The Benefits of Sea Cucumber

sea cucumbers
Dried sea cucumbers. Stuart Dee/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Sea cucumbers are a type of marine animal. Most commonly found in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans, they're consumed as a food in some parts of Asia and used for medicinal purposes in traditional Chinese medicine (a form of alternative medicine that originated in China). Dietary supplements containing ground and dried sea cucumber are said to offer a range of health benefits, including arthritis relief.

Sea cucumber contains several substances thought to influence health, including antioxidants, triterpenoids (a class of compounds found to slow cancer growth in preliminary studies), and chondroitin sulfate (a substance found naturally in human cartilage and sometimes taken in dietary supplement form to treat arthritis).

Uses for Sea Cucumber

In alternative medicine, sea cucumber is touted as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

Sea cucumber is also said to reduce inflammation and slow up the aging process. In addition, some proponents suggest that sea cucumber can help fight cancer.

Benefits of Sea Cucumber

So far, research on the health effects of sea cucumber is very limited. While clinical trials are currently lacking, a number of preliminary studies suggest that sea cucumber may offer certain health benefits.

Here's a look at several key findings from the available research:

1)  Gum Health

Use of a toothpaste containing sea cucumber extract may be beneficial to people with gum disease, according to a preliminary study published in the Journal of Oral Science in 2003. For the study, 28 adults with chronic gingivitis or early stages of periodontitis brushed their teeth with either a sea cucumber-enriched toothpaste or placebo toothpaste twice daily for three months.

At the study's end, participants who used the sea cucumber toothpaste showed significantly greater improvements in several markers of gum health (such as plaque buildup and bleeding) compared to those assigned to the placebo.

MORE: Natural Remedies for Gum Disease

2)  Cholesterol

Some animal-based research indicates that sea cucumber may help keep cholesterol in check. In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2002, for instance, tests on rats demonstrated that sea cucumber may help reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol and total cholesterol levels while increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.

Although the study's authors suggest that sea cucumber holds promise for the prevention of atherosclerosis, further research is needed to determine sea cucumber's cholesterol-lowering effects in humans. 

Learn about other All-Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol.

3)  Cancer 

A number of preliminary studies show that certain compounds found in sea cucumber may have cancer-fighting effects.

For example, a study published in the journal Pancreas in 2010 suggests that Frondanol-A5P (a substance extracted from a sea cucumber species called Cucumaria frondosa) may aid in the prevention or treatment of pancreatic cancer. In tests on human pancreatic cancer cells, the study's authors observed that sea cucumber extract may fight cancer by inducing apoptosis (a type of programmed cell death essential for stopping the proliferation of cancer cells).

Caveats

Individuals with seafood allergies should avoid the use of sea cucumber.

There's also some concern that taking sea cucumber in combination with blood-thinning drugs may have harmful effects. 

It's important to note that, due to a lack of research, little is known about the overall safety of using dietary supplements containing sea cucumber.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

Alternatives to Sea Cucumber

If you're seeking a natural remedy for osteoarthritis, several types of dietary supplements may provide relief. These supplements include avocado/soybean unsaponifiables, glucosamine, and white willow bark.

For protection against gum disease, there's some evidence that vitamin C, cranberry, and tea tree oil may be beneficial. 

Where to Find It

Available for purchase online, dietary supplements containing sea cucumber are sold in many natural-foods stores and stores specializing in natural products. In addition, whole sea cucumber is sold in some grocery stores specializing in Asian foods.

Using Sea Cucumber for Health

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend sea cucumber as a treatment for any condition. It's also important to note that self-treating a condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences. If you're considering using it for any health purpose, make sure to consult your primary care provider first.

Sources

Du L, Li ZJ, Xu J, Wang JF, Xue Y, Xue CH, Takahashi K, Wang YM. "The anti-tumor activities of cerebrosides derived from sea cucumber Acaudina molpadioides and starfish Asterias amurensis in vitro and in vivo." J Oleo Sci. 2012;61(6):321-30.

Hu XQ, Xu J, Xue Y, Li ZJ, Wang JF, Wang JH, Xue CH, Wang YM. "Effects of bioactive components of sea cucumber on the serum, liver lipid profile and lipid absorption." Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2012;76(12):2214-8.

Liu HH, Ko WC, Hu ML. "Hypolipidemic effect of glycosaminoglycans from the sea cucumber Metriatyla scabra in rats fed a cholesterol-supplemented diet." J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Jun 5;50(12):3602-6.

Roginsky AB, Ding XZ, Woodward C, Ujiki MB, Singh B, Bell RH Jr, Collin P, Adrian TE. "Anti-pancreatic cancer effects of a polar extract from the edible sea cucumber, Cucumaria frondosa." Pancreas. 2010 Jul;39(5):646-52.

Taiyeb-Ali TB, Zainuddin SL, Swaminathan D, Yaacob H. "Efficacy of 'Gamadent' toothpaste on the healing of gingival tissues: a preliminary report." J Oral Sci. 2003 Sep;45(3):153-9.

Tian F, Zhang X, Tong Y, Yi Y, Zhang S, Li L, Sun P, Lin L, Ding J. "PE, a new sulfated saponin from sea cucumber, exhibits anti-angiogenic and anti-tumor activities in vitro and in vivo." Cancer Biol Ther. 2005 Aug;4(8):874-82.

Tong Y, Zhang X, Tian F, Yi Y, Xu Q, Li L, Tong L, Lin L, Ding J. "Philinopside A, a novel marine-derived compound possessing dual anti-angiogenic and anti-tumor effects." Int J Cancer. 2005 May 10;114(6):843-53.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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