Macroalgae, or seaweeds, are a rich source of components which may exert beneficial effects on the mammalian gut microbiota through the enhancement of bacterial diversity and abundance. An imbalance of gut bacteria has been linked to the development of disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, immunodeficiency, hypertension, type-2-diabetes, obesity, and cancer. This review outlines current knowledge from in vitro
and in vivo
studies concerning the potential therapeutic application of seaweed-derived polysaccharides, polyphenols and peptides to modulate the gut microbiota through diet. Polysaccharides such as fucoidan, laminarin, alginate, ulvan and porphyran are unique to seaweeds. Several studies have shown their potential to act as prebiotics and to positively modulate the gut microbiota. Prebiotics enhance bacterial populations and often their production of short chain fatty acids, which are the energy source for gastrointestinal epithelial cells, provide protection against pathogens, influence immunomodulation, and induce apoptosis of colon cancer cells. The oral bioaccessibility and bioavailability of seaweed components is also discussed, including the advantages and limitations of static and dynamic in vitro
gastrointestinal models versus ex vivo
and in vivo
methods. Seaweed bioactives show potential for use in prevention and, in some instances, treatment of human disease. However, it is also necessary to confirm these potential, therapeutic effects in large-scale clinical trials. Where possible, we have cited information concerning these trials.
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