Seaweed extract shows gut health and immunity benefits in athletes

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

Getty | greenleaf123
Getty | greenleaf123

Related tags Seaweed Gut health microbiome athletes Sports nutrition

In a world first, Australian researchers have uncovered the potential for a seaweed extract to improve the gut health and immune system of high performance athletes.

The extract, known as fucoidan, is a highly bioactive compound found naturally in brown seaweeds shown to have beneficial effects on both gut microbiome and the immune system. 

These areas are of particular interest to elite athletes whose intense and prolonged exercise regimes often exacerbate inflammation in the gut and destabilise the microbiome.

The current study, led by Dr Amanda Cox of the Mucosal Immunology Research Group at Griffith University in Queensland, involved professional athletes from the Brisbane Lions Australian Rules Football Club taking the natural extract (sourced from Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus species of seaweeds) during the 2019 football season. 

The study measured key markers of immunity and inflammation, including fecal lysozyme - an antimicrobial enzyme considered an indicative marker of mucosal immune function. Lysozyme concentrations are often depressed in athletes, as was indicated in the baseline fecal lysozyme concentrations recorded in the study.

Lysozyme concentrations of the elite athletes were approximately 73% lower than the healthy adults. Following fucoidan supplementation, lysozyme concentrations in the elite athletes increased by 45%. Lysozyme is recognised as possessing both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory actions​, and evidence from animal models suggests a role for lysozyme in promoting mucosal barrier integrity​. Considering these functions, the increase in fecal lysozyme may reflect improvements in mucosal health.

Dr Cox explained: “The significant increase in the lysozyme concentration certainly suggests that fucoidan could be beneficial in supporting a healthy gut and enhancing immune function in high performance athletes.

“These results demonstrate fucoidan has the potential to restore beneficial anti-microbial activity. A future role for fucoidan in sports performance is increasingly promising.”

The data forms part of a significant collaboration between Griffith University, Marinova and the Brisbane Lions Australian Rules Football Club. Further results from studies examining the effect of fucoidan in elite athletes are expected to be released shortly.

Fucoidan research

The bioactive properties of fucoidan preparations have been assessed in a range of in vitro and animal models​ and include demonstrated antimicrobial​, antiviral​ and anticancer​ effects.

While evidence from animal models suggests fucoidans may also possess immune-modulating effects​, the ability of fucoidans to act as potential modulators of mucosal health generally, and mucosal immune function appears underappreciated and requires further investigation given; the fucose-based structure of fucoidans, the role of fucose as a terminal sugar in human mucin glycoproteins, and evidence from ex vivo tissue preparations suggesting fucose may regulate gut motility​.

Source: Marine Drugs

Cox. A. J., et al

“Fucoidan Supplementation Restores Fecal Lysozyme Concentrations in HighPerformance Athletes: A Pilot Study”


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