In this post, we look at the research supporting sea cucumber’s potential anti-cancer effects, and where future research is headed.
Note: This article is a research summary and is not intended to give medical advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner.
Cancer remains the second leading cause of death worldwide. It’s a unique and prolific disease impacted by both genetics and lifestyle exposure to carcinogenic compounds.
With incidences of various cancers on the rise, there is greater need for diverse treatment options – particularly natural cancer treatments with low toxicity to the body.
Food-Based Compounds and Cancer Prevention
Many foods contain anti-cancer compounds, which researchers been actively studying for the past few decades.
Ingesting anti-carcinogens found in food has been suggested to be one of the most effective means of cancer prevention.
Marine life in particular has shown to be a robust source of new nutritional therapies.
According to research, ~4% of marine species tested (largely marine animals) contain anti-tumor and/or anti-cancer properties – including the humble sea cucumber.
Sea Cucumber and Cancer Protection
Fun fact: in China, doctors have been known to “prescribe” sea cucumber to cancer patients, ensuring they eat it every day. Though of course not a substitute for medical cancer therapies, this shows how valued sea cucumber is for disease mitigation.
Given its longstanding use in traditional medicines and cuisine, it’s no surprise sea cucumber has cancer-fighting benefits when evaluated by modern research.
Sea cucumbers aren’t just made up of a wide variety of active compounds like vitamins and minerals. They have also shown powerful anti-tumor and anti-cancer activities in animal studies due to many of its bioactive metabolites.
What compounds are responsible for this effect? Most notably, their content of diverse polysaccharide and glycoside compounds.
These are referred to as “saponins,” and are the magic of the animal. In fact, saponins are the most abundant glycosylated type of secondary metabolite extracted from sea cucumber.
Saponins possess antioxidant and antitumor activity. Amazingly, sea cucumber saponins can suppress inflammation, inhibit cancer cell growth, and increase the body's innate immune responses.
The benefit isn’t just specific to one type of cancer, either. Research has shown that these saponins can inhibit the growth and proliferation of cancer cells in a wide variety of human cancer cell lines.
Experimental evidence has observed that sea cucumber saponins have anti-cancer effects in:
Osteosarcoma (primary malignant bone cancer in children and adolescents)
Lung cancer (most common cancer, with highest mortality rate)
More research is needed in humans, but this evidence shows incredible potential of sea cucumber for cancer.
How Do Sea Cucumber Saponins Inhibit Cancer?
How do the bioactive saponins and polysaccharide compounds in sea cucumber prevent, delay, or treat cancer?
There are over 170 unique glycoside compounds that have been isolated from sea cucumber. The Cucumaria frondosa species (which is sourced from the East Coast of Canada and high in nutrients) contains a unique glycoside called Frondoside A. Due to its unique chemical structure, it is especially powerful as an anti-cancer agent.
Each compound works biochemically in its own way to prevent tumors and metastasis of various cancers.
Some of the mechanisms include:
Suppressing inflammation and boosting the innate immune response
Inhibiting the growth and proliferation of cancer cells (cytotoxicity)
Inducing cell death (apoptosis) in cancer cells
Inhibiting growth, angiogenesis (vascular growth and oxygen delivery), and lymph node metastasis of tumors
Antagonizing and/ or arresting biochemical pathways responsible for cancer cell and tumor creation
Modulating the function of key inflammatory biochemical cascades
The mechanism of each unique compound continues to be studied, but at present they show promise as a selective therapy for a wide variety of different cancer types.
For example, for some cancers, such as osteosarcoma, the main cause of fatality is secondary pulmonary metastasis developed in 80% of cases. Treatment preventing metastasis could help prevent this secondary outcome of the disease.
Additionally, nutritional therapy with these compounds could help tackle tumors already highly resistant to classic chemotherapies.
Sea Cucumber as the Next Anti-Cancer Functional Food?
As research continues to become available, we are learning more and more about the vast anti-cancer and anti-tumor benefits of sea cucumber nutritional therapy. With cancer becoming a more poignant global disease every day, this promising research shows there may be a new nutritional cancer therapy on the horizon.
Sea cucumber is available as a nutritional supplement with high nutritional value. Nova Sea Atlantic sea cucumber is 100% sustainably wild-caught from the North Atlantic ocean. Learn more about Nova Sea Atlantic today.
Note: This article is a research summary and is not intended to give medical advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before taking any product.