Failure of exercise programs and drugs in treating obesity has prompted an increasing reliance on use of functional foods. Preliminary scientific evidence suggests that an ingredient of such functional foods – fucoxanthin – is very effective in causing weight loss and providing health benefits. Research suggests that it is safe for consumption as well. Read on to find out how this carotenoid found in brown seaweeds works its wonders and whether researchers endorse its effectiveness.
The obesity epidemic isn’t showing any signs of letting up. According to an estimate, by 2015, 2.3 billion people will be labelled overweight and 700 million as obese! Many feel that the dangerous global trend of ever increasing obesity is due to lack of physical activity and increased ingestion of calorie dense foods containing sugars and fats. Decreased consumption of foods rich in vitamins and minerals doesn’t help either.
Failure of exercise programs and drugs in treating obesity has prompted an increasing reliance on use of functional foods. Preliminary scientific evidence suggests that an ingredient of such functional foods – fucoxanthin – is very effective in causing weight loss and providing health benefits. Research suggests that it is safe for consumption as well.
Let us get to the bottom of the matter and investigate if indeed that is the case.
What is Fucoxanthin?
Fucoxanthin is a carotenoid (vitamin A like substance) derived from brown seaweed. In addition to anti-obesity, fucoxanthin apparently has anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidant properties. Thus – as stated above – it has the potential to prevent a plethora of metabolic diseases.
How Does Fucoxanthin Cause Weight Loss?
Complex mechanisms have been suggested (some proven) by researchers explaining the fat-burning abilities of fucoxanthin. Some of these are:
- Induction of uncoupling protein-1 (Maeda, Hosokawa, Sashima, & Miyashita, 2007; Jezek, 2002) – this process is important for dissipation of excess calories consumed
- Increased production of heat in the adipose tissue (fat tissue) (D’Orazio et al., 2012; Maeda et al., 2007; Jezek, 2002)
- Increases resting energy expenditure (REE) (Abidov, Ramazanov, Seifulla, & Grachev, 2010)
- Increases sensitivity to sympathetic nervous system (D’Orazio et al., 2012) – fucoxanthin as well as its metabolites have this ability; as we all know – increased responsiveness to sympathetic nervous activity translates into increased fat-burning
- Reduces the inflammatory markers of metabolic disease and thus affects obesity (and cardiovascular diseases and diabetes) favourably (Heilbronn, Noakes, & Clifton, 2001)
What Other Benefits Can I Expect?
Numerous health benefits – improved cardiovascular and liver health, amongst others – can be expected with fucoxanthin supplementation (D’Orazio et al., 2012; Rocha et al., 2007; Ayyad et al., 2011; Yu, Hu, Xu, Jiang, & Yang, 2011; Tsukui et al., 2007).
Some of these benefits are outlined below:
- Reduced markers of cardiovascular disease – high blood pressure, plasma and liver triglycerides, plasma cholesterol and diabetes (Shiratori et al., 2005; Jeon et al., 2010)
- Anti-diabetic activity – Fucoxanthin reduces the risk of diabetes by causing weight loss and reduction of white adipose tissue (WAT); undue growth of WAT is responsible for secretion of chemicals that are instrumental in causing diabetes
- Anti-oxidant activity – most health benefits of fucoxanthin are attributed to its ability to sequester singlet oxygen and to scavenge free radicals – these actions minimize the oxidative damage to tissues, thus resisting the development of metabolic diseases
- Anticancer activity – potential use in cancers like bladder cancer (Zhang et al., 2008), gastric adenoma (Yu et al., 2011) and hepatocellular carcinoma (Satomi & Nishino, 2009).
- Anti-inflammatory activity – low grade inflammation is the basis of obesity and most metabolic diseases; by reducing inflammation, Fucoxanthin has been suggested to cause weight loss and resist the development of diseases
- Some researchers believe that fucoxanthin has the ability to favourably affect the expression of genes involved in the development of obesity and metabolic diseases (Miyashita, 2009)
Is Fucoxanthin Safe for Consumption?
Animal studies have proved that doses of fucoxanthin of up to 2000mg/Kg of body weight either in a single dose or over weeks (13) have no adverse effects – no deaths and no abnormal changes in the liver, kidneys, spleen or gonads of any of the animals treated with such high doses were observed (Iio, Okada, & Ishikura, 2011; Beppu, Niwano, Tsukui, Hosokawa, & Miyashita, 2009).
Furthermore, since fucoxanthin doesn’t stimulate the central nervous system, you wouldn’t observe any of the unpleasant ‘stimulant symptoms’ (jitteriness or loss of sleep) that you are likely to see with other fat burners – especially those containing caffeine.
Where is the Scientific Evidence for Fucoxanthin’s Efficacy?
There seems to be ample scientific evidence in favour of anti-obesity actions of fucoxanthin.
- A study published in 2002 showed that the increased production of heat (or energy) can be caused due to induction of uncoupling protein-1 (Jezek, 2002). Fucoxanthin has been proven to induce uncoupling protein-1 (UCP-1) and thus cause adaptive increase in metabolism. This is a new and exciting method of fighting obesity (D’Orazio et al., 2012; Labruna et al., 2011).
- Labruna et al. in 2011 observed that such induction of UCP-1 is a normal mechanism for dissipating excess calories from the human body. Disorganisation of this mechanism leads to development of obesity (Labruna et al., 2011). Reversing this disorganisation may be one of the mechanisms which help fucoxanthin fight obesity.
- Maeda et al. have also indentified the role played by fucoxanthin in causing increased energy production by inducing UCP-1 (Maeda et al., 2007).
- A study published in 2012 concluded that supplementation of 300mg of brown seaweed extract (containing 2.4mg of fucoxanthin) results in reduction in body weight, serum triglycerides levels and a fall in the blood pressure (Abidov et al., 2010). Furthermore, it also proved that fucoxanthin causes a significant increase in the resting energy expenditure.
- In addition to above mentioned studies, many other studies support the efficiency of fucoxanthin in causing weight loss (Jeon et al., 2010; Maeda, Hosokawa, Sashima, & Miyashita, 2007; Woo et al., 2009), preventing further accumulation of body fat (Maeda, Hosokawa, Sashima, Murakami-Funayama, & Miyashita, 2009), reducing fat pads around organs (Park, Lee, Park, Shin, & Choi, 2011; Maeda et al., 2007; Woo et al., 2009), reducing the amount of white adipose tissue (Jeon et al., 2010; Maeda et al., 2009) and size of individual fat cells (Park et al., 2011)
Judging from these studies, it can be easily seen that fucoxanthin enjoy ample scientific support.
However, it is usually argued that much of the evidence comes from animal studies. Only one study to date has investigated the efficacy of fucoxanthin in humans (premenopausal, non-diabetic, obese women) (Abidov et al., 2010). Furthermore, the exact dosage for anti-obesity action has not been defined. However, that doesn’t seem to be a problem – since fucoxanthin is free of any adverse effects.
However, given the mechanisms by which it works along with its impressive health benefits profile and lack of adverse effects, fucoxanthin is just too good to be ignored. Needless to say, further research to pile on the evidence in favour of fucoxanthin is recommended.
What’s the Verdict?
All in all, fucoxanthin brings a lot of new ideas to the fat burning debate. Its novel way of fighting obesity opens up the field for further research into other similar carotenoid fat-burners as well.
Although, much human research hasn’t been conducted to prove the fucoxanthin claims, we would still label fucoxanthin as an effective anti-obesity agent. The reason – irrefutable proof from animal studies, novel method of causing fat loss, impressive health benefits profile and lack of adverse effects!
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