Fucoidan, its benefits, side effects and uses

Fucoidan, its benefits, side effects and uses
July 12, 2015 8:19 PM

This post is all about benefits, uses and side effects of fucoidan. It will help you understand how fucoidan may help in cancer treatment, how it enhaces our immune system, fights fatigue, promotes cardiac health, helps in weight loss, etc.

What is fucoidan?

Fucoidan is actually a sulfated polysaccharide that is found in brown seaweed and different species of brown algae, which include bladderwrack, kombu, mozuku, hijiki and wakame. Some forms of fucoidan are also found in animal species, which include sea cucumber. Fucoidan is commonly used as an ingredient in different diet supplement products.

The main composition of fucoidan is a group of fructose-containing polysaccharides (FCSPs), which compose of a backbone that is made of 1-3 linked alpha-l-fucopyranosyl and alternating 1-4 linked alpha-l-fucopyranosyl residues. Sulfated galactofucans have the backbone of 1-6 beta-d-galacto and 1-2-beta-d-mannopyranosyl units and are formed with fucose or fuco-oligosaccharide branching and glucose or xylose substitutions. Potentially beneficial bioactive functions are present in these FCSPs. The bioactive properties can change and are dependent on the source of seaweed. Some factors on which the bioactive properties depend are the compositional and structural traits, bonding of sulfate substitutions, the charge density and the distribution and the purity of the FCSP product. The main factor on which the preservation of the structural methodology depends is the extraction method used. The extraction method has a crucial importance for getting the different structural features which are required for different biological activities.

There are two different forms of fucadoin. The first one is F-fucadoin, which is less than 95% and is composed of sulfated esters of fucose. The other one is U-fucadoin, which contains approximately 20% glucuronic acid. The biochemical and physiological effects of fucadoin have been known in different small scale animal and vitro studies. It was reported that F-fucadoin hinders hyperplasia (the enlargement of a tissue or organ which is generally caused by an increase in the reproduction rates of its cells, which occurs in the initial stages of cancer) in rabbits. Some studies have also shown that it induces apoptosis in lymphoma cell lines in vitro. It is supposed that a common mechanism is present behind both these effects. But the evidence isn’t too much authentic and no mechanism has been found so far for the putative induction of apoptosis by fucoidan. A rat study was recently conducted which found that the mortality to meningitis infection is improved by the use of fucoidan. A clinical study was recently conducted in which it was reported that there is an increase in the overall numbers of CD34+ cells when fucoidan is ingested. The results also showed that there was an increase in the number of CD34+ cells which expressed CXCR4. The researchers of the study gave the view that fucoidan has the ability to metabolize hematopoetic cells having high levels of CXCR4 expression.

Health benefits of fucoidan

Now let us look at some of the health benefits of fucoidan. There are a number of them and the most important ones are described below in detail:

1. Apoptosis

One of the major benefit of fucoidan is that it induces apoptosis. Apoptosis is the process that causes the death of cells as a normal part of the development and growth and an organism. Apoptosis is beneficial as it helps the cancerous cells to commit suicide. Some research has indicated that the active component of brown seaweeds, which is fucoidan, helps in the death of several dangerous and tumor containing cells. People of different countries, especially those living in Japan and Korea, have been eating brown seaweeds as a part of their diet for a long time. Fucoidan is extracted from brown seaweeds and structurally it consists of many polymers which are formed by branched polysaccharides sulfate esters having L-fucose building block. There have also been some recent studies which indicate that fucoidan induces apoptosis in cancerous cells. But the whole mechanism is a bit doubtful because it is still uncertain which sequence of fucoidan plays an important role in the process of apoptosis. A study was recently conducted in Japan in the Kyushu University. The study showed that fucoidan induces apoptosis in the breast cancer cells (MCF-7) and it doesn’t affect the normal epithelial cells. Caspase-8 is also considered very important for the apoptosis induced by fucoidan. Another study was conducted as late as Sep 2014 by researchers S. Chen and Y.Zhao (1). The study was basically done to know about the anti-cancer properties of fucoidan. The results of the study showed that fucoidan has anti-cancerous properties. The results also showed that there is some evidence of the therapeutic application of fucoidan in cancer.

2. Angiogenesis inhibition

Angiogenesis basically means the formation of new blood vessels. It has been seen that angiogenesis plays a key role in the promotion of cancer. Some recent studies have indicated that the sulfated polysaccharides inhibit angiogenesis. The anti-tumor activity of fucoidan has gotten special attention recently. The anti-tumor effect of “Mekabu” fucoidan is effected by IFN-y-activated NK cells. It has also been observed that the antitumor activity of fucoidan is due to its anti-angiogenic potential. Scientists at the Qingdao University recently evaluated several harvested tumors in order to know the effect of fucoidan on angiogenesis. The results of the study showed that fucoidan causes a significant decrease in the intratumoral expression of blood vessles as compared to the control group. The scientists also studied the effect of fucoidan on lung metastasis of breast cancer in the same study. It was found that 4T1 cells is highly invasive in spreading breast cancer cell lines. Scientists euthanized mice to find the effect of fucoidan on 4T1 tumor. The results of the study showed that fucoidan results in fewer lung metastasis. The total number of nodules per mouse in the control group were 34.

Another study was recently conducted in China in the Dalian Medical University to find the effect of fucoidan on angiogenesis (2). The researchers of the study took umbilical vein endothelial cells and found out the anti-angiogenic activity of fucoidan extracted from brown seaweed. The researchers of the study treated the HUVECs with different concentrations of fucoidan. The results of this study showed that fucoidan helps in the inhibition of cell migration, cell proliferation and tube formation.

3. Enhancement of immune system

Fucoidan also boosts the immune system. It has been seen that when fucoidan is consumed, the body is able to fight cancer better. Some research was conducted on mice to see the effect of fucoidan on immune system. The study showed that fucoidan restores the immune system in immunosuppressed mice and it functions as an immunomodulator and acts directly on T-lymphocyte. It was also found out that fucoidan helps in the recovery of immunologic functions in irradiated rats. The mechanism is similar to the arresting of lymphocyte by fucoidan. Fucoidan has also shown to increase the production of interferon-y and interleukin-1 in vitro and increases the functionality of T-lymphocyte. It was also seen that it promotes the antibody response to sheep red blood cells (SRBC) in the vivo. The high molecular weight fucoidan helps in the increase in the promotion of murine cytotoxic T cells.

Different polysaccharides like fucoidan which has been obtained from different natural sources are biological response modifiers and increase the different immune responses. So, fucoidan directly stops the production of tumor cells in the body. Fucoidan also helps in the diffusion of the tumor cells and enhances the immunomodulatory activities of the body. The quantity of macrophages in the body is also increased due to fucoidan and helps in the destruction of tumor through the Type 1 T-helper cell. A research was conducted in 2003 which showed that fucoidan has anti-tumor properties in it (3).

4. Fucoidan against fatigue

A study was recently conducted in Tottori University in Japan which analyzed if fucoidan helps the patients from different anti-cancer drugs. Some of the common side effects of anti-cancerous drugs are vomiting, nausea, fatigue, diarrhea and bone marrow suppression. Peripheral neuropathy is specific for oxaliplation, which treats the cancer of the colon or rectum. It was found in the research that fucoidan stops the occurrence of fatigue in colorectal cancer patients in chemotherapy. Fatigue is dangerous for the human body and it has been observed that fatigue reduces the individual resources of the patients. It also affects the nutritional status of the individual, and has a negative effect on the bone density of the therapy of cancer. It has been seen that fatigue is present in more than 30% patients of chemotherapy. The grade 2 and 3 fatigue was found in 60% of colorectal cancer patients with chemotherapy, in this study. Fatigue was also treated by the use of antidepressants. The study showed that patients who received fucoidan were able to go through the pain of prolonged chemotherapy without fatigue. But fucoidan didn’t affect the other adverse side effects of anti-cancer drugs. But the problem is that the main mechanism which explains the chemotherapy-induced fatigue is yet to be determined and there are no treatment currently available for alleviating the symptoms.

5. Cardiac health

It has been found that fucoidan is quite beneficial for the cardiac health. A person may be able to save himself from heart muscle injuries, like heart attack by taking a fucoidan supplement or a fucoidan-rich food. An animal study was recently conducted by some Indian researchers in which the researchers sought to find the relation between fucoidan and cardiac health. The rat subjects were used in this study and they were given a special diet of fucoidan, which was extracted from Turbinaria conoides, which is a species of brown seaweed. Heart injury was given to the rats who hadn’t received the fucoidan rich diet. All the rats were then exposed to battery tests in order to measure the degree which they had survived. There was lesser degree of injury in the animals which weren’t given fucoidan. The researchers gave the view through the research that fucoidan strengthens the heart muscles. This was published in the June 2012 finding of “International Journal of Biological Macromolecules”.

6. Weight loss

It has been seen that fucoidan facilitates weight loss. You might be interested in taking fucoidan if you are serious about losing weight. A South Korean study was recently conducted to find out the fat-fighting properties of fucoidan. The study was conducted by a team of researchers in vitro-study. In the study fucoidan was introduced in laboratory vessels which contained adipocytes, which are the cells which make the adipose tissues. Some fat cells were left untreated in the control group. The research showed that fucoidan helps in the stimulation of lipolysis which means that it helps in the breakdown of lipids in the treated cells. The researchers gave the verdict that fucoidan may be quite beneficial in treating and preventing obesity. The research was published in the 2011 issue of “Marine Drugs”.

7. Blood thinning properties

One of the chief benefits of fucoidan is that it has anticoagulant properties. This basically means that it helps in the thinning of the blood in the body, which is quite helpful in preventing and treating certain types of conditions which include pulmonary embolism, phlebitis, and heart attack or a stroke caused by a blood clot. But some experts warn that fucoidan should specially be avoided by people who are taking different kinds of blood thinning medications which include warfarin and heparin.

8. Radiation properties

Some experts have suggested that fucoidan has radiation properties present in it. A famous nutritionist Phyllis Balch who is also the author of the book “Prescription for Dietary Wellness: Using Foods to Heal”, has the view that fucoidan can be of great help against the damaging effects from radiation exposure. A study was recently published in the 2004 journal of “Health Physics”. The study showed that the sodium alginate present in fucoidan helps to prevent the absorption of radioactive strontium from contaminated milk. The researchers of the study had the view that the brown algae was highly effective and didn’t have any major side effects.

9. Atherosclerosis

Some physiological risk factors to cardiovascular health include high blood pressure, lipoprotein levels, increased serum cholesterol levels, increased fibrinogen levels and increased serum glucose levels. The major reason that the cardiovascular diseases are caused is due to the “hardening” or narrowing of the coronary arteries, which is known as atherosclerosis. The Atherosclerosis develops in the body when the fatty deposits infiltrate into the walls of arteries and result in the formation of plaque. Some of the early developments of this serious condition are the sticking of monocytes and other leucocytes to the vascular wall in the blood. The main catalysts present in this event are those present within the wall, known as oxidized lipoprotein particles (also call ox-LDL). An inflammatory response is caused by ox-LDL. The platelets get attached to the monocytes and the blood vessel cells, which ingest the ox-LDL to form different foam cells. Due to this, a fat streak forms which generally increases the number of smooth muscle cells and causes their migration to the outer edge of the arterial wall, which forms a hard and fibrous layer.

A rat study which was recently conducted which proved that fucoidan has lipid lowering properties in hyperlipidemic animal models and it decreases the concentrations of triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and serum total cholesterol (4). The rats were fed for 28 days to establish hyperlipidemia. Fucoidan was delivered in dosage forms of 0.1, 0.2 and 0.4 g/kg for a period of additional 28 days. The three doses showed that they had lipid lowering properties. The middle dosage (0.2 g/kg) seemed to have the biggest effect. So, one of the benefits of fucoidan is that it increases the levels in lipid metabolizing enzymes. It was found that fucoidan induces the apolipoprotein C-II and lipoprotein lipase in a time-dependent manner. It was also found that fucoidan increases the LPL protein expression and LDL mRNA. It was also suggested in the results of the study that this secretion which is done by fucoidan may play some role in clearing the plasma triglycerides. The effects of fucoidan were compared with heparin.

10 autopsy studies were conducted in which the way of binding of fucoidan and other polysaccharides to the main arteries was observed. The non-atherosclerotic and atherosclerotic lesions were analyzed in the study. These studies showed that the percentage of the expression in the presence of different binding sites was the lowest in the cardiac and carotid arteries, whereas it was quite high in the pulmonary arteries. The quantitative differences between the normal and atherosclerotic arterial walls were observed. It was proposed in the results of the study that expression of sugar receptors may have some role in developing lesions in the carotid and coronary arteries (5).

10. Health of the gastrointestinal system

The gut diseases are common these days. The gut health is basically related to complex environment which is related to acidity and neural control. It has been found that fucoidan can be of great help in improving gut health.

One of the major diseases caused by a disoriented gut is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Basically the acute flare-ups are accompanied by the passage of a large number of leukocytes into the intestinal walls. The transmigration of leukocytes occurs in several different steps which include chemoattraction, tight adhesion, rolling adhesion and endothelial transmigration. Basically the leukocyte rolling is controlled by the selection family of adhesion molecules in the vivo. It has been seen that the intake of fucoidan inhibits the selectin and has also shown to inhibit leukocyte rolling in different tissues. It was found in a mouse colitis model that the treatment with fucoidan leads to a reduction in crypt destruction in the colon and mucosal damage. It has also been seen that fucoidan reduces the colonic myeloperoxidase (MPO) activity in the mouse which have been exposed to DSS. The results of the study showed that fuoicdan controls the tissue damage and leukocyte infiltration. This data is in line with the fact that fuoicdan helps in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

Uses of fucoidan

Now let us look at some uses of fucoidan. Fucoidan has a number of uses which have been mentioned below:

  • Fucoidan is quite helpful for people suffering from osteoarthritis. Several animal and human studies have shown that fucoidan is helpful against osteoarthritis. A human study found that osteoarthritis was significantly reduced when the fucoidan extracts were given orally.
  • Fucoidan is helpful against inflammation. But a fibrotic reaction is caused after inflammation which is known as “surgical adhesions”. Different newer techniques have been used by experts these days to treat this condition. One of these techniques uses fucoidan.
  • Many people suffer from a condition known as “liver fibrosis”, which is caused when toxins or pathogens enter the liver. Recent studies have shown that fucoidan is quite helpful against liver damage and stops the liver fibrosis.
  • Radiation damage can also be treated through fucoidan. All of us know how dangerous radiations can be. It can lead to cell death. Currently there are no human studies which show that fucoidan is helpful against radiations. However, several in vitro and mouse models have shown that fucoidan is helpful against radiation.
  • It has been seen that fucoidan plays some role in blood homeostasis. Fucoidan compounds have a retarding effect on coagulation. This is because of the interference with heparin cofactor II and antithrombin III.
  • Fucoidan is also helpful for the brain and provides neural protection. It has shown promising effects with regards to protecting the brain functioning. Different rat studies have shown that fucoidan is quite essential for the proper functioning of the brain.
  • Fucoidan has also shown some inhibitory effects on different viruses. A study was conducted in 2008 which showed that fucoidan is helpful against viruses. (6) The study showed that fucoidan extracts are helpful against herpes simplex virus infection.
  • Fucoidan has proved to be quite helpful against malaria. Actually malaria is caused by a parasite named plasmodium merozoites. Fucoidan has shown promising results in certain mouse models and has shown that it inhibits plasmodium infection.
  • Fucoidan also protects the kidneys in different ways. Some studies have shown that the intake of orally administered fucoidan is quite helpful in the prevention of chronic renal failure or Heymann nephritis. The study was however, conducted on rats.
  • Fucoidan has also been shown to be helpful against snake venoms. A Costa Rican research team found out that fucoidan is an effective inhibitor of PLA2 variants, which are present in the venoms of crotalid snakes.

Side effects of fucoidan

Fucodian is a natural product. So, it doesn’t have as much side effects as the artificially prepared drugs. However even this natural product has a few side effects. The side effects are more related to the type of fucoidan extract used because a particular type of seaweed may by more harmful as compared to another one.

Basically people who are allergic to soy should avoid using fucoidan because they may be allergic to fucoidan as well. Some of the main allergy symptoms include swelling of the throat and face, heavy breathing, an increased heart rate and hives. The fucoidan extracts have some qualities of the seaweeds from which they are extracted. Most seaweeds have blood thinning properties. It is quite beneficial in ordinary circumstances but people who are already taking blood thinning medications are those who have low blood pressure should avoid fucoidan. The reason is that they may be prone to different health risks like dizziness, ease of bruising and fainting. Some fucoidan extracts like mozuku have blood-thickening qualities. It should be taken in small dosages and should be avoided at all costs by people with high blood pressure. You should also be aware before taking fucoidan that most seaweeds have high iodine levels. So, you should take the precaution of not taking too much fucoidan because taking too much fucoidan extracts can cause iodine poisoning. People suffering from hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) should avoid taking fucoidan seaweed supplements. However people who don’t have hyperthyroidism or those with average levels of iodine should take fucoidan extracts because the iodine content may be helpful against goiter.


As you can see fucoidan truly is a natural wonder. It has many benefits, helps in cancer treatment, as well as in treatment of other disorders and weight loss. It also has some side effects and should not be used if you are allergic to soy. While benefits of fucoidan prevail over its side effects it should be noted that fucoidan is not a replacement to proper medical therapy and it should only be used with prior consent of your physician.

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Written by: Michal Vilímovský (EN)
Education: Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
Article resources: See numbered references within the article.
Image resources: Dollarphotoclub.com
Published: July 12, 2015 8:19 PM
Next scheduled update: July 12, 2017 8:19 PM
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