For this study, researchers from Korea University in Seoul and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign isolated compounds in red seaweed to see which ones were consumed by probiotic bacteria in a lab setting. (Remember: Prebiotics are what provide nutrients to gut-healthy probiotics.)
They used red seaweed because it’s high in soluble fiber, making it one of the most gut-friendly sea veggies around. Previous research has also found that the antioxidant-rich algae contain anti-inflammatory and potential anticancer properties.
After breaking down different varieties of red seaweed, the team found that agarobiose (AgaDP3) was the sugar most likely to be consumed by probiotic bacteria. “These results show us that when we eat red seaweed, it gets broken down in the gut and releases these sugars, which serve as food for the probiotic bacteria,” study lead Yong-Su Jin, Ph.D., said of the findings in a news release.
They also noticed that AHG, a building block of red seaweed’s cell walls, seemed to inhibit the spread of colon cancer cells in the trial. Jin says this could help explain why the number of colon cancer patients is so low in parts of Japan where seaweed is a diet staple.
By identifying the key compounds in red seaweed, the team hopes to pave the way for more functional foods and medicines to incorporate the salty ingredient.
This finding becomes even more exciting when you consider the beneficial climate impacts of seaweed: Easy to farm and quick to grow, seaweed filters pollutants and sequesters carbon from surrounding waters. It can also help protect coasts from storm surges, making seaweed farming an increasingly appealing industry in waterfront areas around the world.