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Nutritional value of seaweeds and their potential
to serve as nutraceutical supplements
To cite this article: Temjensangba Imchen (2021): Nutritional value of seaweeds
and their potential to serve as nutraceutical supplements, Phycologia, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00318884.2021.1973753
Published online: 08 Oct 2021.
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Nutritional value of seaweeds and their potential to serve as nutraceutical
Biological Oceanography Department, CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, Dona Paula, Goa, 403004, India
Seaweeds are marine autotrophic organisms with numerous bioactive compounds of interest. Several
seaweed products are available in the form of food or medicine due to their myriad beneficial
biomolecules like anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. The information pre-
sented herein gives an overview of the current knowledge of seaweed nutritional values and their
potential application as nutraceutical supplements for health benefits in terms of mineral content,
vitamins, fatty acids, antioxidants and dietary fibres. Seaweeds rich in essential fatty acids and vitamin
(cobalamin) can be an alternative food for vegetarians, as vegetables and fruits are poor sources of
these elements. Seaweed-based functional food products and supplements have great potential health
benefits and can potentially help to improve malnutrition.
Received 01 February 2021
Accepted 25 August 2021
Published online 08 October
molecules; Dietary fibres;
Seaweeds contain major macronutrients like carbohydrates,
protein and lipids, vitamins and other micronutrients, and
numerous biologically active compounds, such as polyphenols
(Pereira 2011). Some of these bioactive compounds are
derived from main biomass structural constituents, such as
carbohydrates, protein and fatty acids, and others as by-
products of biochemical processes, such as sterols and poly-
phenols. However, the nutritional properties and biochemical
composition of seaweeds can be affected by seasonality, geo-
graphic location and species (Marinho et al. 2015; Zhou et al.
2015; Nunes et al. 2017; Circuncisão et al. 2018; Kumar et al.
2018). Bioactive molecules of seaweeds have been observed to
exert positive effects on high-incidence chronic diseases such
as arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, thrombosis and
apoplexy (Cardoso et al. 2015; Collins et al. 2016).
Considering their biological activity and the mechanisms
involved in their absorption, biologically active compounds
are broadly divided into two groups: i) non-absorbed high
molecular substances like dietary fibres, and ii) low molecular
substances, which are absorbed and affect the human homo-
eostasis directly (Holdt & Kraan 2011).
Seaweeds are a rich source of bioactive molecules with
potential as nutritional supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosme-
ceuticals, fine chemicals and enzymes (Pereira 2018a, b;
Peñalver et al. 2020). Seaweed nutraceuticals, defined as
food and food products that have been demonstrated to
produce health-promoting benefits, can lower the risk of
chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and
cancer. Hence, they enhance the ability of chronic disease
management and improve the quality of life (Holdt & Kraan
2011; Shannon & Abu-Ghannam 2019). Due to its various
health-benefiting properties, there is a growing interest and
recognition for seaweed nutraceutical supplements and func-
tional foods. A recent study indicated that countries where
people regularly consume seaweeds suffer less from obesity
and diet-related ailments (Nanri et al. 2017). The consump-
tion of fibre-rich seaweeds and derived supplements is known
to boost appetite and satiety and lower the cholesterol and
glycaemic index (Brown et al. 2014). The undesirable side
effects of allopathic drugs also make nutraceutical supple-
ments an attractive alternative to palliative care such as biliary
tract, breast, and colon cancer (Nelson et al. 2017). Regular
intake of seaweeds can greatly reduce the risk of these cancers,
attributed to bioactive compounds such as fucoxanthin, poly-
phenols, phlorotannins, antioxidants and sulphated polysac-
charides (fucoidan), as these compounds can induce apoptosis
in cancer cells (Namvar et al. 2012; Gutiérrez-Rodríguez et al.
2018; Jiang & Shi 2018). Besides, polyphenolic compounds,
vitamin A, C, and E are strong antioxidants (Shannon & Abu-
Ghannam 2019), and bioactive compounds such as phloro-
tannins, fucoxanthin, polyphenolics and polysaccharides have
effective anti-diabetic properties (Murray et al. 2018). These
latter compounds inhibit hepatic gluconeogenesis and reduce
the activity of the digestive enzymes such as α-amylase, lipase
and aldose reductase (Sharifuddin et al. 2015; Shannon &
Abu-Ghannam 2019). Omega 3-fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic
and docosahexaenoic acids) of seaweeds play an important
role in reducing the risk of heart disease by influencing ionic
channels within the cardiac cell membrane and maintaining
intracellular calcium homoeostasis (Kanoh et al. 2017).
The excellent quality of proteins (containing all essential
amino acids), polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 fatty
acids), vitamins, minerals (magnesium and calcium), dietary
fibres (alginates, agar, and carrageenan), pigments (carotenes,
xanthophylls, and chlorophylls) and secondary bioactive
CONTACT Temjensangba Imchen email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2021 International Phycological Society
metabolites (phytosterols and polyphenols) in seaweeds have
attracted great interest in their nutritional use (Holdt &
Kraan 2011; Pereira 2018a, b). The growing demand for sea-
weed-based food supplements is further fuelled by their low
caloric content. In East Asian countries like China, Japan and
Korea, seaweeds have been used as food for centuries
(Peñalver et al. 2020). For instance, dried Porphyra spp and
Pyropia spp (mainly from Porphyra umbilicalis, Pyropia
tenera and P. yezoensis), commonly called nori, is a well-
known seaweed food supplement in Japan (Baweja et al.
2016). In other parts of the world, consumption of seaweeds
is not a common practice. However, in recent years the
perception towards seaweed is changing and they are consid-
ered as ‘superfoods’ because of their bioactive compounds
(Cofrades et al. 2017).
Seaweeds also produce many primary and secondary meta-
bolites which have great potential use as pharmaceuticals, nutra-
ceuticals and cosmeceuticals (Pereira 2018a). The diverse
bioactive compounds of seaweeds, nutritional values, and the
benefits ascribed are reviewed in this article. An exhaustive
literature survey, particularly of the last decade (2011–2020),
has been carried out using Google Scholar and PubMed.
Nutritional value of seaweeds
In recent years, studies on seaweeds have unveiled their nutri-
tional value and their richness in essential molecules that benefit
our health and wellness (Wells et al. 2017; Pereira 2018a, b;
Roleda & Hurd 2019; Cikoš et al. 2020; Peñalver et al. 2020).
Proximate composition analysis of seaweeds indicates high levels
of carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, dietary fibres, essential
fatty acids, carotenoids and trace elements like iodine (Holdt &
Kraan 2011; Tabarsa et al. 2012; Syad et al. 2013; Circuncisão
et al. 2018). For instance, the vitamin C levels in Porphyra
umbilicalis, Himanthalia elongata and Gracilaria changii are
comparable to vitamin C found in tomatoes and lettuce
(Ferraces-Casais et al. 2012). Seaweed polysaccharides are one
of the most exploited and widely used seaweed molecules (Bilal
& Iqbal 2020). The stabilizing and texture-giving properties of
polysaccharides are extensively used in the food industry (Cotas
et al. 2020a). The nanocellulose derived from seaweeds has
multiple applications, and the biocomposites developed from
these are used for controlled drug release (Ditzel et al. 2017).
Compound concentrations can vary with season and sea-
water temperature (Nunes et al. 2017). Seaweeds from different
geographical regions can exhibit varying elemental composition
(Chen et al. 2018b) and when grown in industrial and sewage
contaminated areas can pose a risk to human health (Wang
et al. 2013). The regular consumption of seaweeds harvested
from such areas is detrimental to human health mainly due to
heavy metal content (Burger et al. 2012; Cherry et al. 2019).
However, a study by Rubio et al. (2017) indicated that for the
majority of seaweed levels of heavy metals are within the food
safety limit and overall represent a low health risk. Still, they
advised continuous surveillance and assessment to meet safety
regulations. Following this advice, the diverse nutritional ele-
ments make seaweed an attractive functional food and nutra-
Fibres of seaweeds are polysaccharides of two main types: struc-
tural (cellulose, hemicellulose and xylans) and storage polysac-
charides (carrageenan, alginate and agar). These polysaccharides
and hydrocolloids have no nutritional value as humans lack the
enzymes to metabolize them, but as dietary fibres they can play
an important role in a healthy nutrition (Peñalver et al. 2020).
The addition of dietary fibres to the diet reduces the transit
time of faeces through the digestive tract by promoting bowel
movement and lowers the risk for colorectal cancer by dilut-
ing faecal carcinogens and by promoting the production of
short-chain fatty acids with anti-carcinogenic properties
(Holdt & Kraan 2011; Peñalver et al. 2020). The low incidence
of colorectal cancer in Japan, for example, has been attributed
to the regular intake of seaweeds containing high fibre
(Moussavou et al. 2014). Other health benefits of dietary
fibres include a reduction in cardiovascular disease and obe-
sity and the intake of fibres also gives the feeling of content-
ment and satiety (Jiménez-Escrig et al. 2013; Peñalver et al.
2020). The recommended fibre intake in the US and the UK is
in the range of 18–30 g d
, which can be fulfiled by incor-
porating seaweed in the diet (Rajapakse & Kim 2011;
Circuncisão et al. 2018). Fibres constitute about 36%–60% of
seaweed biomass (Circuncisão et al. 2018), comparable to, and
in some cases exceeding that of fruits and vegetables (Table 1).
The values of fibres (5–10 g per 100 g dw) found in Porphyra
columbina, for example, is comparable to that of land vege-
tables (Cian et al. 2014). Similarly, the fibre content in Kombu
(Laminaria digitata) (6.2%) is higher than that of brown rice
(3.8%; Finglas et al. 2014).
Table 1. Dietary fibre content in seaweeds.
Fibre (% dry weight)
Source Soluble Insoluble Total
27.7 43.7 71.4
25.7 7.0 32.7
17 13.1 30
33.9 16.3 49.2
30.0 5.3 35.3
17.21 15.78 33
Ulva lactuca* 18 36 54
17.2 16.2 33.4
24 36 59.8
18 43 61
18 42 58
6.4 44 50
22.25 12 34.25
48 12.3 60.3
17.9 16.8 34.7
Food from terrestrial plants (g per 100 g)
Na Na 3.8
Na Na 3.1
Na Na 8.9
5.9 8.3 14.2
(Peñalver et al. 2020);
(Sanz-Pintos et al. 2017);
(Finglas et al. 2014). Na – data not available.
Seaweed polysaccharides have numerous beneficial properties
such as probiotic activity, inhibition of viruses, suppression of
gastrointestinal inflammation, anticancer properties, reduction in
cholesterol uptake and anti-glycosidase activity (Rajapakse &
Kim 2011; Wang et al. 2012; Necas & Bartosikova 2013; Daub
et al. 2020; Cotas et al. 2020b). In addition, seaweed fibres
contain negligible amounts of starchy carbohydrates, resulting
in a lower glycaemic load, which is beneficial in regulating the
glycaemic index of diabetic patients (Wee & Henry 2020).
Seaweeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibres. Soluble
fibre content tends to be higher in red seaweeds such as
Chondrus and Porphyra sp. than brown and green seaweeds
(Holdt & Kraan 2011; Peñalver et al. 2020), whereas brown
seaweeds such as Laminaria sp. Saccharina sp. and Fucus sp.
have higher insoluble fibre content (Peñalver et al. 2020).
Soluble fibres of seaweeds are known to produce short-chain
fatty acids (SCFAs) such as acetate, propionate and butyrate
in the large intestine due to fermentation (Cantarel et al.
2012). SCFAs nourish the epithelia of the large intestine and
modify the intestinal microbiome (Cian et al. 2015). In addi-
tion, partially digested seaweed proteins and carbohydrates in
the small intestine can stimulate the immune response in
humans by indirect promotion of microbial response (Cian
et al. 2015; Wells et al. 2017).
Mineral content (inorganic elements)
Minerals are essential for our body to develop and function
normally, and seaweeds are a good source of these minerals
(Mišurcová et al. 2011). Seaweeds contain a variety of miner-
als such as iron (Fe), iodine (I), calcium (Ca), magnesium
(Mg), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn) and zinc (Zn) that are
important micronutrients needed for human nutrition
(Circuncisão et al. 2018; Cherry et al. 2019; Peñalver et al.
2020; Table 2). The mineral content in seaweeds is similar to
that of seawater but varies between species and is affected by
environmental factors such as season, salinity, pH, light,
nitrogen source (Nunes et al. 2017; Circuncisão et al. 2018).
A study showed that Halimeda macroloba contains 232 mg
per 100 g of calcium (Rattanasomboon et al. 2018), which
equals about 23% of the Recommended Dose Intake (RDI) for
an adult male. The total mineral content in Galaxaura rugosa
is as high as 84.16 g per 100 g dw (Nunes et al. 2017); 8 g of
Palmaria palmata contain more iron than 100 g of sirloin
steak (Finglas et al. 2014); and the recommended dose of
copper (1.2 mg d
) can be effectively met by consuming
seaweed or seaweed-fortified foods.
Iodine regulates the metabolism and proper growth of the
human body and is an essential constituent of thyroid hor-
mones T3 (3,5,3-triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine or
3,5,3,5-tetraiodothyronine). Thyroid hormones T3 and T4
regulate major metabolic processes such as catabolism of
carbohydrates, lipids and protein, cellular respiration, thermo-
regulation, intermediary metabolism, and nitrogen retention
(Abbaspour et al. 2014; Nunes et al. 2018). Iodine deficiency
results in metabolic disorders such as goitre and developmen-
tal delay, including mental retardation and brain damage,
especially amongst children (Pearce 2012; Eastman &
Zimmermann 2018). Consequently, iodine deficiency is
recognized as an important global health issue (Biban &
Lichiardopol 2017). Seaweeds are an excellent source of
iodine; brown seaweeds contain the highest iodine content,
with some species exceeding the RDI (150 µg per day;
Rajapakse & Kim 2011). Red and green seaweed species
such as Eucheuma cottonii, E. spinosum, Palmaria palmata,
Porphyra sp. and Ulva lactuca also contain iodine but at lower
concentrations (Zava & Zava 2011; Nitschke & Stengel 2016;
Rasyid 2017; Cherry et al. 2019). Thus, the iodine requirement
can be met by consuming seaweeds or seaweed-based nutra-
Table 2. Approximate composition of seaweeds and other foods.
Seaweeds (mg per 100 g wet weight) Calcium Potassium Magnesium Sodium Copper Iron Iodine Zinc
900 4400 700 3900 Na 13.3 75–125 Na
1005 11,579 659 3818 <0.5 3.29 304 2
909 6739 827 3700 Na Na Na 3.8
931 8669 1181 7064 <0.5 Na 25 1.74
Caulerpa lentillifera 1874 1143 1029 8917 0.11 21.4 Na 3.5
525 1561 2094 1595 0.50 283 Na 0.60
42,344 328 2987 1100 0.7 47.5 Na 2.63
1000 2700 200 1100 0.56 32 Na 2.85
687 1407 283 1173 Na 18.2 17 4.23
420 3184 732 427 <0.5 4 20–30 7.14
0.4 4.9 0.31 Na 0.0015 0.04 Na 0.0024
Other foods (mg per 100 g wet weight)
200 Na Na Na Na 6.0 Na Na
140 Na Na Na Na 0.8 Na Na
110.0 1160.0 520.0 258.0 1.3 12.9 Na 16.2
115.0 140.0 11.0 55.0 Na 0.1 15.0 0.4
9.0 260.0 16.0 49.0 0.1 1.6 6.0 3.1
6.0 400.0 34.0 1.0 0.1 0.3 8.0 0.2
60.0 670.0 210.0 2.0 1.0 2.5 20.0 3.5
(Peñalver et al. 2020);
(Parjikolaei et al. 2016);
(Finglas et al. 2014);
(Holdt & Kraan 2011). Na – data not available.
Imchen: Seaweeds as health supplements 3
Zinc plays a vital role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA
(Sharif et al. 2012), whereas Mn is required for several meta-
bolic processes including blood clotting and haemostasis
(Chen et al. 2018a). Zinc and Mn coupled with Ca and Cu
aid in improving bone mass density in postmenopausal
women (Razmandeh et al. 2014). Osteoporosis is common
among elderly people, so the requirement of these minerals
can be fulfiled by the intake of seaweeds directly or as supple-
ments. Manganese is also a constituent of an important anti-
oxidant called superoxide dismutase (SOD). SOD protects
against free radicals that cause cellular damage and contribute
to ageing, chronic kidney disease and heart disease (Kitada
et al. 2020). Rich in Zinc are Chondrus crispus, Porphyra
umbilicalis and Gracilaria corticata, G. edulis (Circuncisão
et al. 2018), and Chondrus crispus, Palmaria palmata and
Gracilaria vermiculophylla are rich in Mn (Parjikolaei et al.
2016; Circuncisão et al. 2018).
Fatty acids are long-chained hydrocarbons and are broadly
divided into four categories: saturated, monounsaturated,
polyunsaturated and trans fats. Overall, lipids make up
about 1–5% of seaweed dry weight (Peñalver et al. 2020).
A recent study showed that the lipid content of Asparagopsis
taxiformis was 2.9–6.2 g per 100 g dw, which contributed
about 9.5% to the RDI (Mellouk et al. 2017; Nunes et al.
2019). Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) constitute
a significant part of the seaweed lipid profile (Peñalver et al.
2020; Table 3). The growing interest in seaweed-derived poly-
unsaturated fatty acids is mainly ascribed to the presence of
ω-3 and ω-6 PUFA (Kendel et al. 2015; Gonçalves et al. 2017;
Alencar et al. 2018; Michalak 2018).
Fatty acids influence many biological activities such as the
regulation of membrane structure and function, intracellular
signalling and gene expression (Gonçalves et al. 2017).
Particularly important are essential fatty acids (EFAs) because
they are not synthesized in the human body and are important
for immunomodulation, brain development, cellular signalling,
regulation of transcription factors, prevention of cancers such as
breast, prostate, colon and renal cancer, cardiovascular, neuro-
degenerative and autoimmune diseases, and inflammation due
to rheumatoid arthritis (Imhoff-Kunsch et al. 2011; Cardoso
et al. 2015; Cornish et al. 2017; Gonçalves et al. 2017; Cotas
et al. 2020a; Table 4). Essential fatty acids such as eicosapentae-
noic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (ω-3 fatty acids) are
also known to protect against dementia and suppress inflam-
mation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (Cotas et al.
2020a). Red seaweeds are particularly good sources of several
essential fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5 ω-3),
arachidonic acid (20:4 ω-6), linoleic acid (18:2 ω-6), a-linolenic
acid (18:3 ω-3), and stearidonic acid (18:4 ω-3) (Galloway et al.
2012) and several studies on health benefiting properties of
seaweed derived fatty acids indicate promising potential nutri-
tional and nutraceutical applications (Rajapakse & Kim 2011;
Belattmania et al. 2018; Cherry et al. 2019; Shannon & Abu-
Vitamins, except D and K, are mainly obtained through
animal-sourced food products such as meat, fish, eggs and
dairy, as the human body does not produce these vitamins.
Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin with the help of ultra-
violet light and can be supplied as supplements, whereas
vitamin K is produced in the intestine by bacteria (McKenna
& Murray 2014).
Seaweeds contain both water-soluble and fat-soluble vita-
mins (Leandro et al. 2020). Seaweed vitamins such as thiamine,
riboflavin, β-carotene and tocopherols can reduce the risk of
heart disease, thrombosis and atherosclerosis (Kong et al. 2018;
Fischer 2019). Vitamin B
is an essential water-soluble vitamin
and regulates the production of red blood cells and DNA
(Koury 2016; Green et al. 2017). Unlike terrestrial plants, sea-
weeds are a good source of vitamin B
. Ulva lactuca and
Pyropia yezoensis can produce biologically available vitamin
(Watanabe et al. 2014; Table 5). Vitamin B
Pyropia sp. is c. 1 g kg
fresh weight (Castillejo et al. 2018),
indicating that seaweeds can be a reliable source of vitamin B
Some seaweed species are also known to contain vitamins
like vitamins E and K. The concentration of vitamin E, an
important antioxidant, is reported to be higher (1.16 mg kg
in Undaria pinnatifida than in peanuts (0.8 mg kg
et al. 2014). Vitamin E and K are also found in Grateloupia
turuturu (Kendel et al. 2013).
Proteins are essential for growth and repair as they form the
structural and functional elements of cells in the body (Blanco
& Blanco 2017). Green and red seaweeds have higher protein
contents than brown seaweeds, as high as 47% of their dry
weight (Černá 2011; O’Connor et al. 2020). Porphyra spp,
Pyropia spp, Palmaria palmata and Ulva spp are the protein
richest seaweeds (Pereira 2011; Taboada et al. 2013; Angell
et al. 2016).
Aspartic and glutamic acid are the principal amino acids of
seaweed proteins. The unique taste of umami is due to glu-
tamic acid present in the seaweed Laminaria japonica. The
Table 3. Content of fatty acids (FAs) in different seaweeds.
(% of the total fatty acids)
PUFAs ω3 PUFAs ω6 PUFAs
38 19 15
47 25 21
69 45 22
2 1.11 0.14
29 24 4
1.18 0.86 0.32
68 Na Na
Na 7.2 8
Na Na 45
Na Na 2
16 7 8
15 5 10
(Holdt & Kraan 2011);
(Nunes et al. 2019);
(Mellouk et al. 2017);
(Kendel et al. 2015). Na – data not available.
flavour of umami formed the basis for the synthesis of mono-
sodium glutamate (Druehl 2013). Monosodium glutamate is
one of the most used flavour enhancers, and although its use
is recognized as safe, it remains controversial (Zanfirescu et al.
2019). Some essential amino acids like histidine in Ulva lac-
tuca are comparable to egg protein (Shuuluka et al. 2013).
Seaweed proteins contain all the essential amino acids (Diniz
et al. 2011), but they can vary with species, season and geo-
graphic location (Circuncisão et al. 2018).
Essential amino acids help to build up muscles, support their
functioning, and regulate the blood sugar level (Breitman et al. 2011;
Hayashi & Seino 2018). Amino acids are normally obtained from
non-vegetarian diets such as meats, eggs and fish. Essential amino
acids such as leucine, valine and threonine are abundant in red
seaweed species such as Porphyra dioica, Porphyra umbilicalis and
Gracilaria vermiculophylla (Machado et al. 2020). Pepsin is
a principal protein-digesting enzyme that helps absorb amino
acids in the small intestine. Pepsin obtained from Pyropia yezoensis
exhibits numerous health benefiting properties such as angiotensin-
converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitory effect, antimutagenic, anti-
diabetic, inhibition of calcium precipitation, reduction of cholesterol
levels, antioxidant activity, and improvement of hepatic function
(Harnedy & Fitzgerald 2011; Admassu et al. 2018).
Chlorophylls are green lipid-soluble pigments in seaweeds,
higher plants and cyanobacteria for photosynthesis (Holdt &
Kraan 2011; Table 5). In addition, chlorophyll has an antiox-
idant property that makes it a useful nutritional as well as
health supplement (Tumolo & Lanfer-Marquez 2012; Pérez-
Gálvez et al. 2020). Seaweeds contain different types of chlor-
ophyll (chl), such as chl a and b in green seaweeds, chl a in
red seaweeds, and chl a and c in brown seaweeds (Takaichi
2013). Chlorophylls are normally included in our diet by
consuming green vegetables. A study by Vaňková et al.
(2018) showed that chlorophylls have an antiproliferative
effect on pancreatic cell lines. They observed that chlorophylls
inhibited haem-oxygenase (HMOX) activity, which subse-
quently affected the redox environment of pancreatic cancer
cells and suppressed their proliferation. Chlorophyll degrada-
tion products, such as phaeophytin, pyropheophytin and
pheophorbide, have anti-cancer properties (Holdt & Kraan
Carotenoids are tetraterpenoid pigments present in plants,
bacteria, fungi and seaweeds. Major seaweed carotenoids are
α-carotene, β-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Alpha- and β-
carotene are the precursors of vitamin A. Carotene plays an
important photoprotective role against damage by reactive
oxygen species (ROS; Pérez-Gálvez et al. 2020) and exhibits
numerous biologically active properties such as antioxidant,
anti-inflammatory and antitumor activity (Di Tomo et al.
2012; Galasso et al. 2017; Viera et al. 2018). Carotenoids like
Table 4. Potential health benefits of seaweeds’ polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
Seaweeds Health benefits References
Ulva lactuca Anti-cancer property Wang et al. 2013
Ulva armoricana Property to increase immune system and lower blood cholesterol, anti-
cancer property against skin and colon cancer
Kendel et al. 2015
Porphyra dioica, Palmaria palmata,
Suppress inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, beneficial
effect to asthmatic patient
Imhoff-Kunsch et al. 2011; Robertson et al. 2015
Porphyra umbilicalis, Undaria
Improved lipoprotein metabolism Olivero-David et al. 2011; Shannon & Abu-
Undaria pinnatifida Antiobesity Okada et al. 2011
Undaria pinnatifida, Porphyra
Prevention of cardiovascular disease, anti-inflammatory, antiplatelets Taboada et al. 2013
Ulva rigida, Gracilaria sp., Fucus
vesiculosus, Saccharina latissima
Prevention of cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, osteoarthritis, diabetes
and autoimmune disease
Cardoso et al. 2015; Simopoulos 2016;
Gonçalves et al. 2017; Neto et al. 2018;
Gracilaria spp, Ulva lactuca Anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer activity against breast and bladder cancer Wang et al. 2013; Da Costa et al. 2017
Table 5. Contents of vitamins (mg per g dw) and bioactive compounds (mg per 100 g dw) in seaweeds.
C E β-Carotene Chl a Polyphenols Fucoxanthin
16.4 81.8 Na Na Na Na Na
Na 46.7 2.24 4.3 150 232 0.9–18.6d
0.5 1.35 0.28 2.2 153 14.2 27.4
Sargassum horneri Na Na Na Na Na Na 2.12
43 1847 Na Na Na Na 4.96
1.84 0.6–5.5 0.2–1.3 2 80.4 0.6 Na
0.78 33.3 0.11– 0.34 3.9 161.4 3.2 Na
60 94.2 1.97 Na Na Na Na
6.3 10.0 Na 20.4
(Cherry et al. 2019);
(Ferraces-Casais et al. 2012);
(Nunes et al. 2017);
(Rajauria et al. 2017);
(Susanto et al. 2016);
(Fung et al. 2013). Na – data not
Imchen: Seaweeds as health supplements 5
lutein and zeaxanthin prevent the progress of age-related
macular degeneration (Murray et al. 2013; Wu et al. 2015;
Buscemi et al. 2018).
The reactive oxygen species (ROS) that accumulate during
metabolic processes cause oxidative damage (Nita &
Grzybowski 2016; Pérez-Gálvez et al. 2020). The oxidative
damage in humans results in degenerative diseases and cancer
(Nita & Grzybowski 2016; Aggarwal et al. 2019). However,
these reactive oxygen species are effectively eliminated by
carotenoid antioxidants (Miyashita 2014; Rengasamy et al.
2015; Patlevič et al. 2016). Important carotenoids like lutein,
α-carotene and zeaxanthin are produced by Asparagopsis taxi-
formis (Holdt & Kraan 2011; Chan et al. 2015; Pereira 2015)
and Pyropia yezoensis (Koizumi et al. 2018). The carotenoid
content in the red seaweed Gracilaria lanceola is high (131 mg
per 100 g dw; Nunes et al. 2017).
β-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A (retinol), an essential
vitamin that promotes a healthy immune system, good skin,
and eye health (Pérez-Gálvez et al. 2020). β-carotene also has
antioxidant properties that protect the body from free radicals
produced by oxidation of other molecules (Boominathan &
Mahesh 2015; Corsetto et al. 2020). Oxidative stress is believed
to be a cause of cognitive decline (Kandlur et al. 2020) and β-
carotene–based antioxidants prevent the decline of cognition
(Hira et al. 2019). The β-carotene content of Codium fragile
(199 µg g
) and Gracilaria chilensis (114 µg g
) exceeds that of
carrots (Wells et al. 2017; Table 5).
Nagayama et al. (2014) found a positive correlation
between the intake of carotenoids with dietary supplements
by lactating women and carotenoid content in breast milk,
improving carotenoid supply to the developing child.
Fucoxanthin, a marine carotenoid, is a xanthophyll pigment
found in the chloroplast of brown seaweeds such as Eisenia
bicyclis, Laminaria japonica and Undaria pinnatifida (Jung
et al. 2012; Jang et al. 2018; Table 5). It is the most abundant
carotenoid in nature, and the characteristic brown colour of
brown seaweeds is due to this pigment. Fucoxanthin exhibits
several bioactive properties such as strong antioxidant capa-
city, anti-obesity, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and hepatoprotec-
tive activity, and anti-inflammatory effect (Miyashita 2014;
Abdul et al. 2016). Although fucoxanthin contains numerous
nutritional qualities and medicinal properties, the use of
fucoxanthin is challenging due to its poor water solubility,
chemical instability and low bioavailability (Zhang et al. 2015;
Huang et al. 2017). It readily gets oxidized in pure form (Abu-
Ghannam & Shannon 2017). Fucoxanthin will be easier to
develop into a safe nutraceutical supplement with the devel-
opment of new methods to improve stability and bioavailabil-
ity (Zhang et al. 2015), such as the encapsulation in oil
emulsion (Huang et al. 2017; Xiao et al. 2020). Tsuboi et al.
(2011) showed that fucoxanthin reacts with nitrate and forms
nitrofucoxanthin. This exhibited a strong inhibitory effect on
Epstein–Barr virus and on human pancreatic carcinoma.
Other bioactive properties of fucoxanthin that have potential
health benefits are anti-osteoporotic effect (Koyama 2011),
antihypertensive property (Abu-Ghannam & Shannon 2017)
and protection against lipid peroxidation (Takashima et al.
2012). The study by Miyashita (2014) showed that ingestion of
fucoxanthin can improve insulin resistance and decrease
blood glucose level.
The inclusion of fucoxanthin in dietary supplements can help
to prevent lifestyle-related diseases such as atherosclerosis, dia-
betes, heart disease, obesity and stroke. However, more human
clinical trials are necessary to determine the safety and recom-
mended daily dosage (Zhang et al. 2015; Abu-Ghannam &
Shannon 2017). Fucoxanthin derived from Phaeodactylum tri-
cornutum, a microalga, is allowed by the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) to be used in dietary supplements (Bae
et al. 2020).
Phenolic compounds are secondary metabolites, found mainly
in brown seaweeds such as Fucus, Ascophyllum and Sargassum
(Mekinić et al. 2019; Peñalver et al. 2020). They are structu-
rally diverse and different polyphenolic compounds such as
bromophenols, flavonoids, phenolic terpenoids, etc. are found
in brown seaweeds (Cotas et al. 2020b). Phenolics have
attracted great attention in recent years due to their promising
bioactivity for potential pharmacological applications and
many other health-benefiting properties.
Phlorotannins are the most studied polyphenols of seaweeds,
as they have many bioactive properties such as antioxidant, anti-
diabetic and antibiotic properties. Consequently, they have been
identified as potential candidates for the development of natural
antioxidant-based functional foods (Farvin & Jacobsen 2013).
Phlorotannins play important ecological functions such as cell
wall hardening, protection against herbivory, protection against
UV radiation, wound healing, as a chelating agent of toxic
metals, adaptation to wave exposure and desiccation (Singh &
Sidana 2013; Mannino & Micheli 2020). The bromophenol pre-
sent in Gracilaria sp. is anti-diabetic, anti-cancer and antioxidant
(Liu et al. 2011). The antioxidant activity of seaweed phlorotan-
nins is more potent than that of polyphenols derived from
terrestrial plants (Ferreres et al. 2012; Vizetto-Duarte et al.
2016; Sellimi et al. 2017). The numerous bioactivities associated
with polyphenolics, particularly of phlorotannins, provide many
potential applications in nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, and cos-
Sterols are another group of secondary metabolites with
health benefits, showing antioxidant, antiviral, antifungal
and antibacterial properties (Abdul et al. 2016). Fucosterols
and desmosterols are the main sterols (Lopes et al. 2011), but
some seaweed sterols such as desmosterol, cholesta-4,6-dien-
3-ol and cholest-5-ene-3,7-diol have cholesterol-like proper-
ties (De Andrade Tomaz et al. 2012; Santos et al. 2015; Xu
et al. 2015).
Porphyra sp. and Osmundea pinnatifida contain cholester-
ols (Lopes et al. 2011; Hernández-Ledesma & Herrero 2013).
Cholesterols are essential for cellular activities as they increase
the fluidity of cell membranes (Lopes et al. 2013). Fucosterols
are anti-diabetics and antioxidant, improve digestion, and
reduce cholesterol concentration in animals and humans
(Christaki et al. 2013; Abdul et al. 2016; Mouritsen et al.
2017; Table 6). The phytosterols of Ulva armoricana induce
a cholesterol lowering effect by decreasing intestinal absorp-
tion of cholesterol (Kendel et al. 2015), and offer protection
against colon, breast and prostate cancer by increasing
immune system efficiency (Lopes et al. 2013; Shahzad et al.
2017). These qualities of seaweed sterols have applications in
nutraceutical and pharmaceutical formulations to manage and
regulate cholesterols for human health.
Some notable seaweed-specific molecules such as laminarin,
ulvan, porphyran and floridean starches are species-specific
polysaccharides of brown (Laminaria sp.), green (Ulva sp.)
and red (Porphyra sp.) seaweeds (Holdt & Kraan 2011;
Peñalver et al. 2020). These molecules have shown promising
nutraceutical and pharmacological properties. Laminarin is
a water-soluble polysaccharide, a bioactive compound with
antioxidant, anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, immunostimu-
latory, antitumor activities and it contributes to seaweed diet-
ary fibres (Kadam et al. 2015a; Déléris et al. 2016;
Zargarzadeh et al. 2020). The laminarin extracted from
Laminaria hyperborea showed strong antimicrobial activity
against Gram positive (Staphylococcus aureus and Listeria
monocytogenes) and Gram negative (Escherichia coli and
Salmonella typhimurium) bacterial strains (Kadam et al.
2015b). Porphyran is a complex sulphate-containing polysac-
charide and its greatest health benefit lies in fibre. Porphyran
possesses several active biological properties such as anti-
inflammatory, antioxidant, hypolipidemic and anti-cancer
activity in humans (Jiang et al. 2012; Wang et al. 2017).
Ulvan is a sulphated heteroglycan. Bioactivities such as anti-
oxidant, antiviral, antilipidemic and immunoregulatory effects
and antitumour activities have been observed (Thanh et al.
2016; Abou El Azm et al. 2019; Kidgell et al. 2019).
Mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) are water-soluble and
photostable secondary metabolites (La Barre et al. 2014).
MAAs are known for their cosmeceutical use such as in sun
care products due to their highly efficient ultraviolet protec-
tive capability (Thiyagarasaiyar et al. 2020). However, studies
have demonstrated that MAAs also have other important
bioactive properties like anti-inflammatory, immunomodula-
tory and antioxidant activities (Lawrence et al. 2018). The
strong antioxidant activity of MAAs could effectively inhibit
the oxidation of β-carotene and reduce lipid peroxidation,
which is involved in the ageing process (Chrapusta et al.
The regular consumption of seaweeds reduces the occurrence
of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes (Turan &
Cirik 2018). This is attributed to the presence of numerous
health-benefiting bioactive molecules essential for healthy
wellbeing. Although seaweeds are consumed in very few
countries, they can be used as an ingredient in various food
products to enhance nutritional quality. This improvement of
food products will alleviate malnutrition due to the growing
scarcity of proteins and essential vitamins. In recent years,
a better understanding of dietary science has led to increased
incorporation of seaweeds into foods to improve the nutri-
tional properties (Shannon & Abu-Ghannam 2019).
Malnutrition is common among young children, lactating
and pregnant women, adolescents, and poverty-stricken peo-
ple. Poor nutrition in the early days is known to affect the
cognitive development of the child (Prado & Dewey 2014;
DiGirolamo et al. 2020). Incorporating seaweed into our diet
could be a panacea to counter malnourishment.
The constraint of food production and supply from terres-
trial resources is expected to encourage consumption of sea-
weeds to meet the demand for increased growth in the world
population. Seaweed-based functional food products and
nutraceutical supplements can potentially contribute to alle-
viate the chronic malnutrition problem. Seaweed-fortified
food products are one promising route towards this goal.
The present review observed that many seaweeds are of
diverse nutritional value, as they contain essential vitamins,
Table 6. Biological activities of seaweeds’ sterols and their potential health benefiting properties.
Types of sterols Seaweeds Health benefits References
Fucosterol, desmosterol Macrocystis sp., Pyropia sp., Palmaria sp. Improve digestion, enhanced
blood clearance, lowering of free
and bound cholesterol
Yi et al. 2016; Mouritsen et al.
Ecklonia stolonifera, Eisenia bicyclis Inhibit butyrlcholinesterase,
enzyme that involve in Alzheimer’s
disease, antiobesity, anti-diabetic
Jung et al. 2013a, 2013b; Abdul
et al. 2016
Fucosterol Dictyota ciliolata, Dictyopteris divaricata, Padina sanctae-
crucis, Sargassum thunbergii; Sargassum carpophyllum,
Sargassum angustifolium, Turbinaria tricostata, Chondria
dasyphylla, Ulva flexuosa
Anti-cancer Khanavi et al. 2012; Kim et al.
2013; Caamal-Fuentes et al.
2014; Ji et al. 2014
Fucosterol Hizikia fusiformis (=Sargassum fusiforme) Anti-inflammatory Jung et al. 2013a
Fucosterol, sarinosterol Sargassum fusiforme Hepatoprotective Hoang et al. 2012; Chen et al.
Fucosterol Sargassum longifolium, Himanthalia elongata Anti-pathogenic, antifungal,
Santoyo et al. 2011; Rajendran
et al. 2013
Fucosterol Laminaria japonica Hyperlipidaemia Lee et al. 2011
Imchen: Seaweeds as health supplements 7
proteins, and minerals including trace elements. Further, the
numerous health benefits of biomolecules make seaweeds an
attractive natural resource for the development of novel
nutraceutical and other functional food supplements. The
growing consumer awareness of the positive health impacts
of edible seaweeds also make them an increasingly attractive
nutritional source. The essential fatty acids and vitamin B
(cobalamin) of seaweeds would be an ideal vegetarian alter-
native, as vegetables and fruits are poor sources of these
The author acknowledges the support of the Director, CSIR-National
Institute of Oceanography, and Dr Manguesh Gauns. The author is also
thankful to the Editors Dr. Eva Rothausler and Dr. António José Calado for
their valuable comments and language corrections that have immensely
improved the quality of the article. This is NIO contribution number 6797.
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).
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