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Brown Seaweed for Weight Loss?

Brown Seaweed for Weight Loss?

Brown Seaweed Fucoxanthin - A New Weight Loss Ingredient

Can a pigment from brown seaweed really help you to lose weight? Science suggests that the answer may be yes thanks to a compound called fucoxanthin. Fucoxanthin is a naturally occurring brown pigment that belongs to the class of non-provitamin A carotenoids. Fucoxanthin is typically found in the chloroplasts of brown seaweed, giving them a brown or olive-green color. Similar to other carotenoids, fucoxanthin possesses antioxidative properties.

In addition to its unique antioxidant properties, fucoxanthin has been shown to affect DNA such a way that it results in upregulation of uncoupling protein-1 (UCP-1) production within the cells, particularly adipose tissue, both brown and white. UCP-1 is a member of a family of uncoupling proteins that occurs in the inner mitochondrial membrane. UCP-1 was originally given the name thermogenin for its ability to induce thermogenesis.

Fucoxanthin and Thermogenesis

Thermogenesis is a term that describes generation, or production of heat. There are two types of thermogenesis: shivering and non-shivering. Shivering thermogenesis is always associated with muscular contraction and often occurs as a reaction to the lower environment temperature. Non-shivering production of heat is a type of continuous thermogenesis that occurs in both muscle and adipose tissues, and is dependent on the metabolic rate.

Since the amount of energy derived from oxidation of the same amount of fats, carbohydrates and proteins is the highest for fats (9 kcal/g), the latter substrate is the preferred and most effective form of stored energy in the body. Fat collected in the adipose tissue represents the depot of unutilized energy the body "puts away" when the need for energy is less than the caloric value of the nutrients the body has at its disposal. Conversion of nutrients (such as fat) to energy occurs within the cells, more specifically, inside cell structures called mitochondria.

What Is Mitochondria's Role?

Mitochondria’s role in energy exchange is well recognized. Often referred to as cellular “power plants”, mitochondria are able to convert energy derived from oxidation of various substrates into the ultimate “mobile” energy unit, – ATP (adenosine triphospate) molecule for further use in cellular processes such as muscle contraction, or alternatively, dissipate in the form of heat (thermogenesis). The efficiency of the ATP generation process within the mitochondria is never 100%. So-called “mitochondrial proton leak” is a phenomenon responsible for heat generation that occurs as a result of not fully aligned (coupled) biochemical reactions aimed to generate ATP.

The balance between ATP production and heat generation, among other things, is regulated by specialized proteins called UCP (uncoupling proteins). Research shows that dietary fucoxanthin supports UCP-1 production resulting in a shift of the equilibrium toward “proton leak” and heat generation. Consequently, additional fat breakdown takes place to accommodate production of the same amount of ATP.   Thus, UCP-1 uncouples the process of ATP production, making it “less efficient” in terms of ATP yield and more efficient in terms of heat generation.

Fucoxanthin-induced thermogenesis support is non-stimulant in nature because it bypasses adrenergic (stimulatory or sympathetic) receptors at the surface of the cells that are also known to be UPC-1 inducing. Instead, it addresses the process of energy distribution at the level of mitochondria, precisely where conversion of fat into energy is taking place. 

Brown Seaweed Weight Loss

This mechanism has been demonstrated in brown adipose tissue of experimental animals supplemented with fucoxanthin. However, it was not until 2003 when a group of Japanese researchers demonstrated that the same UCP-1 induction and increase in thermogenesis could be induced in white adipose tissue.  This is where UCP-1 had not been previously described. White adipose tissue is the only fat tissue of a clinical significance in adults.  This discovery ignited renewed interest in fucoxanthin from researchers throughout the world.

In 2006, two clinical trials were conducted by a research group led by Prof. Abidov of Russian Institute of Immunopathology in collaboration with the National Institute for Sport Performance, Moscow, Russia. The first pilot-type study dealt with establishing a therapeutic range. The range was based on changes in energy expenditure rate in 40 female volunteers.  The range was supplemented with various doses of fucoxanthin alone. It was also in combination with CLnA (punicic acid from pomegranate seed oil).

Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial

The second study was a double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial.  One-hundred ten overweight women underwent a 16-week, 1800 calorie diet along with supplementation which yielded positive and statistically significant results. The full studies are expected to be published in 2008. Thus, these clinical trials are the first confirmation of the efficacy of orally supplemented fucoxanthin in humans in terms of weight management.

Further, the results of the aforementioned clinical trial revealed that fucoxanthin reduces visceral fat. Visceral fat is the type of fat covering organs of the abdominal cavity, specifically liver and omentum. Excessive visceral adiposity is now considered to be one of the major health risk factors among the Western population.

Not A Metabolic Risk Factor

At the same time, peripheral (subcutaneous) adiposity by itself is not deemed to be a significant metabolic risk factor.  That is unless it’s associated with significant excess of visceral adipose tissue in the body. The ability of fucoxanthin to address the problem of visceral adiposity seems promising in terms of the weight and metabolism management, along with dietary and lifestyle changes.  

Fucoxanthin is a clinically proven non-stimulant thermogenic. Unlike many popular stimulant-type metabolism enhancers ( e.g. ephedra, caffeine, guarana), fucoxanthin has no effect on the sympathetic nervous system.  It can also be taken without concerns of cardiovascular exhaustion or blood pressure deregulation.

The mode of action of fucoxanthin is such that it bypasses the nervous system.  It also shifts energy balance from producing ATP toward thermogenesis. It occurs in the mitochondria, at the exact point where the energy becomes available for either capturing it in the form of ATP or for heat generation. Fucoxanthin does it by upregulating production of UCP- 1(uncoupling protein 1), also known as thermogenin.

Fucoxanthin has antioxidant properties that are different from other carotenoids. Unlike other carotenoids, it is active in environments with low oxygen presence (most tissues under physiological conditions have very low oxygen presence). Also, instead of donating electron, like many antioxidants, fucoxanthin donates proton. A combination of these two attributes is unique to fucoxanthin.  This is most likely due to its unusual chemical structure (presence of allenic bond in the carotenoid formation).

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