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Abstract

Red algae have been used as a traditional medicine for centuries. Medical science has identified a number of complex carbohydrates with unique chemical properties. For instance, certain algal extracts have antiviral and anti-tumour properties. The high fibre content of red algae means it is also useful in improving digestion. Red algae are frequently taken as a dietary supplement, though its status as a "super-food" is uncertain since it hasn't been shown to improve normal function. Blue-green algae are used as a source of dietary protein, B-vitamins, and iron. They are also used for weight loss, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), hay fever, diabetes, stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and other women’s health issues. Some people use blue-green algae for treating precancerous growths inside the mouth, boosting the immune system, improving memory, increasing energy and metabolism, lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease, healing wounds, and improving digestion and bowel health.
Research J. Pharm. and Tech. 7(12): December 2014
1472
ISSN 0974-3618 www.rjptonline.org
REVIEW ARTICLE
Medicinal Uses of Red Algae and Blue-Green Algae
Niha Naveed
First Year BDS, Saveetha Dental College and Hospitals, Chennai
*Corresponding Author E-mail:
ABSTRACT:
Red algae have been used as a traditional medicine for centuries. Medical science has identified a number of complex
carbohydrates with unique chemical properties. For instance, certain algal extracts have antiviral and anti-tumour
properties. The high fibre content of red algae means it is also useful in improving digestion. Red algae are frequently
taken as a dietary supplement, though its status as a "super-food" is uncertain since it hasn't been shown to improve
normal function. Blue-green algae are used as a source of dietary protein, B-vitamins, and iron. They are also used for
weight loss, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), hay fever, diabetes, stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression,
and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and other women’s health issues. Some people use blue-green algae for treating
precancerous growths inside the mouth, boosting the immune system, improving memory, increasing energy and
metabolism, lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease, healing wounds, and improving digestion and bowel
health.
KEYWORDS: Antioxidants, immunomodulatory, superfoods, proteins, metabolism.
INTRODUCTION:
Today's scientists are only beginning to grasp the incredible
nutritional value of blue-green algae and red algae, but
these superfoods have a reputation that reaches far back into
history. A form of blue-green algae was consumed regularly
hundreds of years ago by Aztecs. Today blue-green algae
and redalgae are some of the top superfoods, providing
extraordinary nutrition in a time when most food sources
are of poor nutritional quality.They are natural foods that
have existed since life began. Their nutritional content is
broad and highly concentrated. These algae have been lab
tested in vitro (glass contained specimens) or in vivo (live
mammals) for many health issues often with astonishing
positive results.
Red algae:
Taxonomy1
Kingdom: Plantae or Protista
Division: Rhodophyta
Class: Florideophycidae
Order: Halymeniales
Family: Halymeniaceae
Genus: Prionitis
Species: lanceolata
Received on 11.09.2014 Modified on 16.09.2014
Accepted on 19.09.2014 © RJPT All right reserved
Research J. Pharm. and Tech. 7(12): Dec. 2014; Page 1472-1475
Description:
Phylum Rhodophyta of the kingdom protista consist of the
photosynthetic organisms commonly known as red algae.
Members of the division have a characteristic clear red or
purplish color imparted by accessory pigments called
phycobilins. In general algae can be referred to as plant-like
organisms that are usually photosynthetic and aquatic, but
do not have true roots, stems, leaves, vascular tissue and
have simple reproductive structures. The red algae are
multicellular and are characterized by a great deal of
branching, but without differentiation into complex tissues.
Most of the world's seaweeds belong to this group2.
Although red algae are found in all oceans, they are most
common in warm-temperate and tropical climates, where
they may occur at greater depths than any other
photosynthetic organisms. Most of the coralline algae,
which secrete calcium carbonate and play a major role in
building reefs, belong here. Red algae are a traditional part
of oriental cuisine. There are 4000 known marine species of
red algae; a few species occur in freshwater3.
Distinguishing characteristics:
Red algae have a number of general characteristics that in
combination distinguish them from other eukaryotic
groups4:
Absence of flagella and centrioles
Floridean starch as a storage product and the storage of
starch in the cytoplasm
Phycoerythrin, phycocyanin, and allophycocyanin as
accessory pigments
Research J. Pharm. and Tech. 7(12): December 2014
1473
Unstacked thylakoids in plastids
No chloroplast endoplasmic reticulum
Ecology:
There are more than 5200 species of rhodophytes, and
although some rhodophytes do inhabit fresh water, red
algae are most common in tropical marine environments.
The various red algae have a complicated life history, often
involving three stages of independent organisms to
complete their life cycle. The elucidation of this life cycle
has been very important for the billion-dollar nori industry
of Japan. This is a large assemblage of between 2500 and
6000 species in about 670 largely marine genera that
predominate along the coastal and continental shelf areas of
tropical, temperate and cold-water regions5. Red Algae are
ecologically significant as primary producers, providers of
structural habitat for other marine organisms, and their
important role in the primary establishment and
maintenance of coral reefs. Among the algae that can
invade freshwater ponds and aquaria, red algae from the
division Rhytophyta, can be the most frustrating. This furry,
thread-like flora attaches to various aquarium surfaces
including the edges of plant leaves, filter tubes and even
gravel. Some rhodophytes are also important in the
formation of tropical reefs, an activity with which they have
been involved for millions of years; in some Pacific atolls,
red algae have contributed far more to reef structure than
other organisms, even more than corals6.
Medicinal uses:
One benefit of red marine algae is its antioxidant effect,
which counters damage free radicals do to cells. Red marine
algae is also an anti-viral compound. The carrageenans -- a
type of sugar molecule -- found in red marine algae are
believed to boost interferon production in the immune
system and might be an effective preventative against
diseases like HIV, shingles and cold sores7. Natural
antioxidants, found in many algae, are important bioactive
compounds that play an important role against various
diseases and ageing processes through protection of cells
from oxidative damage. It helps in the chemoprevention of
a variety of diseases including cancer. Marine algae
produce a diverse array of compounds that function as
chemical defense systems facilitating their survival in
extremely competitive environments. Red algae have been
suggested as a promising source of bioactive substances
that might have pharmaceutical applications. Marine algae
in shallow water habitats can be exposed to a combination
of ultraviolet light and air that readily leads to the formation
of free radicals and other reactive oxygen species (ROS)8.
Despite their exposure to harmful ROS, healthy algae lack
oxidative damage in their structural components and resist
oxidation during storage, indicating the presence of
protective antioxidant defense systems in their cells. By
donating an electron, antioxidants neutralize free radicals
that would otherwise oxidize biomolecules leading to cell
death and tissue damage. Accordingly, interest in the search
for natural antioxidants from algae has been increasing in
recent years. The overall aim of this type of research is
discovery of compounds or extracts that can counteract free
radical-induced and other oxidative stress processes, and in
so doing decrease the incidence of human diseases directly
related to these processes. Antioxidant activity has been
reported in numerous genera of marine algae, including
Ahnfeltiopsis, Colpomenia, Gracilaria, Halymenia
Hydroclathrus, Laurencia, Padina, Polysiphonia, and
Turbinaria9.Natural antioxidants from algae are known to
play an important role against various diseases and aging
processes. The detected antioxidant compounds in algae
from these genera and others have potential anti-aging,
dietary, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal,
cytotoxic, anti-malarial, anti-proliferative, and anticancer
properties. In the Hawaiian Islands there are approximately
520 reported species of marine algae, very few of which
have been investigated biochemically in any way. In one of
the few systematic studies, McDermid and Stuercke
reported on the nutritional composition of 22 species of
Hawaiian algae, testing for protein, lipid, carbohydrate, ash,
caloric, mineral, and vitamin content10. The red algal
extracts also showed antimicrobial activity. Beyond this
finding, there is no published information on the antioxidant
activity of Hawaiian algae. It is expected that additional
Hawaiian algae contain very effective antioxidant systems,
as they are exposed to prolonged intense ultraviolet (UV)
radiation in their tropical environment. In fact, it has been
observed that UV radiation stimulates antioxidant defense
in algae.11,12
Blue-Green Algae:
Taxonomy13
Division: Cyanophyta (Cyanobacteria)
Class: Nostocophyceae (Cyanophyceae)
Order: Nostocales
Characteristics:
The algae are the simplest members of the plant kingdom,
and the blue-green algae are the simplest of the algae. They
have a considerable and increasing economic importance;
they have both beneficial and harmful effects on human life.
Blue-greens are not true algae. They have no nucleus, the
structure that encloses the DNA, and no chloroplast, the
structure that encloses the photosynthetic membranes, the
structures that are evident in photosynthetic true algae. In
fact blue-greens are more akin to bacteria which have
similar biochemical and structural characteristics14. The
process of nitrogen fixation and the occurrence of gas
vesicles are especially important to the success of nuisance
species of blue-greens. The blue-greens are widely
distributed over land and water, often in environments
where no other vegetation can exist. Their fossils have been
identified as over three billion years old. They were
probably the chief primary producers of organic matter and
the first organisms to release elemental oxygen, O2, into the
primitive atmosphere, which was until then free from O2.
Thus blue-greens were most probably responsible for a
major evolutionary transformation leading to the
development of aerobic metabolism and to the subsequent
rise of higher plant and animal forms. They are referred to
in literature by various names, chief among which are
Research J. Pharm. and Tech. 7(12): December 2014
1474
Cyanophyta, Myxophyta, Cyanochloronta, Cyanobacteria,
blue-green algae, blue-green bacteria15.
Uniqueness of blue-green algae:
The majority of blue-greens are aerobic photoautotrophs:
their life processes require only oxygen, light and inorganic
substances. A species of Oscillatoria that is found in mud at
the bottom of the Thames, are able to live anaerobically.
They can live in extremes of temperatures -60°C to 85°C,
and a few species are halophilic or salt tolerant (as high as
27%, for comparison, conc. of salt in seawater is 3%) 16.
Blue-greens can grow in full sunlight and in almost
complete darkness. They are often the first plants to
colonize bare areas of rock and soil, as an example
subsequent to cataclysmic volcanic explosion (at Krakatoa,
Indonesia in 1883)17. Unlike more advanced organisms,
these need no substances that have been performed by other
organisms. At the onset of nitrogen limitation during bloom
conditions, certain cells in Anabaena and Aphanizomenon
evolve into heterocysts, which convert nitrogen gas into
ammonium, which is then distributed to the neighboring
cells of a filament. In addition, blue-greens that form
symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationships with a wide
range of other life forms, can convert nitrogen gas into
ammonium.Finally, at the onset of adverse environmental
conditions, some blue-greens can develop a modified cell,
called an akinete. Akinetes contain large reserves of
carbohydrates, and owing to their density and lack of gas
vesicles, eventually settle to the lake bottom. They can
tolerate adverse conditions such as the complete drying of a
pond or the cold winter temperatures, and, as a
consequence, akinetes serve as "seeds" for the growth of
juvenile filaments when favorable conditions return.
Heterocysts and akinetes are unique to the blue-greens18.
Ecology:
Blue-greens in fresh water lakes:
Unicellular and filamentous blue-greens are almost
invariably present in freshwater lakes frequently forming
dense planktonic populations or water blooms in eutrophic
(nutrient rich) waters. In temperate lakes there is a
characteristic seasonal succession of the bloom-forming
species, due apparently to their differing responses to the
physical- chemical conditions created by thermal
stratification. Usually the filamentous forms (Anabaena
species, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae and Gloeotrichia
echinulata) develop first soon after the onset of
stratification in late spring or early summer, while the
unicellular-colonial forms (like Microcystis species)
typically bloom in mid-summer or in autumn. The main
factors which appear to determine the development of
planktonic populations are light, temperature, pH, nutrient
concentrations and the presence of organic solutes19.
Attached and benthic population in lakes:
Many blue-greens grow attached on the surface of rocks
and stones (epilithic forms), on submerged plants (epiphytic
forms) or on the bottom sediments (epipelic forms, or the
benthos) of lakes. The epilithic community displays a
clearly discernable zonation in lakes. Members of the
genera Pleurocapsa, Gloeocapsa and Phormidium often
dominate the dark blue-black community of the spray zone.
Scytonema and Nostoc species form olive-green coatings
and are more frequent about the water line, whilst the
brownish Tolypothrix and Calothrix species are more
typical components of the subsurface littoral
community.The epiphytic flora of lakes is usually
dominated by diatoms and green algae, and blue-greens are
of less importance in this community. Species of the genera
Nostoc, Lyngbya, Chamaesiphon and Gloeotrichia have
been occasionally encrusting submerged plants. The
epipelic community commonly includes blue-greens like
Aphanothece and Nostoc particularly in the more eutrophic
lakes. Benthic blue-greens growing over the littoral
sediments and on submerged plants may be responsible for
the occasional high rates of N2-fixation measured in
oligotrophic lakes19.
Terrestrial blue-greens:
In the temperate region blue-greens are especially common
in calcareous and alkaline soils. Certain species, Nostoc
commune, are often conspicuous on the soil surface. Acid
soils, however, lack blue-green element and are usually
dominated by diatoms and green algae19.
Dietary supplementation and health benefits:
The blue green algae spirulina is a good source of protein,
with about 6 grams in each 100-gram serving. Its protein
content includes all the essential amino acids, making it a
complete source of these important nutrients. A 100-gram
serving also contains about 2 grams of carbohydrates and
almost no fat20. With only 26 calories in each serving,
spirulina is a naturally low-calorie food. It also provides
modest amounts of several important minerals, including
calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium, as well as small
amounts of zinc and phosphorus. The algae also contain
vitamins A, C, E and several of the B vitamins, including
thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6 and folate21. Microalgae
contain substances of high biological value, such as
polyunsaturated fatty acids, amino acids (proteins),
pigments, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Edible blue-
green algae reduce the production of pro-inflammatory
cytokines by inhibiting NF-κB pathway in macrophages and
splenocytes. Consumption of edible blue green algae may
also reduce risks of cataracts and age related macular
degeneration.15, 22. It has also shown mitigative effects in
animal models of non-alcohol related liver disease, such
as steatohepatitis and Parkinson's disease. Sulfate
polysaccharides exhibit immune modulatory, antitumor,
antithrombotic, anticoagulant, anti-mutagenic, anti-
inflammatory, antimicrobial, and even antiviral activity
against HIV, herpes, and hepatitis. They also improve
insulin resistance in HIV23. They also protect against
aflatoxin and cisplatin chemotherapy induced liver damage.
These positive health benefits must be distinguished from
non-edible species of algae, which are detrimental to health.
Blue green algae may boost your immune system and have
natural anti-viral properties, helping suppress growth of
HIV and other viruses. Consuming blue green algae may
also help relieve fatigue and improve your tolerance of
Research J. Pharm. and Tech. 7(12): December 2014
1475
exercise. It was found that male subjects who consumed
spirulina for four weeks were able to exercise longer and
had changes in their blood that indicated better usage of
nutrients compared to a placebo group. Blue green algae
may also lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce blood
pressure, according to a study published in "Nutritional
Research and Practice" in which 37 subjects with Type 2
diabetes had improved blood lipids and lower blood
pressure after taking spirulina for 12 weeks.24,25.
CONCLUSION:
Red marine algae have been used for a variety of purposes
in Asia for more years than have been recorded. Originally
probably, used as a food, it then found many medicinal
applications for a wide variety of conditions depending
upon the species of algae. In fact, one of the earliest written
records from China dating to 600 BC mentions algae as
being a food suitable for a king. Red algae is also used in a
variety of other ways, and research continues on the
benefits of algae for medicine. Some claims about algae
include the ability of red algae to improve our immune
system, treat respiratory ailments and skin problems, and
cure cold sores. Algae also contains abundant amounts of
Iodine, an element required by humans and necessary for
proper thyroid functioning. The other uses include
treatment for cancer and for treating goiters, testicular pain
and swelling, edema, urinary infections and sore throat.
Blue-green algae is a nutrient- and antioxidant-rich plant
group that is used as a food, nutritional supplement and
alternative medicinal supplement. Little scientific research
has been conducted on blue-green algae using human
subjects, but animal and laboratory studies have hinted that
the plant might be beneficial in treating several different
conditions. Blue-green algae typically comes in the form of
tablets and is taken in doses of 500 milligrams four to six
times daily. Organic blue-green algae is one of the most
nutrient dense foods on the planet. Two varieties, spirulina
and Aphanizomenonflos-aquae, are the most consumed
forms of blue green algae; which has super food status due
to high concentrations of proteins, vitamins and nutrients.
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