Researchers continue to evaluate the possible anticancer benefits of fucoidan, a polysaccharide derived from brown seaweed—most commonly, the species Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus. Research on fucoidan’s ability to assist cancer patients is still in the early stages. Some researchers are investigating its potential to induce apoptosis in certain cancer lines, provide cytotoxicity and immune-enhancing activity, and inhibit angiogenesis (the growth of new blood vessels)1, as well as enhance the efficacy of existing cancer drugs and alleviate chemotherapy-related adverse effects such as inflammation2, fatigue3, and GI impairment4.
There is still much to learn about the mechanism of action of fucoidan’s potential anticancer properties. Early research indicates that fucoidan may influence such cancer-related signaling pathways as PI3K/AKT, MAPK, and the caspase pathway.5
More Research Needed
In a review paper published in January 2019 in Marine Drugs5, the authors write that “fucoidan is a very promising candidate for future anticancer therapy.” They note, however, that “there are still very few clinical trials completed or planned” in this area, pointing out that there is a need for studies comparing different fucoidan species.
One company that has investigated the anticancer activity of its fucoidan ingredient is Marinova Pty. (Australia). The company has funded studies in human cancer mouse models with its Maritech Fucus vesiculosus and Undaria pinnatifida fucoidan ingredients. Results from these sponsored studies included a decrease in cervical cancer tumor growth with Fucus vesiculosus and a decrease in ovarian cancer tumor growth with Fucus vesiculosus and Undaria pinnatifida compared to untreated and vehicle groups.6 In another preclinical mouse-model study, Maritech fucoidan, in combination with the cancer drug tamoxifen, was shown to help reduce tumor cell growth in human breast cancer cell lines.7 The company has also funded a 20-subject open-label human clinical study showing that Maritech fucoidan did not have adverse effects when taken with hormone therapy cancer treatments tamoxifen and letrozole.8
The company points to studies showing that fucoidan ingredients may be effective in various cancer types, including colorectal cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, oral cancer, and breast cancer. It says that interest in fucoidan’s potential anticancer activity began in the 1980s.
It is also important to note that a fucoidan ingredient’s bioactivity can differ due to growth conditions and extraction methods. Researchers note that molecular weight is also an important distinguisher, as “as high-molecular-weight fucoidan is often more effective than low-molecular-weight fucoidan.”5
Like all supplement companies, fucoidan supplement companies should be cautious of making any disease-treatment claims about fucoidan. In 2014, FDA sent a warning letter to a company that claimed that its Modifilan fucoidan product was “clinically applicable in the prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, atherosclerosis, cancerogenesis, and cancer metastasis”—claims that caused the agency to classify the product as an unapproved new drug.
- Zhang Z et al. “Induction of apoptosis by low-molecular-weight fucoidan through calcium- and caspase-dependent mitochondrial pathways in MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells.” Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, vol. 77, no. 2 (2013): 235-242. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23391903/
- Takahasi H et al. “An exploratory study on the anti-inflammatory effects of fucoidan in relation to quality of life in advanced cancer patients.” Integrative Cancer Therapies, vol. 17, no. 2 (June 2018): 282-291. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28627320
- Ikeguchi M et al. “Fucoidan reduces the toxicities of chemotherapy for patients with unresectable advanced or recurrent colorectal cancer.” Oncology Letters, vol. 2, no. 2 (March 2011): 319-322. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410608/
- Song MY et al. “Low molecular weight fucoidan ameliorating the chronic cisplatin-induced delayed gastrointestinal motility in rats.” Food and Chemical Toxicology, vol. 50, no. 12 (December 2012): 4468-4478. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23022014
- Van Weelden G et al. “Fucoidan structure and activity in relation to anti-cancer mechanisms.” Marine Drugs. Published online January 7, 2019. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356449/
- Mathew L et al. “Preclinical evaluation of safety of fucoidan extracts from Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus for use in cancer treatment,” Integrative Cancer Therapies, vol. 16, no. 4 (December 2017): 572-584. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29096568
- Burney M et al. “Evaluation fucoidan extracts from Undaria pinnatifida and Fucus vesiculosus in combination with anticancer drugs in human cancer orthotopic mouse models,” Integrative Cancer Therapies, vol. 17, no. 3 (September 2018): 755-761. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29156992
- Tocaciu S et al. “The effect of Undaria pinnatifida fucoidan on the pharmacokinetics of letrozole and tamoxifen in patients with breast cancer.” Integrative Cancer Therapies, vol. 17, no. 1 (March 2018): 99-105. Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28008779