Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida)
Wakame, sea mustard, winged kelp.
Wakame is indigenous to the cold temperate waters of the northwest Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan near Japan, Korea, China, and southeast Russia. Wakame grows best in protected waters with little turbulence and in temperatures below 53degrees Fahrenheit. It is found in the subtidal zone along coastlines, in waters up to 30 to 60 feet deep. It attaches to natural rocky substrates or manmade structures such as pilings, buoys, and port facilities.
Sulfated polysaccharides, minerals, vitamins, polyunsaturated fatty acids. Wakame is 72% carbohydrate, 16% protein, and 12% fat.1
Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is a species of brown seaweed that grows up to 10 feet in length. Its branching thallus (a plant stalk-like structure that does not have clearly differentiated leaves) attaches itself to the ocean bed’s rocky substrate or man-made stable and floating structures. Flat, leaflike narrow oval blades with a midrib protrude from the thallus.
Although native to the northwest Pacific, wakame has made its way around the world in recent decades. Since the 1980s, global shipping has facilitated the spread of this brown seaweed in the coastal waters of many nations, including Spain, France, the British Isles, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand. It is so prolific that it is considered to be one of the world’s top 100 most invasive species.2
Despite its current unpopularity in some quarters as an invasive species, wakame is highly valued in Japan and Korea. It has been an important part of Japanese and Korean aquaculture, cuisine, and healing traditions since about 700 A.D. Wakame is the most popular seaweed used in Japanese cuisine today.3 Medicinally it has been valued for fertility and menstrual concerns, blood purification, and gastrointestinal support.4 Korean women often eat wakame soup before and after childbirth; rich in the minerals calcium and iodine, it helps support nursing of infants.5 Wakame absorbs very few heavy metal toxins,6 and is thus safe for consumption.
This sea vegetable has an outstanding nutrient profile. Wakame contains all the essential amino acids. It is an excellent source of essential minerals iodine, calcium, magnesium, sodium, and phosphorus. It also contains vitamins B1, B2, B6, and niacin7 and is a good source of vitamins A, C, E, and K.8 Wakame also contains healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, including arachidonic and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acids in an ideal 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.9 A single 2-tablespoon serving of this seaweed contains about 30 mg of omega-3 fats.10 Wakame came into widespread use in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s with the macrobiotic food movement and the growing popularity of sushi bars. It can be obtained dried or in fronds, and is most often used in soups and salads, or as a condiment to fish dishes.
In recent years two constituents of wakame, fucoidan and fucoxanthin, have attracted the interest of medical researchers for their broad health benefits. Fucoidan is a sulfated polysaccharide that is found in a number of brown seaweeds, including wakame. Fucoxanthin is a yellow pigment of the carotenoid family that contributes to wakame’s brown appearance. Fucoidan has been shown to optimize cholesterol levels. In one study, wakame lowered triglyceride levels in rats.11 In another rat study, researchers administered fish oil along with the wakame and found that the two substances worked synergistically to lower triglyceride levels even more.12
Wakame is also a potent antiviral. Two studies examined the effects of wakame on herpes family viruses. In one trial, herpes sufferers with latent infections experienced no symptoms while taking a wakame supplement. In the same trial, participants who had an active herpes outbreak at the beginning of the trial experienced faster healing than normal, thanks to the wakame.13 Another experiment demonstrated that the fucoidan in wakame is effective against herpes simplex 1, herpes simplex 2, and human cytomegalovirus.14
Cancer researchers have also investigated wakame. In clinical trials involving patients with late-stage colorectal cancer, patients receiving fucoidan along with chemotherapy tolerated the chemotherapy better and had less fatigue as compared to a control group.15 An in vitro study showed that a combination of fucoxanthin and cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug, were more effective against liver cancer cells than the cisplatin alone.16 Another study on leukemia cancer cells revealed that fucoxanthin demonstrates anti-cancer effects such as less cancer cell proliferation and more cancer cell death.17 Subsequent research has shown that more highly sulfated fucoids, such as those that can be derived from wakame, have a greater anti-cancer effect.18
Fucoxanthin from wakame also helps inhibit Th17, an immune system cell type that in excessive amounts can contribute to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.19 Wakame also shows promise as a natural anticoagulant. Because it has fewer demonstrated side effects than the pharmaceutical drug heparin, researchers believe it may provide a safer alternative.20 The fucoxanthin in wakame even has anti-aging effects. Mice who were treated with fucoxanthin before UVB exposure had significantly fewer signs of skin aging compared to control mice.21
Perhaps of greatest interest is wakame’s potential in the field of anti-obesity research. In one in vivo study, researchers learned that low molecular weigh fucoidan lowered blood sugar and cholesterol levels and reduced body weight.22
In another study, researchers looked at fucoxanthin’s effects on fat cells and found that its metabolite, fucoxanthol, prevents fat accumulation.23 Another study revealed that mice given fucoxanthin had less abdominal fat than mice given medium-chain triglycerides. Further investigation revealed that mice given both substances had the greatest fat loss, probably because the triglycerides enhance absorption of the fucoxanthin.24
2 Global Invasive Species Database, http://www.issg.org/database/species/search.asp?st=100ss&fr=1&str=&lang=EN ,accessed June 20, 2013.
3 Cooper, R., et al. GFS, a preparation of Tasmanian Undaria pinnatifida is associated with healing and inhibition of reactivation of Herpes. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2002. 2 (11).
4 Turner, K. The Self-Healing Cookbook: A Macrobiotic Primer for Healing Body, Minds, and Moods with Whole Natural Foods. Earthtones Press, 1996.
5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakame , accessed June 20, 2013.
6 Kolb, N., et al. Evaluation of marine algae wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) and kombu (Laminaria digitata japonica) as food supplements. Food Technology and Biotechnology. 2004. 42 (1), 57-61.
7 Kolb, N., et al. Evaluation of marine algae wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) and kombu (Laminaria digitata japonica) as food supplements. Food Technology and Biotechnology. 2004. 42 (1), 57-61.
9 van Ginneken, V., et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in various macroalgal species from north Atlantic and tropical seas. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2011. 10 (104).
10 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wakame , accessed June 20, 2013.
11 Murata, M., et al. Hepatic fatty acid oxidation enzyme activities are stimulated in rats fed the brown seaweed, Undaria pinnatifida (wakame). The Journal of Nutrition. 1999. 129, 146-151.
12 Murata, M., et al. Dietary fish oil and Undaria pinnatifida (wakame) synergistically decrease rat serum and liver triacylglycerol. The Journal of Nutrition. 2002. 132, 742-747.
13 Cooper, R., et al. GFS, a preparation of Tasmanian Undaria pinnatifida is associated with healing and inhibition of reactivation of Herpes. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2002. 2 (11).
14 Lee, J.B., et al. Novel antiviral fucoidan from sporophyll of Undaria pinnatifida (Mekabu). Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2004. 52 (9), 1091-1094.
15 Ikeguchi, M., et al. Fucoidan reduces the toxicities of chemotherapy for patients with unresectable advanced or recurrent colorectal cancer. Oncology Letters. 2011. 2, 319-322.
16 Liu, C.L., et al. Fucoxanthin enhances cisplatin-induced cytotoxicity via NFκB-mediated pathway and downregulates DNA repair gene expression in human hepatoma HepG2 cells. Marine Drugs. 2013. 11, 50-66.
17 Hosokawa, M., et al. Apoptosis-inducing effect of fucoxanthin on human leukemia cell line HL-60. Food Science and Technology Research. 1999. 5 (3), 243-246.
18 Cho, M.L., et al. Relationship between oversulfation and conformation of low and high molecular weight fucoidans and evaluation of their in vitro anticancer activity. Molecules. 2011. 16, 291-297.
19 Kawashima, T. A marine carotenoid, fucoxanthin, induces regulatory T-cells and inhibits T17 cell differentiation in vitro. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 2011. 75 (10), 2066-2069.
20 Kim, W.J., et al. Purification and anticoagulant activity of a fucoidan from Korean Undaria pinnatifida sporophyll. Algae. 2007. 22 (3), 247-252.
21 Urikura, I., et al. Protective effect of fucoxanthin against UVB-induced skin photoaging in hairless mice. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 2011. 75 (4), 757-760.
22 Jeong, Y.T., et al. Low molecular weight fucoidan (LMWF) improves ER stress-reduced insulin sensitivity through AMPK activation in L6 myotubes and restores lipid homeostasis in a mouse model of type 2 diabetes. Molecular Pharmacology. 2013. Doi:10.1124/mol.113.085100.
23 Maeda, H., et al. Fucoxanthin and its metabolite, fucoxanthinol, suppress adipocyte differentiation in 3T3-L1 cells. International Journal of Molecular Medicine. 2006. 18. 147-152.
24 Maeda, H., et al. Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerols on anti-obesity effect of fucoxanthin. Journal of Oleo Science. 2007. 56 (12), 615-621.
1. A marine carotenoid, fucoxanthin, induces regulatory T-cells and inhibits Th17 cell differentiation in vitro
Kawashima, T. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 2011. 75 (10), 2066-2069.
In this study, researchers set out to determine if fucoxanthin from wakame (Undaria pinnatifida), along with other carotenoids (astaxanthin, lycopene, and lutein) could affect T-cell differentiation. T-cells from the spleens of mice were used in this series of in vitro experiments. Based on these experiments, researchers conclude that orally consumed fucoxanthin suppresses development of Th17 cells. Th17 cells are a type of immune system T-cell which, when produced in excessive amounts, contributes to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Fucoxanthin was the only carotenoid tested that demonstrated this Th17-inhibitory effect. Researchers conclude that further research is warranted to explore this phenomenon as a potential treatment for autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.
2. Hepatic fatty acid oxidation enzyme activities are stimulated in rats fed the brown seaweed, Undaria pinnatifida (wakame)
Murata, M., et al. The Journal of Nutrition. 1999. 129, 146-151.
In this in vivo study, researchers divided rats into six different groups. For three weeks, one group was fed a control diet, while others were fed varying amounts of powdered wakame. At the end of the trial, rats consuming at least 2% wakame in their diets had decreased triglyceride levels in their blood and livers. Rats who consumed 5 and 10% wakame had lower levels of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. (Too much of this enzyme causes dysregulation of fat metabolism.) Rats consuming 10% wakame showed increased enzymatic activity for the metabolism of fats in the liver. Researchers conclude that wakame helps lower triglycerides and may be of benefit for optimizing lipid levels.
3. GFS, a preparation of Tasmanian Undaria pinnatifida is associated with healing and inhibition of reactivation of herpes
Cooper, R., et al. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2002. 2 (11).
Because the seaweed Undaria pinnatifida is known to have anti-viral properties, researchers looked at the effects of GFS, a unique preparation of this seaweed, on herpes infections. 21 adults were recruited for in vivo trials, 15 of them with active herpes infections and 6 with latent infections. Infection types included HSV-1 (oral/facial herpes), HSV-2 (genital herpes), Epstein-Barr, and Zoster (shingles). Study participants were given GFS, and results were monitored. Those with latent infections experienced no active outbreaks of the virus while on the GFS regiment. Those with active infections healed more quickly. In a companion in vitro experiment, GFS suppressed all 4 types of herpes viruses and boosted proliferation of immune system T cells. Researchers conclude that GFS from Undaria pinnatifida may help to inhibit and heal these viral outbreaks.
4. Dietary fish oil and Undaria pinnatifida (wakame) synergistically decrease rat serum and liver triacylglycerol
Murata M., et al. The Journal of Nutrition. 2002. 132, 742-747.
In this rat study, researchers looked at the effects of a diet containing wakame and fish rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Rats were divided into four dietary groups; blood and liver fats were measured, as was liver enzyme activity. Triglycerides were reduced in rats eating a diet containing wakame, containing fish oil, or containing wakame and fish oil. The latter diet yielded the most favorable results. Rats eating a control diet had no reduction in triglycerides. Other tests showed that the special diets, as compared to the control diet, conferred greater benefits in liver lipid metabolism. Researchers conclude that consumption of fish oil and wakame together are effective means of decreasing blood and liver triglycerides.
5. Evaluation of marine algae wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) and kombu (Laminaria digitata japonica) as food supplements
Kolb, N., et al. Food Technology and Biotechnology. 2004. 42 (1), 57-61.
In this analysis, researchers looked at the nutrient profiles of two types of seaweed, including wakame. Tests showed that both seaweeds contain all the essential amino acids, with only tryptophan available in a limited ratio. Both seaweeds are also rich in iodine, an essential mineral, and vitamins B1, B2, B6, and niacin. Both seaweeds are also high in beta carotene. Both are excellent sources of the minerals calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Both contained insignificant amounts of potentially toxic heavy metals mercury, cadmium, and lead. Researchers conclude that both wakame and kombu are excellent sources of essential nutrients.
6. Fucoxanthin enhances cisplatin-induced cytotoxicity via NFκB-mediated pathway and downregulates DNA repair gene expression in human hepatoma HepG2 cells
Liu, C.L., et al. Marine Drugs. 2013. 11, 50-66.
Researchers looked at the ability of fucoxanthin, a compound found in wakame seaweed, to enhance the effects of cisplatin, an anti-cancer drug. While patients usually respond well initially to this chemotherapy drug, over time many develop a resistance to it. In this in vitro study, human liver cancer cells were treated first with fucoxanthin and then cisplatin. The combination treatment greatly decreased cancer cell proliferation compared to the cisplatin-only treatment.
7. Apoptosis-inducing effect of fucoxanthin on human leukemia cell line HL-60
Hosokawa, M., et al. Food Science and Technology Research. 1999. 5 (3), 243-246.
In this series of in vitro experiments, researchers investigated the anti-proliferative, apoptotic (inducing cell death) qualities of fucoxanthin, a compound found in the brown seaweed wakame (Undaria pinnatifida). Human leukemia cells were treated with either fucoxanthin, beta carotene, camptothecin (a naturally occurring compound in the bark and root of a Chinese tree species), and all-trans retinoic acid (a form of vitamin A). Fucoxanthin demonstrated significantly more anti-proliferative effects than the other substances tested. It also induced more apoptosis (cell death) compared to the other substances. Researchers report that its apoptotic efficacy is almost comparable to that of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin.
8. Novel antiviral fucoidan from sporophyll of Undaria pinnatifida (Mekabu)
Lee, J.B., et al. Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. 2004. 52 (9), 1091-1094.
In this study, researchers looked at the constituents and the anti-viral characteristics of fucoidan from the spore-bearing leaf-life structures (sporophylls) of wakame seaweed. They determined that the fucoidan was comprised of fucose and galactose, both naturally occurring sugars. This series of experiments also showed that fucoidan has strong anti-viral effects against herpes simplex 1 (facial and oral herpes), herpes simplex 2 (genital herpes), and human cytomegalovirus (an often asymptomatic herpes virus commonly found in the population).
9. Purification and anticoagulant activity of a fucoidan from Korean Undaria pinnatifida sporophyll
Kim, W.J., et al. Algae. 2007. 22 (3), 247-252.
Researchers produced an extract of a Korean species of Undaria pinnatifida (wakame) from the leafy part of the plant. They determined that the monosaccharides of the purified extract included fucose, galactose, xylose, and mannose. They assayed the extract using an activated partial thrombloplastin time assay (APTT) to evaluate its anti-coagulant function. Results demonstrated that this fucoidan does indeed exhibit such function, in a dose-dependent manner. Compared to a commercial fucoidan, the research fucoidan extract delayed clotting up to 1.5 times longer. The research fucoidan also delayed blood clotting time up to five times longer than the control. Researchers believe this variety of Korean wakame has potential as a natural anticoagulant, and may have fewer serious side effects than the pharmaceutical anti-clotting drug heparin.
10. Relationship between oversulfation and conformation of low and high molecular weight fucoidans and evaluation of their in vitro anticancer activity
Cho, M.L., et al. Molecules. 2011. 16, 291-297.
A body of existing research has shown that the molecular weight and sulfate content of fucoidans determines how effective they will be as anticoagulant, antiviral, and anti-cancer agents. Researchers believe that by manipulating their sulfate content, their effectiveness can be improved. In this experiment, fucoidans were altered by adding sulfate groups; their anti-cancer function was then assessed in vitro. The more highly sulfated fucoidans had varying effects in terms of anti-cancer function, which researchers believe reflects their differing sulfate content.
11. Fucoxanthin and its metabolite, fucoxanthinol, suppress adipocyte differentiation in 3T3-L1 cells
Maeda, H., et al. International Journal of Molecular Medicine. 2006. 18. 147-152.
Researchers examined the effects of fucoxanthin (a yellow pigment found in certain species of seaweed such as wakame) on the formation of fat cells. Fucoxanthin not only suppressed the accumulation of fat and inhibited formation of fat cells, it was also converted to fucoxanthol, its metabolite, within fat cells. Fucoxanthol inhibited fat accumulation more than fucoxanthin. Researchers conclude that fucoxanthin as a dietary ingredient may help prevent fat accumulation by inhibiting the formation of fat cells.
12. Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerols on anti-obesity effect of fucoxanthin
Maeda, H., et al. Journal of Oleo Science. 2007. 56 (12), 615-621.
In a study involving obese mice, researchers looked at the effects of medium-chain triacyclglycerols (triglycerides) and fucoxanthin (found in brown marine algae such as wakame) on abdominal fat. Mice were divided into three groups; one diet included medium-chain triglycerides, one included fucoxanthin, and a third included both. The fucoxanthin group had significantly less abdominal fat than the medium-chain triglyceride group. Researchers also found that adding medium-chain triglycerides to the fucoxanthin enhanced the latter’s effect even more because it enhanced the absorbability of the fucoxanthin.
13. Protective effect of fucoxanthin against UVB-induced skin photoaging in hairless mice
Urikura, I., et al. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 2011. 75 (4), 757-760.
Fucoxanthin is a carotenoid pigment found in seaweeds such as wakame. In this study, hairless mice were divided into three groups. One group received topical skin applications of fucoxanthin five times per week for ten weeks. A second group received no fucoxanthin. Both groups were exposed to UVB radiation. This process was followed five times per week for ten weeks, with increasing UVB exposure each time. A control group of mice received neither UVB exposure nor fucoxanthin. The mice who were treated with UVB exposure alone had more wrinkles, greater epidermal thickening, and other markers of UVB skin damage. The mice who received fucoxanthin prior to UVB exposure showed significantly less wrinkling, less epidermal thickening, and lesser degrees of UVB skin damage markers. Researchers point out that fucoxanthin has little sunblocking function, so the results are likely a result of antioxidant and anti-angiogenic effects.
14. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in various macroalgal species from north Atlantic and tropical seas
van Ginneken, V., et al. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2011. 10 (104).
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) have long been associated with cardiovascular health, mental health, and anti-inflammatory activity. In this study, researchers evaulated the PUFA content of seven varieties of seaweed, including Undaria pinnatifida (wakame). Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids were identified, ranging from 2 to 14 mg/g of dry matter. Total fat content was between 7 and 45 mg/g of dry matter. In terms of total fatty acids, the seaweed varieties were made up of 8 to 63% omega 3 fats, 3 to 32% omega 6 fats, and 3 to 56% omega-9 fats. Both red and brown seaweeds (including wakame) contain arachidonic and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acids. Researchers conclude that seaweeds such as these are a renewable source of PUFAs, and contain a healthy 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.
15. Low molecular weight fucoidan (LMWF) improves ER stress-reduced insulin sensitivity through AMPK activation in L6 myotubes and restores lipid homeostasis in a mouse model of type 2 diabetes
Jeong, Y.T., et al. Molecular Pharmacology. 2013. Doi:10.1124/mol.113.085100.
In this study, researchers looked at the effects of low molecular weight fucoidan (LMWF) from Undaria pinnatifida (wakame) on blood sugar, insulin, and cholesterol levels in diabetic mice. Researchers conducted a series of in vitro and in vivo experiments. In diabetic mice, the LMWF lowered blood sugar and cholesterol levels and reduced body weight. It also improved overall blood sugar balance. Researchers also determined through in vitro investigation that LMWF improves insulin function by stimulating the activity of AMPK, an enzyme involved in fat metabolism, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin secretion. Researchers believe that LMWF has potential as a therapeutic agent for weight management, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
16. Fucoidan reduces the toxicities of chemotherapy for patients with unresectable advanced or recurrent colorectal cancer
Ikeguchi, M., et al. Oncology Letters. 2011. 2, 319-322.
This study involved 20 individuals with advanced colorectal cancer who were undergoing a standard chemotherapy regimen. Fucoidan was examined for its effects on lessening the toxic side effects of the chemotherapy. Ten patients were given fucoidan along with their chemotherapy; ten patients were given chemotherapy alone. Those receiving fucoidan experienced less fatigue and were able to tolerate more chemotherapy treatments, which resulted in slightly longer survival. Researchers conclude that fucoidan helps patients tolerate chemotherapy better and may improve prognosis.