The Algae With Powerful Anti-Cancer Properties

You wouldn’t automatically associate Dunaliella – a green, single-celled alga – with possessing any type of health benefit, marine life aside. Yet this newly-discovered plant certainly holds true to the old adage ‘appearances can be deceptive’, as it is literally packed full of potent plant chemicals, such as beta-carotene.

Scientists have known for some time now that beta-carotene possesses powerful anti-cancer properties. It works by reducing the amount of harmful free radicals in your body that can otherwise damage your genetic material (DNA) – this can cause cosmetic-related problems by promoting wrinkles and, on a more serious note, it can increase your risk of cancer. What is new, is that Dunaliella has been found to contain hitherto unknown forms of beta-carotene that are far more powerful and active than the ordinary type that naturally occurs in fruit and vegetables.

Better still, scientists have now devised a way of growing Dunaliella under specially controlled conditions that maximises its beta-carotene content. It is now a popular remedy in many countries including Argentina, Iran, China, Spain and the US… and now finally in the UK.

Formulated to deliver maximum health benefits

What has surprised scientists the most, when studying Dunaliella’s individual components, is how the plant appears to have evolved with a special mechanism that allows it to adapt to its environment and survive in a unique way. For example, it appears to produce antioxidants in response to harmful free radicals and other poisonous toxins it encounters.

In a study performed at the Department of Chemistry, El Carmen University in Huelva, Spain, scientists exposed Dunaliella algae to high-intensity light, which is known to cause damage by encouraging the production of free radicals. This type of damage is the same as that produced by exposure to the sun, which results in wrinkles. They found that, shortly after being subjected to this extreme light, the plant literally started to ooze with strong antioxidant chemicals called carotenoids, including beta-carotene (Salguero A, et al. Biomol Eng 2003, 20(4-6): 249-253).

Realising the commercial potential of this high-strength beta-carotene source, the scientists set out to devise a method by which they could extract large amounts of carotenoids from Dunaliella. They found that the very action of transferring the plant from the sea to the laboratory caused it to produce carotenoids – probably a self-defence mechanism to protect it against oxygen starvation. These carotenoids are then easily extracted using a harmless chemical process, ready to be made commercially available in supplement form (Leon R et al. Biomol Eng 2003; 20(4-6):177-182).

The importance of this process is that the resulting carotenoids – including beta-carotene – are of an extremely high strength and quality. For example, the beta-carotene extracted from Dunaliella can absorb far higher amounts of harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun compared to the amount that ordinary beta-carotene is able to absorb (White AL, Jahnke LS. Plant Cell Physiol 2002. 43(8):877-884).

Up to 10 times more effective against cancer than normal beta-carotene

Research performed at the Cancer Research Centre of Hawaii shows that Dunaliella contains a certain type of beta-carotene called 9-cis-beta-carotene, which is up to ten times stronger at preventing cancer than ordinary beta-carotene (Hieber AD, King TJ et al. Nutr Cancer 2000:37(2):234-244).

In addition, researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research in Nanjing, in China have studied another type of beta-carotene isolated from Dunaliella called beta-CDS on human cancer cells. They found that when the extract was applied to cancerous cells it was able to prevent them from multiplying, and concluded that beta-CDS is an effective anti-cancer agent (Ma GJ, Xue KX et al. Zhongguo Yao Li Xue Bao 1998;19(3):282-284).

In an earlier trial, Dr LX Xue from the Laboratory Centre for Medical Sciences, Henan Medical University in China, studied the effects of Dunaliella salina in preventing skin cancer. He found that carotenoids from Dunaliella were 55 per cent stronger compared to ordinary beta-carotene when it comes to inhibiting the development of cancerous cells. According to Dr Xue: ‘Dunaliella salina increases the activities of the immune system by boosting the actions of the immune cells [such as macrophages and spleen cells, which identify a cancerous cell and destroy it].

These findings suggest that prevention of cancer in this experiment may be the result of Dunaliella acting directly on the immune cells’ (Xue LX. Zhonghua Yu Fang Yi 1993; 27(6):350-353).

More recent studies show that Dunaliella also contains another carotenoid called zeaxanthin, a valuable antioxidant that is mentioned in this month’s lead article on Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) for its ability to both help prevent and treat this debilitating condition that causes progressive vision loss. Researchers from the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of California in the US, have reported that Dunaliella can be encouraged (by allowing it to grow in near darkness) to produce large amounts of good quality zeaxanthin. Under these low-light conditions, they found that for every gram of dry Dunaliella, 6mg of zeaxanthin is produced, compared to only 0.2mg of zeaxanthin found in ordinary plants (Jin E., Feth B, Melis A. Biotechnol Bioeng 2003;81(1):115-124).

What to take for best results

The recommended dosage for beta-carotene obtained from Dunaliella salina is one 15mg capsule a day. No contraindications or side effects have been reported when taken at this amount. The suggested dosage for zeaxanthin is 800mcg a day – it is best taken with a fatty meal to aid absorption.

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