French seaweed specialist Olmix Group works with wild-harvested macro algae or seaweed, extracting bioavailable compounds from red, green and brown variants for use in dietary supplements, functional foods and animal feed. With more than 20 years expertise in animal nutrition, the company has only been working on human nutrition products for three years.
It already has a dietary supplement range, sold under the Aroma Celte brand, made using a blends of algal extracts and essential oils for various health issues like immunity, stress and digestion, and is working on ongoing research into macroalgae for immunity and fighting central nervous system (CNS) diseases and infection.
Polysaccharide 'a key compound'
Tony Da Cruz, product manager for food at Olmix Group, said within the seaweed extracts it works with, it was the polysaccharide content that played a vital role.
“There's a real cocktail of different compounds, minerals and vitamins in seaweed and we also find very specific compounds – polysaccharides that have very high possibilities of application,” Da Cruz told NutraIngredients.
“...It's really a key compound of the seaweed and why we're targeting it and aiming to know it better.”
Present in seaweed year-round and very minimally impacted by external factors like weather or location, Da Cruz said the seaweed polysaccharides were “active compounds” with high antioxidant and immune stimulation activity. The latter, he said, was thought to be due to the structural similarity with heparin – a highly sulphated polysaccharide known for its anticoagulant and anticancer actions.
So far, Olmix had established a mechanism of action (MOA) for some of its seaweed extracts in regard to immunity, identifying certain pathways, he said. For both humans and animals, Olmix had found an immune regulation for some polysaccharide-rich extracts that acted via the toll-like receptors (TLRs).
Understanding the MOA, he said, was one of the biggest challenges in applying seaweed to human health and therefore hugely important to prioritise, along with standardising the extract itself.
“If we achieve these two things, it will lead to the next product; it will improve the range of application of the extracts. If we know how they work in the body, we can use them in different ways and target other health areas.”
Da Cruz said Olmix's long-term research was focused on the role these seaweed extracts could play in fighting infection and also how they could be used in central nervous system (CNS) diseases. Olmix currently had a number of clinical studies underway with results set for release in just under two years.
“Our CEO used to say we are at the prehistoric era of knowledge on seaweed. So, it's about developing new products, new applications, to know better how algae works – it's a huge work.
“...I think we're at the very beginning of this research because there's a lot to discover and with the analytical methods that are always improving, even if we think we're close to the end there will be new analytical methods to improve what we already know. It's a never-ending story,” he said.
Competing with spirulina
Asked if seaweed can compete with spirulina – a powerhouse microalgae that has been in the nutrition spotlight for some time – Da Cruz said it absolutely could because of its wider story.
“Spirulina is interesting for proteins, for example, but seaweed and macroalgae brings other things. I guess it's complimentary.”
Seaweed's potential in immunity, for example, was a much “wider topic” than protein, he said, and therefore held broader appeal and potential.
“Immunity is important at any age – from a baby, through to kids, adults and ageing people; it's very important at each phase of life development.”
Da Cruz said said Olmix would continue to work with the public to educate them on the benefits behind seaweed and how the macroalgae could be used as a multi-functional ingredient.
“All algae have their own properties and for us that are in this industry, it's important for the final consumer to understand this better,” he said.