by Dr. Mark Edwards
oth macro and microalgae contain many therapeutic compounds that provide medical benefit for hypertension, cancer and blood clotting. The medical literature is filled with laboratory tests for new algae species collected in common places or distant oceans that when tested for therapeutic value demonstrate significant benefit. Most algae species contain multiple compounds that offer medical solutions.
Hypertension or high blood pressure affects 1 in 3 Americans. Hypertension increases the force of the blood against artery walls and eventually causes health problems, such as heart disease, strokes, kidney damage, organ damage or heart failure. The CDC reported that in 2010, high blood pressure was projected to cost the United States $93.5 billion in health care services, medications and missed days of work.
High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it usually shows no warning signs. Many people do not know that they have high blood pressure because the diseases typically displays no symptoms, other than high blood pressure readings.
Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure. High blood pressure occurs when readings average 140/90 or higher for either number. People with diabetes are treated if their blood pressure rises above 130/80, because they already have a high risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 supplements have been shown to lower total blood fat, which lowers blood pressure. DHA and EPA supplements can also cut elevated triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are blood fats that are a risk factor for heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids appear to lower the overall risk of death from heart disease. Omega-3 may reduce arrhythmias. Omega-3 slow the development of plaques in the arteries, probably because omega-3 moderate inflammation and maintain tissue pliability. Patients who take omega-3 supplements after a heart attack cut their risk of having another heart attack significantly. Eating fish once or twice a week or taking omega-3 supplements lowers the risk of stroke.
Ben-Gurion University researchers in Israel isolated a microalgal strain, which can accumulate up to 15% dry weight of a polyunsaturated fatty acid, PUFA called DGLA (Dihomo-γ-Linolenic Acid). Omega-3 and omega-6 PUFA have been shown to reduce blood pressure, chronic inflammation and blood cholesterol level, reducing the risk for heart attacks. Algae Biosciences has developed an algae mutant strain that produces over 30% dry weight of EPA oil. Some algae strains produce predominately DHA, EPA or DGLA, while others produce a mix of two or all the PUFAs.
Cancer is a set of diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. There are more than 100 different types of cancer and most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they start. Cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer while cancer that begins in melanocytes of the skin is called melanoma.
The CDC reported a total of 1,660,000 new cancer cases and 580,000 deaths from cancer in the U.S. in 2011. Direct medical costs for cancer were about $125 billion in 2011. Death rates are slightly higher for men. Death rates in the U.S. continue to decrease but cancer death rates for the least educated segment of the population are 2 ½ times higher than for the most educated.
Medical tests on algae compounds have addressed at least 70 types of cancer. The most common therapeutic strategy is to find algae compounds such as astaxanthin and metabolites including zonaquinone acetate and flabellinone that create growth inhibitory effects on cancer cells. The natural algae compound fucoxanthin has strong antioxidant and cytotoxicity against breast, lung and prostate cancer. Algae sulfated polysaccharides have been shown to inhibit cell proliferation and to induce apoptosis by inhibiting IGF-IR signaling in several cancers. Other algae metabolites operate as antioxidants and protect against DNA damage.
Algae also produce steroids that have been shown to inhibit both cancer cells and cancerous tumors. Scientists are regularly discovering new bioactive steroids in algae species such as Sargassum that exhibit cytotoxic activity against various cancer cell lines.
A promising new line of research focuses on cancer vaccination, to make cells immune from the onset of cancer. One of the most successful approaches has been working with genetically modified tumor cells that are introduced into a patient’s body. Algae toxins enable researchers to harvest natural toxins that strengthen the immune response in rodents.
Algae can be viewed as a potential antioxidant and anti-inflammatory sources, owing to their capability of producing compounds for cell protection from environmental factors such as heat, pollution, stress, oxygen concentration and UV radiation.
Anticoagulants are substances that prevent blood coagulation, (clotting). These substances occur naturally in leeches, blood-sucking insects and some algae species. Algae offer a broad array of novel sulfated polysaccharides with diverse chemical characteristics that produce a variety of natural anticoagulants useful for different medical conditions.
Anticoagulants are used to prevent the blood from forming dangerous clots that could result in a stroke or heart attack. These blood thinners are often the first medication prescribed by doctors following a stroke. By reducing the ability of the blood to clot — and thereby reducing the likelihood of coronary or vascular emboli—anticoagulants are frequently used in patients who are already at high-risk for stroke.
Marine algae are valuable sources of novel bioactive compounds with anticoagulant effect. Phlorotannins and sulfated polysaccharides such as fucoidans in brown algae, carrageenans in red algae, and ulvans in green algae have been recognized as potential anticoagulant agents.
Both freshwater and marine algae offer a large number of natural anticoagulant polysaccharides that have been isolated and characterized. Algae polysaccharides typically exert anticoagulant activity through antithrombin III and/or heparin cofactor II. These are important endogenous inhibitors, called SERPIN. The anticoagulant mechanism occurs when heparin, heparin sulfate and dermatan sulfate exert their activity. Some algae anticoagulant polysaccharides exert anticoagulant activity by directly inhibiting fibrin polymerization and/or thrombin activity.
New functions of algae anticoagulant polysaccharides have been discovered recently. Heparin and its derivatives derived from algae have important roles in many biological processes. Algae anticoagulant polysaccharides activate the fibrinolysis system and modulate endothelial cell functions. Biologically active compounds in algae have displayed anti-platelet and anticoagulant proteins and fibrinolytic enzymes. Algae polysaccharides and proteins have attracted the attention of biomedical scientists because they supply potent natural medical agents.
Today, most algae therapeutic compounds are harvested from natural algae stands in oceans or estuaries. Soon, algapreneurs will cultivate marine and freshwater algae with the strategy to harvest not one but a set of therapeutic compounds that address a broad spectrum of treatments. Each new algae therapeutic compound discovered in the laboratory offers a business opportunity for microfarmers.