Beauty from Northern waters: The Sea Cucumber has many good reasons to convince you! ( credits photo vincent Maran)

Feb 03, 2020
Credits WWF UK

Dear BioMarine community, I went through this very intersting study: High-Value Components and Bioactives from Sea Cucumbers for Functional Food prepared by Sara Bordbar, Farooq Anwar, and Nazamid Saari.

It's not always easy to digest this very interesting article but I have extracted a few important points to explain why sea cucumber is a natural beauty. keep in mind that some of the species are over exploited. Luckily our International Blue Coop is focusing on northern species which live in pristine waters from Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Iceand and Norway. The development of reproduction methods allow natural reimplantion in the wild to compensate the strict fishing quotas.

let's go through the basics and what you should know about Sea Cucumbers:

Composition of fresh sea cucumbers may differ to a wider extent depending upon the species, seasonal variations and feeding regimes and most importantly water quality. Moisture, protein, fat, ash, and carbohydrates for fresh sea cucumbers to vary from 82.0 to 92.6, 2.5 to 13.8, 0.1 to 0.9, 1.5 to 4.3 and 0.2 to 2.0%, respectively. Commercially processed (dried) sea cucumbers are rich source of crude protein (40.7 to 63.3%) in comparison to most of the seafoods so far in use.

Sea cucumbers contain an interesting combination of valuable amino acids; glycin being the major component in almost all species identified. Glutamic acid , aspartic acid, alanine and arginine  are prominent among others. Another important feature of sea cucumber’s amino acids composition is its low lysine/arginine ratio together with high score of essential amino acids (EAAs) due to presence of considerable amount of threonine, tyrosine and phenylalanine. Hypocholesterolemic effects of low lysine/arginine ratio of a protein are well documented.

High-Value Bioactives and Therapeutics

During the past three to four decades many efforts have been devoted to isolating numerous biologically active novel compounds from marine sources. Many of such naturally occurring compounds are of great interest for potential drug development as well as an ingredient of new leads and commercially successful products for various industrial applications, especially, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, functional foods and nutraceuticals. Sea cucumbers are one of the potential marine animals with high food and medicinal value. The medicinal properties of these animals are ascribed to the presence of functional components with promising multiple biological activities.

A high amount of good-quality protein in sea cucumber is linked with its beneficial effects on serum triglyceride levels. Sea cucumber protein, especially produced from body wall, is rich in glycine, glutamic acid and arginine. Glycine can stimulate production and release of IL-2 and B cell antibody and thus contributes to enhancing phagocytosis. Glycine and glutamic acid are essential components for cells to synthesize glutathione which can stimulate activation and proliferation of NK cell. Arginine can enhance cell immunity by promoting activation and proliferation of T-cell. Due to these amino acid components, sea cucumbers have remarkable function in immune regulation. A major proportion (ca. 70 percent) of sea cucumber body wall protein is comprised of collagen. Collagen is recognized as a valued component in the connective tissues, due to its usefulness and specific distribution. It can be further converted into gelatin by boiling, to act as a functional bioactive substance.

Considerable amounts of phenolics and free radical scavengers have also been determined in sea cucumbers. Aqueous extract derived from sea cucumbers contain significantly higher amounts of total phenolics  than the organic extracts.

There are a series of other bioactive and antiagent substances in sea cucumbers, such as triterpene glycosides, enzymes, amyloses, fatty acids, cytotoxins, etc. with potential capabilities to increase immunity, resist tumor and cruor, protect nerve tissue, ease pain and resist epiphyte as well as contribute to immunopotentiation, anticancer and anticoagulation.

According to Fredalina et al.,  fatty acids of sea cucumber lipids fractions, are the key components, liable for tissue repair and wound healing properties of this marine animal.

Interestingly, in contrast to vegetable oils which mostly have fatty acids with even carbon numbers, a considerable amount of fatty acids with odd carbon numbers such as C15:0, C17:0, C19:0, C21:0 and C23:1 is also detected in sea cucumber fatty acid profiles.

Credits Woods Hole

Arachidonic acid (AA, C20:4 n-6) is detected to be the principal component in almost all species. Medicinal benefits of AA as precursor of eicosanoids and major component of cell membrane phospholipids are well recognized. It is known to play a potential role in growth, and blood clotting process leading to wound healing. This supports the sea cucumbers long time utilization as a traditional remedy for burns and cuts in Asia. Presence of considerable amount of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in several species,is medicinally important as these two long chain fatty acids are associated with the reduced incidence of coronary heart diseases and certain cancers.

Another group of functional substances namely, mucopolysaccharides and chondroitins, have also been identified in sea cucumbers. It has been seen that people suffering from arthritis and connective tissue disorders, are often devoid of these compounds. As such, sea cucumber-derived chondroitin sulfate can be exploited as a nutraceutical to ease joint-pain and arthritis like disorders. It is for this reason that about 3 g/day serving of the dried sea cucumbers is medicinally effective in reducing arthralgia to a significant level. The mechanism of action of chondroitin sulfate is considered to be similar to that of glucosamine sulfate; the latter compound is currently in use as therapeutic agent for easing osteoarthritis.

Sulfated polysaccharides are reported to exhibit antiviral activity and, based on this fact, Japanese scientists have patented their scientific findings regarding the potential use of sea cucumber chondroitin sulfate to inhibit human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

Another class of compounds is saponins, commonly identified as holothurins, from sea cucumber. The structural features of these compounds are quite comparable to those of the bioactives from ganoderma, ginseng, and other medicinally popular tonic herbs. They have displayed a wide spectrum of biological effects such as hemolytic, cytostatic, antineoplastic, anticancer and antitumor activities.

Cucumaria frondosa

Sea cucumbers are rich in glycosides, particularly triterpene glycosides which are proven to have antifungal and antitumor activities. Sea cucumbers are also known to have impressive amounts of lectins , cerberosides, glycosaminoglycans , sterols and omega-6 sterols and omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA)

Recently, a research group, working at Kyushu University, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka, Japan, has discovered three novel compounds (ganglioside molecular species, HLG-1, HLG-2 and HLG-3) in a sea cucumber namely Holothuria leucospilota. The newly studied molecules were able to stimulate nerve cell growth in rat cells in the laboratory. The researchers revealed that similar molecules are also present in nine other species of the sea cucumber,


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