It’s that time of year again -- overindulgence in holiday goodies has caught up with you and you know it is time to do something about it.
In addition to your new fitness club membership and an appointment with a nutritionist, you decide to try a natural weight loss aid.
But there are so many different products to choose from -- what do you do?
Dr. Oz to the rescue!
If you are like millions of other Dr. Oz fans, you take his helpful advice and you buy a bottle of the brown seaweed extract that was recently featured on the Dr. Oz Show as the latest 'gotta-have-it' weight loss aid.
Keep in mind that a weight loss aid is just that and nothing more -- an aid to the arduous and sometimes exasperating process of lowering one’s caloric intake and increasing energy expenditure in order to lose weight.
In other words, don’t expect a miracle pill to do the work that you yourself must do with disciplined behavior, proper nutrition and exercise. Now, let’s take a closer look at brown seaweed to see if it merits my seal of approval.
The brown seaweed extract that Dr. Oz touts for weight loss is fucoxanthin -- a fat soluble carotenoid similar to lutein or lycopene found in several edible varieties of seaweed, including kelp or kombu (Laminaria species) and wakame (Undaria pinnatidifida).
In mice, fucoxanthin was found to reduce abdominal fat, improve insulin resistance and lower blood glucose.
Fucoxanthin was also recently shown in vitro to have strong protective effects against breast cancer.
The most notable commercially available product, FucoThin is actually a blend of fucoxanthin and pomegranate seed oil.
Pomegranate seed is a natural source of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA, a weight loss aid supported by numerous human clinical studies.
Also known as Xanthigen, this combination of fucoxanthin and pomegranate seed oil is distributed and sold as FucoThin in the United States by Garden of Life.
Note: FucoThin was the #1 diet product sold in the Natural Products Industry, according to SPINS data in 2010.
Studies Involving Humans
There are two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human studies on the fucoxanthin-pomegranate seed oil combination Xanthigen.
In one study, Xanthigen was found to increase metabolic rate by 18.2 percent compared with placebo. In another, those who took Xanthigen lost 4.5 times more weight than those who just dieted.
Although these studies are small -- 150 participants total -- the findings were statistically significant. Both studies were evaluated by an independent consortium of scientists, who concluded that the supplement was safe, free of side effects and non-stimulating.
This is an important point to keep in mind, since many weight loss aids are stimulants with harmful side effects and drug interactions.
Whether the pomegranate seed oil in the supplement was the active ingredient is unknown, as the studies tested a combination product, not fucoxanthin alone.
However, studies show that carotenoids such as fucoxanthin are more bioavailable and better absorbed with oil, so the addition of an oil component was likely necessary. It is important to also look at what whole brown seaweed has to offer in terms of health benefits, so let’s take a look at this next.
In traditional Chinese medicine, brown seaweed such as kelp (Laminaria spp.) is a cold, salty herb which is said to reduce phlegm, soften and disperse hard accumulations or goiters, treat edema and cleanse the body of fat.
It is known as a medicinal food for the thyroid gland, due to the high amount of iodine it contains.
Seaweeds are also high in other nutrients such as: calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, chromium, copper, selenium and zinc and many B-vitamins.
Brown seaweeds also contain polysaccharides such as alginates and fucoidan. Alginates have been shown to chemically bind toxic heavy metals and radioactive isotopes and aid in their elimination from the body.
Alginates are so effective at this job that brown seaweed was used to treat radiation sickness in Chernobyl disaster victims.
Fucoidan, another polysaccharide in brown seaweed, is the subject of prolific research -- numerous animal and in vitro studies in the last 10 years have shown that fucoidan has great potential as a cancer-fighting agent; as a treatment for viral and bacterial infections; as a therapy for myocardial ischemia and as an anti-obesity drug.
Taken all together, the research on brown seaweed shows that this food does contain many valuable components: soluble fiber, immune-enhancing fucoidan, detoxifying alginate, minerals, vitamins and antioxidant carotenoids, including fucoxanthin.
The Bottom Line
As a professional nutritionist, I try very hard to be objective and not to be swayed by the opinions of others -- including those of the Natural Products Industry and well-known media personalities.
After researching fucoxanthin and brown seaweed, I can say with conviction that eating brown seaweed as part of your daily diet is a healthful practice, one which I myself try to incorporate into my own life and I teach others to do the same.
I'm very hopeful about fucoxanthin and the other components of brown seaweed, such as alginates and fucoidan.
I'm looking forward to future research on this amazing group of marine plant compounds, in hopes of the more substantial clinical evidence to come.
In the meantime, a weight loss aid such as fucoxanthin, which has no adverse effects, is non-stimulating and may even have other health benefits such as cancer prevention, has certainly earned my seal of approval.
Alison Birks is a nutrionist with New Morning Natural and Organic. More information on Birks can be found on the New Morning website.