In the ongoing fight against food allergies, what if the solution exists within another food? Researchers are optimistic about the beneficial effects of eating seaweed, or by consuming sulfated polysaccharides derived from a particular type of red algae seaweed called Gracilaria lemaneiformis.
Promising Results in Rat Studies
A team of researchers used mice bred to essentially have a shellfish allergy to test their hypothesis. The mice were specifically sensitive to a protein called tropomyosin, which is found in shellfish and is responsible for provoking allergic reactions.
The researchers separated the mice into two groups: one group would get the experimental treatment and the other would receive no treatment at all. The mice who were given sulfated polysaccharides from the red algae seaweed had reduced allergic symptoms compared to the group of mice that received no intervention.
The Gracilaria lemaneiformis sulfated polysaccharide (GLSP) is said to be “anti-allergenic” because of its apparent ability to reduce allergic reactions. Specifically, it reduced tropomyosin-specific IgE cells and promoted regulatory T cells while simultaneously reducing Th2 cell polarization, which in layman’s terms simply means that it helped the immune system respond appropriately to the tropomyosin and curbed any overreaction. The tropomyosin was therefore not treated as a health threat, or at least not to such a high degree as found in the control group.
Researchers must now find a way to test GLSP with people in order to show that the results from the mice experiment can be replicated in humans.
Other Health Implications of Seaweed
Whether or not one could simply regularly eat seaweed to curb reactions to small amounts of allergens, such as in the case of cross-contamination, or whether it would be necessary to consume the pure GLSP derivative is still undergoing investigation.
Chances are, the GLSP would be isolated and marketed separately. Seaweed is very high in iodine and potassium, which can be either good or bad depending on an individual’s health. Individuals with thyroid concerns would potentially need to steer clear of seaweed for its high iodine content, whereas anyone with kidney problems would want to avoid excess potassium. Due to the potential for side effects, it’s likely that seaweed itself won’t be marketed as an allergy treatment or supplement—assuming future experiments pan out—but that GLSP would be.
In short, food allergy parents should take heart knowing that researchers continue to unpack the mechanisms of food allergies and get closer each year to finding an effective treatment.