until then, this latest study suggests seaweed extracts from brown alga can help with weight loss and body fat.

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

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Updated January 12, 2014