As a general rule, algae are capable of photosynthesis and produce their own nourishment by using light energy from the sun and carbon dioxide in order to generate carbohydrates and oxygen. In other words, most algae are autotrophs or more specifically, photoautotrophs (reflecting their use of light energy to generate nutrients).
Certain algae are familiar to most people; for instance, seaweeds (such as kelp or phytoplankton), pond scum or the algal blooms in lakes. However, there exists a vast and varied world of algae that are not only helpful to us, but are critical to our existence.
1. Weight Loss
Algae benefits begins with weight loss, as it’s been shown to aid weight loss efforts, particularly the brown type that contains fucoxanthin. What is fucoxanthin? It’s a naturally occurring carotenoid (pigment) found in brown algae that’s been shown to promote fat burning by increasing the expression of thermogenin.
This study looked at the effects of a supplement containing brown marine algae fucoxathin and pomegranate seed oil. The subjects were 151 non-diabetic, obese premenopausal women who took 600 milligrams of an extract that contained 2.4 milligrams fucoxanthin, which resulted in a significant weight loss compared with placebo by the end of the study.
But not only did the women taking the brown algae supplement lose an average of about 14.5 pounds in only 16 weeks. The women taking fucoxanthin also experienced increases in resting energy expenditure, which also encourages fat burning and weight loss. Meanwhile, they had positive reductions in many health markers, including liver fat, blood pressure, triglycerides and C-reactive protein.
2. Potential Cancer Fighter
Studies have shown that many types of algae may slow cancer cell growth in both animal and laboratory research, making them potential natural cancer treatments. Hopefully, there will be more human studies to confirm this potential cancer-killing ability.
Experimental animal studies have shown the inhibitory effect of algae on oral cancer, while a human study has shown its ability to fight precancerous mouth sores known as oral leukoplakia. These research findings published in Nutrition and Cancer show that taking one gram of spirulina (Spirulina fusiformis) daily by mouth for 12 months reduced oral leukoplakia in people who chewed tobacco. This was the first human study showing the potential of Spirulina fusiformis to prevent cancer formation.
3. Heart Health
A scientific review published in 2013 confirms that blue-green algae can protect against cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which are two of the most significant threats to health in developed countries. Overall, studies in cells, animals and humans have shown that dietary intake of blue-green algae can be “an effective natural product for improving blood lipid profiles and for preventing inflammation and oxidative stress,” which are all well-known contributing factors to the development of heart disease. Specifically, the carotenoids, gamma linolenic acid (GLA), phycocyanin, fibers and plant sterols can be helpful in preventing heart disease as well as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
This has also been shown in animal studies to decrease the development of atherosclerotic lesions or plaques, another way it may likely be cardio-protective.
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