Marine nutraceuticals: an ocean of potential

The emergence of aqua-derived, clinically beneficial nutrients is opening up new avenues of commercial viability and growth. Mark J Tallon, PhD, investigates the latest ingredients from beneath the waves

The perception of marine nutraceuticals to the health care professional and consumer has been largely limited to popular fish oils. Despite the scientific evidence for omega-3s and other fish oil extracts, globally there is a wealth of possibilities for many other evidence-based marine nutrients delivered as dietary supplements and functionally fortified foods.

Recent scientific studies behind marine nutrients in five major areas are making waves in this fascinating, emerging category.

Green lipped mussels
New Zealand green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) and their associated stabilised lipid extracts are considered beneficial in treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.1,2 Their bioactives include a selection of sterols, stanols and fatty acids.

Study 1: A study published in June 2003 assessed the clinical safety of a patented green-lipped mussel extract on patients with knee and hip osteoarthritis.3 A multi-centre trial (n=60) supplemented 520mg of a green-lipped mussel extract twice daily for eight weeks. Supplementation led to significant improvement in joint function and pain relief with no adverse effect reported following both four- and eight-week assessments.

Study 2: Researchers from the Child Health Research Unit Australia compared the effects of 13 days of fish oil, olive oil and green-lipped mussel extract on experimentally induced inflammatory bowel disease (colitis) in mice.4 Measured disease activity index scores and histopathological assessments (crypt loss) showed lack of effect for fish oil in comparison to green-lipped mussel extract. This suggests the beneficial effects of mussel extracts on inflammatory bowel disease are due to bioactives other than their omega-3 contents.

Krill oils
Krill oil is a natural product extracted from Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), a zooplankton crustacean rich in phospholipids, omega-3s and a wide spectrum of antioxidants including novel flavonoids (similar to 6,8-di-cglucosylluteolin).5 The nutrients within krill extracts have been shown to promote the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, increased antioxidant capacity and amelioration of hormonal imbalances.6,7

Study 1: A study conducted at the University of Quebec assessed the influence of 2g krill oil or a 30 per cent omega-3 fish oil extract for three months.8 The aim of the study was to investigate the effect of these interventions on self-reported symptom scores in premenstrual and dysmenorrhetic women. Compared to baseline measurements at days 45 and 90, symptom scores were significantly improved in the krill oil group vs fish oil extract. Care should be taken in interpreting the outcomes of this study as the diagnostic criteria used by these researchers for the assessment of PMS often leads to misdiagnosis.9

Study 2: Work by the same Canadian research group in December 2004 using a more rigorously controlled dose-dependent study evaluated the influence of krill and fish oil on hyperlipidemic patients.5 A cohort of 120 subjects were split into three groups: group A (krill oil: BMI dependent dose 1-3g/day); group B (krill oil: BMI dependent dose 1-1.5g/day); group C (fish oil: 3g/day of 30 per cent EPA/DHA); and group D (placebo).

Following 30 and 90 days of supplementation, krill oil at doses equal to and less than EPA/DHA was significantly more effective at reducing glucose, triglycerides and LDL levels. The authors suggest alterations of lipid profiles in a positive direction have previously been correlated with improvements in coronary artery disease endpoints.5 Further studies are required to assess if krill oil supplementation can directly affect functional outcomes over the long term in hyperlipidemic subjects.

Microalgae and macroalgae
Macroalgae have been used for some time as excellent sources of thickening, emulsifying and gel-forming agents (agars, alginates, carageenins). However, the shift toward microalgae is really opening up new doors in the natural products industry. Microalgae are sourced for their nutrient-dense components including: carotenoids (beta-carotene), sterols (4-alpha-methyl sterols, 5-alpha-stanols), lipids, polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3) and polyphenols.10,11

Of the 40,000 species of algae that exist, only five or six have been exploited by the food and nutrition industry for human consumption. Of these few algae, chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris) and spirulina (Spirulina pacifica) are the main algae used in human nutrition.12 These unicellular, microscopic sea algae have been shown to improve immune function13 and also the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, hypertension and fibromyalgia.14

Study 1: Dr Halperin and colleagues at the Dalhousie University?s Clinical Trials Research Center, investigated the effects of chlorella-derived supplements on immune response after influenza vaccination.15 In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomised design, 124 healthy adults of at least 50 years of age were given either 200 or 400mg of a chlorella-derived supplement. The aim of the study was to assess the immuno-enhancing effect of chlorella extract as measured by antibody elevation following influenza vaccination.

In the 94 per cent of the participants who completed the study, no significant difference was found compared to the placebo trial. However, in a preplanned age analysis, those subjects below 55 years of age had a greater antibody response at days seven and 21 following vaccination. The lack of effect in the elderly patients could include prior exposure to similar viruses as influenza or decreased absorption capacity of the chlorella extract. Clearly, more research is needed to elucidate which groups can benefit from chlorella extracts.

Study 2: Hyperlipidemic Nephritic Syndrome is a condition defined by large urinary losses of plasma proteins leading to hepatic synthesis of albumin, lipoproteins and, as a result, hyperlipidemic profile.16 A publication in the Journal of Medicinal Foods assessed traditional medication of this syndrome and traditional medication plus 1g spirulina over two months.16 The spirulina group significantly decreased total cholesterol and improved the HDL:LDL levels beyond those treated by traditional interventions. Therefore, spirulina supplementation based only on this small sample size seems a promising ingredient for the treatment of the syndrome.

Although these studies seem convincing, other studies have shown little if any effect of spirulina extracts.17 This may be in part because of flaws in study design, sample size, quality/source of algae extracts or animal-based studies. These shortfalls should be addressed in future research.

Shark liver oils
Shark liver oils have been integrated into preventive and therapeutic medicine for 40 years.18 Their bioactive ingredients are a group of ethyl-linked glycerols better known as alkylglycerols shown to influence the systemic immune response to pathogens.19 This immuno-modulatory action has applications to a variety of clinical and subclinical disease states.20

Study 1: Previous research has shown in both human and animal trials that lipid intake significantly affects fertility.21,22 A novel animal study published in 2004 investigated the impact of 28 days of 40g oral shark liver oil (rich in natural lipids, ie 1-O-alkylglycerols) on sperm motility and fertility.23 Supplementation resulted in positive changes in the lipid composition of sperm (increased n-3, n6) but more importantly improved sperm velocity and motility — factors related to increased pregnancy rates.24

Although an exciting prehuman trial, further work is needed to assess shark oil?s influence in humans and whether supplementation leads to significant changes in conception rates.

Study 2: Recurrent aphthous stomatis (RAS), more commonly known as recurrent mouth ulcers, is the most widespread disease affecting the mouth.24 The etiology of RAS is unknown but may include an exaggerated inflammatory response, or occurs as a result of an autoimmune disorder. To assess the possible immunomodulatory influence of shark liver oil on RAS, researchers gave 1,000mg/day (200mg alkoxylglycerols) for three months to patients suffering from severe forms of the disease.25 Supplementation reduced the occurrence of ulceration, decreased hemolytic activity and reduced B/T-cell profiles to near normal. This data gives some positive insight into a possible treatment method for this common ailment.

Chitin and chitosan derivatives
Chitin and chitosan (a deacetylated chitin) are polysaccharides (polymers of Nacetyl-D-glucosamine and D-glucosamine) with similar structures to cellulose found in exoskeletons of crabs, shrimp and insects.26 The suggested benefits of these polysaccharides and derivatives include anti-coagulant activity, accelerated wound healing, skin regeneration and drug-delivery vehicles.27,28,29Study 1: Probably the most noted application of chitosan is within fat-loss products. In January of this year the claimed ?fat trapping and binding? activity of chitosan on weight loss without calorie restriction was studied.30 Over 12 days, 2.5g of chitosan was consumed per day split over five doses, with each controlled meal. Faeces were analyzed for fat content.

In the 12 subjects (six male, six female), faecal fat excretion increased significantly for men but not for women. It should be noted that although fat excretion increased in men, it would take seven months to lose one pound of body fat using this regime.

Study 2: A research group from Argentina evaluated a bread containing chitosan in dyslipidemic type 2 diabetics.31 Over 12 weeks, subjects incorporated 120g of standard bread containing no chitosan (control) or a two per cent (wt/wt) fortified bread (intervention).

Compared to the control group, LDL cholesterol significantly decreased and HDL-cholesterol increased, showing chitosan consumed as a fortified food can effectively improve lipid profiles in dyslipidemic and diabetic patients.31 Whether the change in triglycerides using chitosan can significantly influence mortality and disease incidence is unknown but worthy of further study.

New ocean ingredients will beget consumer awareness that will follow the route of the once-unheard-of omega fatty acids
A barely explored frontier
Traditionally, a strong emphasis on the chemical makeup of these natural products has led to a great many advances in understanding the vital roles these compounds play in ameliorating disease symptoms as well as enhancing general good health and well-being.

It is hoped that future well-structured studies will focus on human rather than animal evidence-based trials. This will lead to a greater wealth of data to support intellectual property rights in the current climate of commercially oriented research environments. The oceans of our world have only just begun to reveal their wealth, but with time consumer awareness will follow the route of the once-unheard-of omega fatty acids.

Mark J Tallon, PhD, is CEO of Oxygenics, an analytical nutritional research service based in the UK.
Respond: [email protected]
All correspondence will be forwarded to the author.

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