Seaweeds are organisms that look like plants that are found on seashores. This is the term that refers to the wide marine algae that mostly grow in shallow waters. The algae in the marine environment provide food and home to the different sea animals and add beauty to the underwater view. These algae are also valuable to man, as the seaweeds are one of the food source and as a raw material for industrial use. Seaweeds are plants as they are also performing photosynthesis with the use of the energy of the sun to produce the carbohydrates however they are different from land plants because they just absorb nutrients from the water unlike the roots in land plants that absorbs nutrients from the soil. Although some of the seaweeds have the root-like structure, its main purpose is to help the seaweeds attach to rocks (Anderson, 2006).
Seaweeds have different classifications, thus each of the seaweeds may not be closely linked together. The seaweeds have hundred of different species that may belong to the red algae classification or the Rhodophyta, the brown algae classification or the Phaeophyta or in the green algae or what is also known as the Chlorophyta classification (Why are seaweeds important?, anon. n.d.)
The Seaweeds History
Over thousands of years, seaweeds have been used in various places. The f algae came about to existence some 3.5 billion years ago. However, the algae colonies started growing just around 1 billion years ago. For over 2000 years now, seaweeds have been widely used in Japan as part of their diet and there had been 6 types of seaweeds that the Japanese used in their daily menu. By the year 794 A.D. the Japanese used seaweeds to make nori, a dried seaweed sheet. In China, this has been used since 2700 B.C. that is served as food for kings and other special guests. By the 15th century, kelp was used in Japan as food. Unlike in Japan and China, seaweeds are used as fodder and as an herbal medicine in Europe during the Greek times and the Roman times. In the year 100 B.C., the Greeks made use of seaweeds as food for the animals while in the Mediterranean, some of the red algae were used in making medicine to treat parasitic worms and as dying agents. However its common use is as food and as fertilizer. The Hawaiian uses around 60-70 species of seaweeds. They make use of the seaweeds for food, medicine, leis and for their ceremonies (The History of Seaweed, n.d.)
Uses of Seaweeds
The first and foremost use of seaweeds is as a food. For many centuries, seaweeds have been used as a food in different countries such as Japan, China, and Korea to mention a few. Nori and Wakame are just two of the many types of seaweeds that are used as foods. Nori is used in sushi while Wakame is used traditionally used in Japanese miso soup (Rossiter, 2008).
Fertilizer is another use of seaweeds. Over the years in places like United Kingdom, France, Scotland, and Argentina among others, seaweeds have been used as fertilizers in nearby lands. In United Kingdom, they tried to use the seaweeds with the sand where they will let the seaweeds rot before they dig it. In France, they collect brown seaweeds and then used it in an inland, located a kilometer away. In many countries, making use of seaweeds, wet or dried, has been a practice to be used as fertilizers because this has been proven to increase the water holding capacity of the soil and making use of this organic fertilizer frees the farmers from contributing pollution to the environment (McHugh, 2003).
Animal feeds can be another use of seaweeds. However, in studies, this has been shown to have positive effects limited to cows and cattle. This has been tried in poultry feeding but results only showed that seaweed feeding may just help in increasing the protein content in eggs. In cows and cattle on the other hand, it showed that this can increase the milk production by 6.8% and thus increasing the income by 13%. Seaweed feeding was tried with ewes, and it showed that seaweed meal for over a two year period showed that the ewes maintained their weight better during the winter season and it also resulted in a better production in wool. In some studies, the seaweed meal may also contribute to boosting the animal’s immune system (McHugh, 2003).
A source of an Agar is another use of seaweeds. Gelidum, from the Rhodophyta classification is the component of the best agar which is also called as the vegetative agar. Agar is used many ways such as in ice cream preparation, making jellies and some deserts. Agar is also used in shaving cream preparations, cosmetics and polishes for shoes and this is also widely used in biological laboratories (Uses of Seaweeds, anon., n.d.).
Seaweeds Use in Alternative Medicine
Seaweeds are also used in medicines. In folk medicine, seaweeds are prepared to be used in drawing boils and suppurations. Chopped seaweeds are mixed with onion and the mixture is placed on top of the boil and it starts to draw pus. The water absorbing property of the seaweed is believed to be the significant factor to do this action. Other seaweed species like the Ulva lactuca, Monostroma grevellei and Enteromorpha intestinalis are also used as medicine. Among others, the three mentioned can be used as cold compress for migraine, burns, sores and cuts, and for nosebleeds. “Leaf-Blades’ is also used to lessen flushing that is induced by childbirth. Fucus canalliculatuc and F. vesiculus, seaweed species, are thought to be effective in combating rheumatic knee disorder wherein the seaweeds are boiled in water and are used as compress on the affected knee, placed with a bandage (Scottish seaweeds in medicine, anon, n.d.).
In the year 1880, seaweeds were used by the Victorians as anti-fat and tonic wine that is used in several conditions. Sir Godefroy experimented with seaweed wherein he used 4 ½ grains which is.3g of grains after every meal, this made him lost 5 1/4lbs of his weight with no physiological effect, however, to make definite conclusions that seaweeds are in fact helpful in obesity, further trials needs to be done. During this time it was also found out that tonic wine, made with dried Fucus vesiculus, can help in managing children’s diseases involving the hip and other bones and joints. (Scottish seaweeds in medicine, anon, n.d.).
There are seaweeds that are rich in algin. This is a phycopolymer found in some seaweed that has a great detoxifying characteristic that it has the ability to bind heavy metals that are in the food stream and carries them until excretion because algin is not really digestible. Fucoidan is another phycopolymer found in brown algae that reduces the intensity of inflammation and may promote more rapid tissue repair after a wound trauma or even surgical wounds. Thus the broth of brown seaweed is advisable for people who have tissue damages brought about by accidents or voluntary surgery (Drum, 2008).
Fucoidan can help in managing a viral attack; it can also help in preventing the cell attachment and other functions because this phycopolymer stimulates the antiviral cytokines production. This may help in suppressing viral attacks, however, the results may not be verifiable and may be hard to measure and research continues in the use of fucoidan or the derivatives of the said phycopolymer in combating viral infestations such as HIV, HPV or herpes (Drum, 2008).
Red algae are also used to treat respiratory diseases. The red algae has been used for over a longer period of time in treating ailments of the respiratory system like pneumonia, sinus infection and asthma (Drum, 2008).
Seaweeds is also found useful in the following areas but are only graded as C or there is an unclear scientific evidence for use because no reliable studies may help support the claim, however, this may be a helpful start. For one it can be used as an anticoagulant wherein in a laboratory study found that fucans or fucoidan which are found in brown algae have anticoagulant properties (Seaweed, kelp, bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus, anon., n.d.)
Some of the seaweeds in the classification of the brown algae appear to suppress the cancer cell growth as laboratory studies and animal studies reveal. However, this also lacks the necessary reliable human studies to support the claim. Seaweeds are also helpful in goiter, diabetes and weight loss but no reliable human studies can support the claim (Fucus vesiculosus, anon., n.d.).
Laboratory studies also showed that bladderwrack, a seaweed, has an antifungal and antibacterial potency however, it lacks the human studies to prove the effectiveness of the said claim (Fucus vesiculosus, anon., n.d.).
In alternative medicine, seaweeds are widely used. There are certain seaweeds that are commonly used in managing wide variety of diseases. One of the seaweeds that are commonly used is the bladderwrack. The said seaweed is known to help in managing constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux to mention a few. This can be taken in a form of tea, capsules, or can be eaten when dried (Bladderwrack, anon., 2009).
The Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are medicines that are prescribed by physicians to treat infections that are caused by bacteria. The antibiotics, however, are not prescribed for common viral infections like common colds or flu. The action of the antibiotic is to kill the bacteria and prevent them from growing. There are different antibiotics that work with the wide variety of bacteria and it is necessary that a person should take the antibiotics as directed for it to be effective (Antibiotic Use Antibiotic Resistance, anon., 2009).
The use of antibiotic may be helpful in treating bacterial infection, this may also pose risks to a person. The use of antibiotics comes with it risks that one needs to consider for the person to know the consequences if antibiotics are not taken as the doctor prescribed.
One result of not taking antibiotic as the physician advised may result to developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria that may be difficult to treat. Since the time when penicillin was developed during the 1940’s, there had been a lot of antibiotics that emerged, however, along with the increase of the number of production of antibiotics is also the emergence of what they called the superbugs. Superbugs are bacteria that the antibiotic failed to kill and then it becomes resistant to the said drug and a more potent antibiotic will be prescribed to kill those bacteria and with continued improper use of antibiotics the cycle goes on (Mayoclinic Staff, 2008).
Like any other organisms, bacteria also change in response to the environmental challenges that they have. If the antibiotic is misused and is widely used, the bacteria will be exposed to these drugs and although some may die, some bacteria may survive and develops resistance to these drugs (Levison, 2008).
Antibiotic, more often causes yeast overgrowth that can cause other problems, such as weakening the immune system, after the treatment of the main disease. The overuse of the antibiotic is one of the factors that the bacteria become resistant. Even though that the antibiotic may kill some of the bacteria effectively but some may survive creating a stronger type of bacteria and mutates to become resistant to the antibiotic used (Herbal antibiotic alternatives, 2004).
The overuse of antibiotics may also turn bacteria that are non-disease causing into a pernicious strain that causes diseases. The disease will be treated with another antibiotic and this will start another cycle of antibiotic use and creating a more pernicious strain of bacteria (Herbal antibiotic alternatives, 2004).
What Alternatives can be used to replace Antibiotics?
As conventional antibiotics cause more problems, herbal treatment may be an effective solution to some infections. There is a big difference between the use of drugs and the use of alternative treatments like the herbs. The antibiotic drugs have the isolated constituent where the power of the drug is dependent on a certain chemical. The herbal antibiotic on the other hand, has several constituents that give a wide range of healing properties with the synergistic effect. The herb has the bacteria killing effect without harming the good bacteria, an important characteristic so the bacteria will not mutate to become drug resistant because the herbal antibiotic is the bacteria’s perfect match (Herbal antibiotic alternatives, 2004).
The Role of Seaweeds in Medicine
Seaweeds play a big role in the field of medicine, with the many characteristics that the seaweeds have, this can help in finding alternatives to the drugs that we now have. This can pave the way to finding alternative medication such as antibiotics to have the bacterial infection cured less the side effects and the complications that the antibiotic drugs bring.
Seaweeds have the different medical characteristics that can help cure variety of diseases that are evident from its historical uses. This can be the basis of the researchers on how they can come up with a medicine that is organic and thus giving the people the chance to have an alternative choice in dealing with their disease.
With the presence of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria, like the MRSA, this can be the perfect time to start searching for alternatives to the antibiotic drug that is widely used today. This is the time that the scientists should consider bringing about researches that would give a place to the alternative antibiotics in the market. This is what the people deserve to have. The antibiotic drug has been in use for over a long period of time but it only created a vicious cycle of creating more drug resistant bacteria, causing more serious disease. Thus, this is the time that this problem be addressed by starting researches and making the alternative antibiotic in the market.
Studies involving Seaweeds and its Antibacterial Content
In a study entitled “Bioprotective properties of seaweeds: In vitro evaluation of antioxidant activity and antimicrobial activity against food borne bacteria in relation to polyphenolic content”, the researchers Devi et.al. (2008), got the result that the seaweed Gelidiella acerosa has the highest antioxidant activity while the Haligra sps showed some antibacterial activity against the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus (Devi et.al. 2008).
In an article entitled “Seaweed contains natural antibiotic”, US reporters stated that the seaweeds have been found to be able to defend themselves from specific pathogens with their naturally occurring antibiotics that could be an opportunity for studies to look into for the neutraceuticals. The Georgia Institute of Technology scientists in Atlanta has isolated a potent antifungal compound found in a common seaweed specie which is called the Lobophora variegate and the findings according to them showed the reason why some seaweeds appears to avoid the fungal and bacterial infections. According to the institute’s assistant professor of biology and chemistry, the seaweeds are in constant interaction with the microbes that are potentially harmful and they may have evolved to become resistant to such infections (anon., 2003).
In a study entitled “Screening of antibacterial activity in marine green and brown macroalgae from the coast of Morocco”, it was said the production of antimicrobial activities was considered to indicate that the seaweeds has the capability of bioactive secondary metabolite synthesis. Ibtissam et.al. (2009) has concluded that the microalgae in the coast of Morocco are potential sources of bioactive compounds that may need to be investigated upon for its natural antibiotics. The study also found out that the antibacterial substances in the macroalgae is a regular occurrence.
In an article entitled “Seaweed Products Find Varied Commercial, Medical Applications” by Sahoo and Yarish (n.d.), stated that many seaweeds and its polysaccharides have demonstrated medically important effects like antiviral, antitumor and antibacterial. In some recent studies, some seaweed have the potential to have the antioxidant and the Anti HIV effect. According to the Population Council, the Carraguard, which is a sulfated polysaccharide that are now in Africa clinical trials, appears to be the a microbiocide, which is safe and cost effective, that reduces the risk of transmission of HIV and other infections that can be transmitted sexually.
In a study done entitled “Comparative efficacy of brown, green and red seaweeds in the control of root infecting fungi and okra”, it has been found out that the marine environment may be a source of lead compounds that can help in battling the infectious diseases and parasites. The results of the recent study showed that the use of brown seaweeds S. indica, P. paviona and S. Robusta have the potential to control fungi that infects the roots of okra and enhance the plant growth (Sultana, et.al., 2005). This shows how the seaweeds can be very effective in fighting bacteria and fungi that can be applied to human beings as well.
In searching for drugs that can treat curable diseases is increasing. In recent years the bioactive compounds search, the marine algae have received the lesser bioassay attention. However, the red alga, Sphaerococcus coronopifolius was shown to be having an antibacterial activity, the green alga contains the anti-inflammatory compound while an anti-tumor was found in Porteirra hornemannii (Saravanahkuma, n.d). With this, the seaweeds will be included in studies to see how this would help in tuberculosis disease.
This literature would help back up the study and help show that seaweeds do really have the antibacterial component that may be helpful in future discoveries of potent medicines that will give people the lesser risks that exposes them to more serious diseases. This shows that a potent medication for bacterial and other forms of infection can be treated with organic treatment with the use of seaweeds or its derivatives for medicinal uses.
This study would help pave the way of the companies who might be interested in producing a potent medicine to combat infection less the side effects that drug antibiotics may have. They can have studies done on how seaweeds can give our future generation the disease fighting medication that is not just limited to antibiotics because of the potential actions that seaweed has, covering the many diseases that can be addressed by these marine algae. This is a marine plant that has been used for a long time now addressing different health problems and can be a great breakthrough in making medicines lessening the side effects of the synthetic medications give.
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