The health benefits of sea vegetables such as seaweed have been well documented by nutrition experts. Traditionally, those eating seaweed-based diets have shown fewer instances of obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and other nervous disorders.
While Asian cultures have included seaweed in their diet for centuries, Western societies have been slower to appreciate the benefits. The SWAFAX ('Seaweed derived anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants') project aims to change this.
The main focus of the EUR 1 million EU-funded project has been to study seaweed sources, which have been little studied or exploited for their health benefits. Scientists are particularly interested in a group of chemicals present in seaweed, called polyphenols. These consist of more than 4,000 so-called phenolic compounds typically found in vegetables and fruit. Polyphenols are high in antioxidants, which have a number of known health benefits.
Led by Professor Ian Rowland from the Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Reading (UK), SWAFAX is keen to study novel bioactive compounds from seaweeds which provide an opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop and market commercial applications in food, health and wellness products.
A number of technological and scientific problems have already been solved,
such as evaluating the biological activity of the seaweed polyphenol extract and forming a greater understanding of the bioavailability of its components.
The project has also characterised seaweed extracts in terms of their polyphenol profiles, and prepared a food grade polyphenol extract and other extracts of different seaweed varieties. However, the final results from several clinical trials will not be available until later in the year.