Japan has the highest life expectancy rate in the world. Okinawa is the region with the highest longevity in Japan. Their unique diet is one of the reasons for the longevity: the regular intake of seaweed, which is lacking in other cultures.Japanese consume about four to six grams of seaweed daily. Meanwhile, the incidence of most chronic diseases and age-related diseases is lower than western populations.
There are many types of seaweed. Wakame, mekabu, and kombu are commonly consumed by the Japanese population.
The main ingredient in seaweed is fucoidan. Fucoidans are a class of sulfated, fucose-rich polymers and a source of required components of cell-surface molecules that facilitate cell-to-cell signaling, the essential regulatory process responsible for everything from immunity and cardiovascular function to healthy cellular proliferation.
Researchers believe western populations have shorter life expectancy because of the absence of fucoidans in their diet.
The elderly around the world are known to have insufficient immune response to vaccinations. Mekabu fucoidan is a traditional food in Japan which has been shown to have immune-modulatory effects. A study was done to determine the effect of fucoidan intake on the antibody production in elderly Japanese men and women after an influenza vaccination. The result showed that, mekabu fucoidan intake was positively associated with the production of antibodies in immune-compromised elderly. Thus the possible immune-potentiation of mekabu fucoidan can decrease the burden of infectious diseases in the elderly.
Fucoidan consumption can help to attenuate diseases caused by inflammation. Inflammation can be classified as either acute or chronic. Fucoidan possesses anti-inflammatory effects through the inhibition of selectins, inhibition of complement and enzyme inhibitory activity. A study indicated that fucoidans exhibit anti-inflammatory properties through inhibition of NF-κB, MAPK and Akt activation in lipopolysaccharide-induced BV2 microglia cells. Therefore fucoidans may provide substantial therapeutic potential in treating neurodegenerative diseases that are accompanied by microglial activation.
According to Biomedical Research Laboratories of Takara Shuzo and the Research Institute for Glycotechnology Advancement, fucoidan’s anti-cncer properties cause apoptosis or self-destruction in certain types of rapidly growing cancer cells without affecting normal cells. Fucoidan is an anti-tumor agent that prevents proliferation and stimulates apoptosis in human lymphoma HS-Sultan cell lines.
Fucoidan, the main ingredient in seaweed, has a wide variety of biological activities, which includes immune-modulatory activity, anti-inflammatory activity, and anti-cancer activity. Therefore, consumption of seaweed is one of the main factors or secrets in the long life expectancy of the Japanese.
Sook Yuin Lee is in her senior year BS Nutrition and is a member of the Kappa Omicron Nu Honor Society, chapter Nu Omega. References available upon request.
Where to purchase Fucoidan