World over renewed attention is being focused on Algae for use in food formulations, extracting food ingredients, deriving nutraceutical substances, producing edible fat and as a source of bio-fuel. Preparations based on some strains of Algae like Spirulina have already found their way to the market as health boosting products and considerable investments are being made for developing commercial models of Algae production to augment the bio-fuel supply in future. Use of Algae as a source of poly phenolic chemicals has not received much attention and the recent findings that extracts rich in poly phenolic materials with very high potential for protecting health probably may pitchfork this humble unicellular microorganism as a major nutraceutical in the coming years.
Edible marine macroalgae, such as seaweeds form an important part of the diet in many far Eastern countries, whilst they are less used as foods in Western countries, their use is well documented. Apart from food uses, including their main industrial use as thickeners and gelling agents, seaweeds are widely used as ingredients in cosmetics and as fertilizers. However, edible seaweeds contain a range of components which have been suggested to have potential health benefits. They are good sources of dietary fibre, especially soluble fibre such as alginates, which can influence satiety and glucose uptake from foods – These soluble polysaccharides may also act as prebiotics, stimulating growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon. The authors stated that as well as being sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals and certain vitamins, "edible seaweeds can contain appreciable amounts of polyphenols, which are effective antioxidants and may have particular biological activities." "For example, polyphenol-rich extracts and isolated phlorotannin components have been shown to inhibit proliferation of cancer cells and to influence anti-inflammatory responses," wrote the researchers. Nwosu and colleagues reported that recent, but limited, information suggests that polyphenol rich extracts from edible seaweeds have potential anti-diabetic effects through the modulation of glucose-induced oxidative stress, and inhibition of starch-digestive enzymes such as alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase. In the new study, phenolic-rich extracts from four edible marine macroalgae commonly found in U.K. waters (Ulva, Ascophyllum, Alaria, and Palmaria) were tested for their potential biological effects towards cultured colon cancer cells and for their ability to inhibit digestive enzymes to achieve potential anti-diabetic effects.
Seaweeds are an integral part of oriental food preparations while the Alginate derived from them is one of the best thickeners available to the processed food industry all over the world. If the findings by the UK scientists can be confirmed by further studies with large size of subjects with regard to the health claims, algal poly phenolic extracts may become a universal health ingredient in thousands of food formulations in future. If the specific poly phenol responsible for the versatile health benefits can be identified, work of the food scientists is made easier to develop products with least flavor taint contributed by the isolated poly phenol. Biggest beneficiaries of this development will be diabetic people and obese consumers who can improve the quality of life very significantly.