Ginseng is perhaps the most well-known herbal remedy around the world, used as a go-to curative for ailments from low energy to heart disease and cancer.
But there’s another ingredient exploding in popularity that also has roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine. And it brings even more benefits than the humble ginseng root.
That ingredient is sea cucumber.
Read on to learn more about sea cucumber and why its value is second to none in terms of quality and nutrition
Why is sea cucumber often compared to ginseng?
It has to do mainly with how (and why) both have been used historically.
Ginseng and sea cucumber have both been staples in ancient Asian medicinal practices. Though they are completely different ingredients—sea cucumber is a marine animal while ginseng is a plant—they have some health effects in common.
In fact, due to their similar uses, sea cucumber in Chinese medicine is often referred to as hǎishēn, which translates to “sea ginseng” or “ginseng of the sea”.
There are many species of both ginseng and sea cucumber. Asian ginseng is one of the most common types of ginseng root used traditionally. Its scientific name, Panax ginseng, comes from the Greek panex, meaning “all-healing.”
From the names alone, it’s easy to see how sea cucumber might be compared to ginseng in terms of its wide-ranging curative properties.
Let’s take a deeper look at some of the health benefits that sea cucumber and ginseng have in common.
What are some similarities between sea cucumber and ginseng?
Even though sea cucumber is an ocean-dwelling echinoderm, and ginseng is a rooted plant, they are shockingly similar in terms of composition and wellness benefits:
Saponins - Both ginseng and sea cucumber are made up of a wide variety of saponins (in ginseng, these compounds are called ginsenosides). Saponins, a structural component, have exhibited exceptional anti-cancer and anti-tumor abilities when consumed. That said, the saponins found in ginseng and sea cucumber aren’t the same (more on that later).
Nutritional bioactives – Both contain beneficial nutritional components such as polysaccharides, fatty acids and peptides.
Sea cucumber and ginseng are also prepared in a similar way. Both can be consumed dried, steamed, and powdered among other methods. (Sea cucumber in particular is best prepared by steaming rather than boiling. To avoid this, look for products like Rosalyn which are cooked by steaming to lock in nutrients – especially those that will dissolve in water, such as saponins.)
Most excitingly, sea cucumber and ginseng are available in powdered, encapsulated form for convenient daily consumption. Sometimes they are even sold together in the same capsule!
How is sea cucumber different from ginseng?
Now that we’ve covered the similarities, sea cucumber brings additional value beyond ginseng, making it an all-star ingredient in the wellness world.
The magic component of the sea cucumber is its saponins. They are different than those found in ginseng and have research to support their impressive effects including:
Reducing oxidative damage
Blood glucose regulation
Each is discussed in more depth below.
Sea Cucumber as an Antioxidant & Cell Protector
The specific saponins found in the sea cucumber’s structural wall have shown exceptional abilities to work as free radical scavengers which protect cells from oxidative damage. They work to help repair and replace DNA damage from disease.
This is just part of what gives the sea cucumber its superhero-like regenerative properties.
In addition, the saponins in sea cucumber have additional anti-aging benefits when consumed.
Sea Cucumber and Potential Anti-Cancer Effects
Studies have shown that the glycoside saponins found in sea cucumbers show cytotoxic, anti-fungal and anti-tumour activities.
How does this work? Basically, when diseased and cancerous cells come into contact with saponins, it results in an influx of ions, nucleotides and peptides that disrupt or even kill the problematic cells.
Additionally, the saponins interact with the biochemical signaling pathways in diseased and cancerous cells which “turns down” certain factors responsible for tumor and fungal growth.
Certain varieties of sea cucumber contain saponins that have exhibited the ability to suppress human cancer cells with their cytotoxic (a.k.a., cell-killing) function while not suppressing the immune system in the process.
The type of saponin found specifically in Atlantic sea cucumber, Frondoside A, showed an innate ability to kill human pancreatic cancer cells.
More research is needed, but this is a promising direction for future studies!
Sea Cucumber and Immunoregulation
Sea cucumber saponins also have the ability to regulate immune system functioning. Certain species contain saponins that can cause immune cells to ingest and therefore destroy damaged, diseased cells or foreign bodies.
This process is incredibly important for cellular health and maintenance Think of it like junk removal for our cells!
The saponins also help “turn up” factors involved in the process of defending against bacterial pathogens.
Also observed was the anti-viral benefits triggered by the stimulation and activation of immune T and B cells. Frondoside A from Atlantic sea cucumber was shown to stimulate immune cell activity and biochemical factors with effects maintained over a 10-day period.
Sea Cucumber and Blood Glucose Regulation
Sea cucumber saponins may also be involved in blood glucose regulation. Diabetes—the inability to properly regulate and utilize blood glucose—is a specific disease that has potential to be managed by these saponins.
Studies have shown supplementation with these specific saponins can improve blood glucose concentrations. In the case of insulin resistance, sea cucumber saponins have a protective effect on impaired glucose tolerance and can improve insulin resistance in diabetics.
What other scientific research is being done on sea cucumber?
At Nova Sea Atlantic, we are actively investing in research and development of the extraordinary Atlantic sea cucumber.
Our continuing research includes a 3-year clinical trial to investigate sea cucumber and immune function in humans.
The results are expected to be published later in 2022, so be sure to stay tuned!
While there are many similarities between sea cucumber and ginseng, research on sea cucumber continues to reveal even more benefits than originally thought.
To learn more about “ginseng of the sea,” or sea cucumber, visit our website.