The rise of fucoidan in integrative oncology

With cancer patients among the most frequent users of complementary therapies, there remains high demand for natural, scientifically proven actives founded on credible research

Fucoidan — a bioactive polysaccharide extracted from the cell walls of brown seaweeds — is a nutraceutical ingredient showing significant potential in integrative oncology applications.

Fucoidan-containing seaweeds have been well known and used for their anticancer properties for centuries. This includes being traditionally used in supplements and drinks administered to cancer patients in Korea, Japan, China and other countries.

Fucoidan remains a standard complementary therapy and is widely available in over-the-counter products. Healthcare professionals in many parts of Asia routinely prescribe fucoidan to patients undergoing cancer treatment. It is only in recent years that fucoidan has gained a special interest in the western world as its extraordinary potential in human health continues to be realised.

In nature, fucoidan plays a vital role in protecting seaweed from water-borne pathogens and environmental damage. Research shows that fucoidan also extends its protective effects into a wide range of human health areas, including integrative oncology.

Current research continues to add to the growing body of evidence that fucoidan is a safe and effective ingredient in complementary cancer therapies.

Australian biotechnology company, Marinova, is leading the way in fucoidan science. The company specialises in the research and manufacture of highly bioactive fucoidan extracts derived from the Fucus vesiculosus and Undaria pinnatifida seaweed species.

Marketed under the Maritech brand, these unique ingredients are the only high purity, certified-organic fucoidans in the world and are highly sought after for use in nutritional, dietary and pharmaceutical applications.

New breakthrough cancer research

Newly published research conducted in human cancer mouse models demonstrates the significant anticancer activity of Maritech fucoidan.

The ingestion of Maritech fucoidan was found to decrease the growth of a human ovarian cancer tumour line by up to 33% and a human cervical cancer tumour line by up to 70%.

It also decreased breast cancer tumour growth in mice by up to an additional 26% when taken alongside tamoxifen, a commonly used cancer drug. This was the first study to investigate the interaction between fucoidan and chemotherapy.

These results add to in vitro findings in which Maritech fucoidan showed improved effectiveness with a number of chemotherapies. This included strong synergistic activity with paclitaxel and tamoxifen, and additive activity with topotecan.

The next step in this research programme is currently under way in a human clinical study, investigating the interaction of Maritech fucoidan with chemotherapy to assess safety and quality of life parameters in cancer patients.

Direct anticancer activity

Fucoidan is understood to impart anticancer activities through various pathways. Maritech fucoidan has been shown in preclinical research to cause cell cycle arrest in the first growth phase (G1) of a HCT116 human colon cancer cell line.

Research also demonstrates its ability to disrupt the growth and metastasis of cancer cells by inducing DNA damage. Importantly, study results showed that Maritech fucoidan did not cause damage to normal healthy cells.

Reducing precursors to cancer

The occurrence of cancer is often linked to chronic inflammation. In vitro studies have shown that Maritech fucoidan can significantly inhibit key inflammatory enzymes expressed in the gastrointestinal tract, including COX-1, COX-2 and LOX-15.

Additional mouse models found that orally ingested Maritech fucoidan can significantly reduce the clinical symptoms, pathology and cytokine elevations of acute colitis. These results show the potential for Maritech fucoidan to reduce gut inflammation and colitis, and act as a preventive for a number of gastrointestinal cancers closely associated with chronic inflammation.

In addition, Maritech fucoidan may play a preventive role in Helicobacter pylori-induced diseases and gastric cancer. In a cellular model designed to mimic the natural infection of this this ulcer-causing bacterium, Maritech fucoidan effectively dislodged Helicobacter pylori from human gastric epithelial cells and reduced adhesion by up to 55%.

Boosting an immune response

Cancer and its treatments are known to compromise the immune system and reduce the body’s ability to fight infection. An increase in immunomodulatory activity may therefore be useful for cancer patients who have lowered immune functions.

In a recent study, Maritech fucoidan was found to significantly enhance the immune function of cancer-affected mice. The key immune marker Immunoglobulin G (IgG) was significantly modulated, showing a 500% increase relative to controls after 1 week. IgG is the major type human antibody and is often suppressed in cancer patients.

The modulatory effects observed in this study demonstrate the potential to improve immune function of cancer patients. These results are further supported by a human clinical study in which Maritech fucoidan demonstrated its immune-priming ability by increasing cytotoxic T cell and Natural Killer cell levels after 3 days.

During the 28-day study period, there was a continual increase in the activity of monocytes and granulocytes, as well as a reduction in the levels of inflammatory cytokine IL-6.

Reducing chemotherapy side-effects

Most chemotherapeutic agents used in cancer treatment work by targeting rapidly dividing and proliferating cells.

Healthy tissues and cells can also be affected by the toxicity of the treatment, leading to problematic side-effects. Fucoidan has been well studied for its ability to protect against chemotherapy toxicity. It shows significant potential in alleviating a number of common side-effects caused by cancer treatment.

Proven safety with chemotherapy

It is important for patients and their physicians to be confident that supplements taken during cancer treatment are safe and do not cause clinically significant adverse effects or interactions.

The safety of using Maritech fucoidan in combination with common cancer therapies has been thoroughly demonstrated through human clinical studies and in vitro tests.

In a recent human clinical study, the pharmacokinetics of Maritech fucoidan were investigated on two hormone therapies, tamoxifen and letrozole, commonly used in the treatment of breast cancer.

The ingestion of Maritech fucoidan by patients caused no adverse effects and no significant changes in steady state plasma concentrations of the hormone therapies. Additional toxicity monitoring showed that all parameters measured during the study period remained unaffected, demonstrating the safety of taking Maritech fucoidan alongside letrozole and tamoxifen.

A separate in vitro study evaluated drug interactions between fucoidan and chemotherapy drugs paclitaxel, tamoxifen and topetecan in a range of cancer cell lines. Five hepatic metabolism phase II pathways required for the effective uptake and action of chemotherapy were evaluated — GST, QOR, COMT, UDP and UGT.

Results showed that Maritech fucoidan did not interfere with these enzyme pathways at physiologically relevant concentrations, demonstrating the safety of Maritech fucoidan as an adjunct to cancer therapy.

Pure source and extraction

The chemical structure and bioactivity of fucoidan largely depends upon the species of seaweed from which it is derived and its method of extraction. Maritech fucoidan is extracted from wild grown Fucus vesiculosus and Undaria pinnatifida seaweed sourced from the pristine coastal waters of Tasmania, Patagonia, Nova Scotia and Brittany.

The seaweed is harvested in line with its seasonal growth cycle to minimise disruption to the environment and ensure sustainable growth.

Traditionally, fucoidan has been processed using harsh chemicals, which can cause degradation of the chemical integrity of fucoidan and introduce contaminants into the final extract.

Set apart from other fucoidan ingredients, Maritech fucoidans are extracted using a gentle, aqueous process developed and used exclusively by Marinova. This proprietary extraction technology uses green chemistry principles to retain the natural bioactivity of fucoidan without chemical solvents.

It is this solvent-free technology, and quality of the wild seaweeds, that make Maritech fucoidan the only high purity, certified-organic fucoidan in the world.

These ingredients are manufactured in a zero-waste manufacturing process under cGMP, HACCP and ISO9001 quality systems, and have certified-organic, non-GMO, Halal and Kosher accreditations.

In addition to bioactivity in integrative oncology, Maritech fucoidan has demonstrated efficacy in gut and digestive health, immune modulation, anti-inflammation, virus and bacteria inhibition and antiageing applications.

Global regulatory acceptance

Maritech fucoidan ingredients are manufactured in Australia and have global regulatory and safety acceptance, including FDA notified GRAS (USA), TGA listable ingredients (Australia), NHP listed (Canada), KFDA registered (Korea) and novel foods status (Europe).

A fully referenced and expanded version of this article is available here.