A wide variety of macro and micronutrients such as potassium, sodium, zinc, sulfur, calcium, chlorine, phosphorous, and magnesium are found in seaweed owing to which it is used in pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, cosmetics, feed additives, personal care, and agricultural products industries. There are over 220 species of seaweeds and the marine plant is being used in industries for over centuries.
Scientists at the University of Santo Tomas recently claimed that “pukpuklo” a seaweed of the Codium species can potentially help battle cancer. A team of researchers headed by Dr. Ross Dizon Vasquez was successful in extracting and testing polysaccharides fractions from the seaweed served as a delicacy in numerous regions in the Philippines. During the testing of the polysaccharides, the scientists discovered that the seaweed inhibits the development of enzymes that aid in metastasis or spread of cancer to different parts of the body. The Codium species of seaweed is rich in amino acids, fiber, and minerals making it a nutrient-rich delicacy in the Philippines.
Apart from the health benefits of seaweed, its hydrocolloid properties are leveraged to great extent in the food and beverages industries. Carrageenan, a substance derived from seaweed, is used as a thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier, and particle suspension agent in an array of food products such as dairy products, salad dressings, chocolate milk, sour cream, and ice cream. Its hydrocolloid properties make it a lucrative alternative for gelatin. As veganism continues to go mainstream, the demand for gelatin-free products is on the rise which is estimated to fuel the growth of commercial seaweed market.
A recent study suggests the hydrocolloid properties of seaweed are finding increasing applications in pharmaceutical industry as well, and the recent research suggesting anticancer benefits of the Codium species is further estimated to open up gateways for new opportunities in the commercial seaweed market. Currently, seaweed extracts are being largely used as carrier or stabilizers for nanoparticles and matrix systems in oral extended tablets. Its viscous nature and gelling property are being adopted in drug delivery systems for prolonged retention and controlled release of drugs.
In addition to exhibiting anticancer benefits, the Codium species is being studied for its impact on skin. Dr. Vasquez elucidated that the seaweed species induced growth of healthy skin and accelerated healing of skin of the rat which was subjected to UVB radiations. Vasquez and team plan to further study the cosmeceutical application of the Codium species. Derivatives and extracts from seaweeds are being increasingly incorporated into cosmetic and skin care products owing to their anti-aging and healing properties.
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Like the Philippines, seaweed is a savored delicacy in several parts of Asia. Additionally, seaweeds are found to contain a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, amino acids, dietary fibers, and vitamin C, E, A, and B relative to animal and terrestrial plant-based food products. With functionality and fortification of food products gaining in prominence the demand for commercial seaweed in food and beverages industry is expected to burgeon. Consequently, seaweed is being incorporated into the production of infant formula in developing countries where awareness regarding the health benefits associated with the marine plants is highest. Various food and beverage production companies are incorporating seaweed and its extracts into new and innovative product offerings to capitalize on the growing demand. For instance, PureSea launched a new seaweed powder called Protect which readily mixes in sports beverages, protein shakes, and food supplements. With the product, the company aims to tap into an extensive consumer base consisting of people from all lifestyles, ages, and nutrition requirements.