Speaking with us, SWAFAX project leader Ian Rowland, said two studies had been completed that showed certain extracts contained high levels of antioxidant polyphenols.
“Land plants have all these polyphenols in them but seaweeds have never really been studied for their antioxidant potential – so we are looking at that and the results are very encouraging,” said Rowland, the director of research and head of the Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition at Reading University.
“One of the most important things with polyphenols whether they are from seaweeds or land plants is how easily they are absorbed in the body.”
Ascophyllum seaweed had shown the best potential in this area.
“The antioxidant content can be up to 15% of the weight of the seaweed,” Rowland said. “Some of them are similar to land plants but not all of them. The best potential we have seen is for phlorotannins which are found in brown seaweeds like Ascophyllum.”
Rowland said seaweed was abundant and offered high-end potential as to date it was mainly used as a whole food or as a source for basic vitamins and minerals.
The two year old project was slated to complete already but has been extended until April when the final study will finish. The studies will then be sent to nutrition journals for assessment and potential publication.
The project has worked with three small to medium enterprises (SMEs) – Irish firm Marigot which specialises in seaweed mineral extraction; Hebridean Seaweed in Scotland and Mesosystem, based out of Spain.
There are also three RTD providers - CyberColloids and the Universities of Reading and Ulster.
World production of seaweeds stood at 16 million tonnes in 2008, with 93% cultivated and 7% harvested in the wild.