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Florida Sea Lettuce May Be New Weapon Against Prostate Cancer


Sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca) is a type of bright-green edible algae that is found along the coasts of the world’s oceans. An important nutrient source for sea life, it is also edible for humans as well. Seaweeds, including sea lettuce, are commonly consumed in Asian countries where the risk of many types of cancer is low.

Hendrik Luesch PhD, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry with the University of Florida College of Pharmacy (part of UF Health), notes that sea lettuce has anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties which raises the body’s antioxidant defense system and therefore might potentially prevent a number of diseases, including cancer. The mechanism appears to be most relevant to prostate cancer prevention.

Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables protect the body against free radicals, mostly through a scavenging process of elimination. Rather than simply removing the damaging free radicals through this direct reaction, compounds in sea lettuce worked through an indirect mechanism, Dr. Luesch found. This process increases the levels of a suite of antioxidant enzymes and boosts antioxidants in cells, producing longer-lasting protection. Regulated by stretches of DNA called antioxidant response elements, the enzymes prevent oxidative damage and inflammation.

Sulforaphane in broccoli is another example of a cancer-protective compound that works through this type of regulation.

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In addition to antioxidants, sea lettuce is rich in protein, vitamin A and C, iron and iodine.

Dr. Luesch believes that sea lettuce enzymes can be developed as a preventive natural supplement. However, there is nothing wrong with eating the cancer-fighting food as well. Just like lettuce on land, sea lettuce can be used in salads and soups. Hawaiians traditionally use it mixed with other seaweeds in sushi or mixed into stews.

Seaweeds taste best when harvested early in the spring growing season far away from possible pollutants. They can then be integrated into recipes either fresh or dried. Harvested Ulva blades should be completely grass green in color. Merely rinse them in fresh water to remove the strong salty taste and it’s ready to use.

Journal Reference:
Ranjala Ratnayake, Yanxia Liu, Valerie J. Paul, Hendrik Luesch. Cultivated Sea Lettuce is a Multiorgan Protector from Oxidative and Inflammatory Stress by Enhancing the Endogenous Antioxidant Defense System. Cancer Prev Res September 2013 - doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-13-0014

Additional Resources:
National Cancer Institute
Washington State University
University of Rhode Island
Eat the Weeds (Recipe for Sea Lettuce Soup included)