by Dr. Mark Edwards
he Centers for Disease Control, (CDC) reported that one out of three American children born after the year 2000 will contract diabetes – predominantly due to a poor diet of nutrient-deficient calories. Over 40% of women are likely to contract diabetes. The plague of obesity and diabetes creates havoc on our educational system and creates immense drag on our health system.
The cost of diabetes in the U.S. approaches $200 billion annually. Neither the obesity nor the diabetes costs include the drag on education, social systems, businesses and the military. Our society will fail if we do not find solutions to obesity and diabetes quickly.
Childhood obesity causes diabetes when the body makes insufficient insulin or cannot use its own insulin effectively and sugars build up in the blood. Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adolescents and rates are escalating dramatically.
Diabetes is a serious disease because it is associated with an increased risk of life threatening complications such as a heart attack, stroke, or kidney disease. Overall, the risk for death among people with diabetes for these catastrophic complications is about four times that of people without diabetes. In addition to an earlier death, diabetes carries with it significant risks for serious complications such as blindness, the need for dialysis and limb amputation.
Diabetes and algae
Diabetes mellitus occurs when blood sugar levels become elevated. Type 1 diabetes is associated with the destruction of the cells in the pancreas that manufacture insulin. Individuals with Type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin for the control of blood sugar levels. In Type 2 diabetes insulin levels are typically elevated, indicating a loss of sensitivity to insulin by the cells of the body.
Research on humans and animals shows algae components offer significant utility in the prevention and control of diabetes. Aligned studies have demonstrated algae’s therapeutic value for the diseases common with diabetics; cholesterol management, blood pressure, heart disease and cancers. Algae can moderate chronic inflammation that often precedes and accompany degenerative diseases. Algae compounds provide therapeutic value for diabetes and fat metabolism.
For example, kelp are brown seaweeds that contain up to 13 times more calcium than milk and powerful antioxidants that are not found in land plants: fucoxanthin and fucoidan. Kelps are macroalgae rich in B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K1 with high mineral content in magnesium, potassium and iron. The plentiful soluble dietary fibers in algae help avoid obesity and diabetes. The total fiber content of several algae species, (~6 g/100g), is greater than that of fruits and vegetables promoted for their fiber content: prunes (2.4 g), cabbage (2.9 g), apples (2.0 g) and brown rice (3.8 g).
The many varieties of kelp grow mostly in the oceans of the world. Kelp and other sea vegetables have been eaten by societies that lived near oceans and estuaries for centuries. Sea vegetables are commonly available in health food and Asian stores as dried sheets or cut pieces. Sea vegetables are commonly used as a nutritionally rich additive to salads, soups, stews and casseroles to add color, taste and texture.
The research reviewed here focuses on red and brown macroalgae but many of the same or similar compounds are abundant in other algae species.
Algae compounds provide a wide array of medical benefits for children plagued with obesity and diabetes. Two unique strategies may be called fill-gut and gut-full signals.
Algae strategies to prevent overeating
Studies show that sodium alginate reduces plasma glucose and protects the antioxidant system in diabetics. Alginic acid and other compounds in sea vegetables exert a protective effect against diabetes. Alginic acid may improve the sensitivity of cells to the action of insulin, thereby improving glucose tolerance and normalizing blood sugar.
Sodium alginate induces significantly lower postprandial rises in blood glucose, serum insulin and plasma C-peptides. The addition of sodium alginate in the diet leads to a delayed gastric emptying rate induced by the fiber, which moderates glucose response.
Algae polyphenol extracts have anti-diabetic effects through the modulation of glucose-induced oxidative stress. These extracts slow starch-digestive enzymes such as alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase.
A 2012 lab rat study graphically describes the impacts of diabetes and hypoglycemic effect. Healthy rats at the same age and body weight reacted nimbly, and had hair that was bright and smooth. Alloxan was injected and the animals showed typical signs of diabetes mellitus: clumsiness, slow actions, dull colored fur and marasmus. Average body weights reduced significantly.
After kelp powder forage was administered, the action and hair color of animals in kelp treated and DM-model groups recovered gradually, with body weight becoming significantly higher than before treatment. Diabetic animals treated with a placebo continued to display signs of diabetes and to lose weight.
Insulin resistance syndrome
The cluster of medical conditions that make up the insulin resistance syndrome or metabolic syndrome significantly increases the risk of developing type-2 diabetes and atherosclerosis. Over one-third of adult Americans have insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. Numerous studies show that diets high in sugar or high glycemic foods that the body transforms to sugar, create unhealthy loads of blood sugar and contribute to obesity and diabetes. A small dose of soluble alginate-fiber significantly reduces postprandial glycemia and gastric emptying in humans with diabetes. Both effects reduce prediabetic and diabetic symptoms.
People who consume alginate fibers in drinks, bars or in other forms experience a sensation of satiety, so they eat less and lose more weight. Human trials have shown significantly more weight loss when the diet includes alginates compared with the placebo group.
Several lines of research have investigated algae’s ability to moderate hypoglycemic effects through enhancement of glucose uptake in the liver and in soleus muscles. Improved insulin sensitivity after algae treatment could be also due to lower serum non-esterified fatty acid levels. Insulin sensitivity tends to blunt elevated non-esterified fatty acids in people with diabetes.
Several algae species such as Ulva, Ascophyllum, Alaria, and Palmaria are rich in phenolic compounds that are natural antioxidants and exhibit bioactive properties. A phenolic rich extracts from various algae species have been shown to inhibit digestive enzymes and achieve anti-diabetic effects.
Algae pharmaceuticals and medicines are currently in trial phases. These valuable algae therapeutics should move through medical approval relatively quickly since they are natural products and, to date, have shown no allergic reactions.