Tasmanian research has found a seaweed extract could be the key to combating inflammatory bowel disorders.
Bowel disorders such as ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and lead to a significantly decreased quality of life.
The breakthrough findings showed seaweed extract, taken orally, significantly reduced the symptoms of the disorders in animal testing.
The extract is called fucoidan, a polysaccharide extracted from the Fucus vesiculosus species of seaweed.
In the study conducted on mice suffering colitis – a disease in which the inner lining of the colon is inflamed – the undesirable side-effect of weight loss was reduced by more than 50 per cent.
University of Tasmania Associate Professor Nuri Guven said current treatments for ulcerative colitis may be associated with adverse effects.
He said he was surprised to see how effective fucoidans were.
“We fed these extracts to animals that have an inflamed colon and we were actually quite surprised to see to what extent these extracts were able to normalise the pathology in these animals,” he said.
“We observed that not only were the symptoms in these diseases significantly reduced, we also observed that a large number of bio-markers were normalised.”
Associate Professor Guven wanted to see the science tested on humans.
“These biomarkers then allow us to hopefully translate our findings from pre-clinical models to human patients,” he said.
“Overall, it’s a very exciting start.”
This is the first study to demonstrate that a commercially available fucoidan can be highly effective in ameliorating experimental colitis.
Associate Professor Guven said further research is needed.
“We’ll need to understand how this cloud of compounds works to suppress the inflammation of the gut,” he said.
“It’s not really clear at the moment.”
The full findings will be published in science journal Plos One to be released today.