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With flu season on the horizon, people are thinking about scheduling their annual shot (if they haven’t already). Vaccination can boost your natural immune response and reduce illness by about 40% to 60%, depending on how much the virus drifts (mutates) in a year. Even then, it helps to take extra precautions to minimize your risk and help out with herd immunity.

Could the antiviral qualities of seaweed help to curtail the spread of the flu? We’ve talked about how seaweed extracts have contributed to everything from active antivirals in virus treatments to hand sanitizers. Here’s what the research has suggested about its capability as a new influenza treatment and how it simplify antiviral treatments.

What Treatments Need to Fight Influenza

Influenza A and B are part of a family of viruses that have an outer membrane, also called an envelope, which fuses with the host’s cells to insert its genome, commandeer the cell’s functions, and reproduce like crazy. These and other enveloped viruses are tenacious in the pursuit of replication and, thanks to their shared membrane, have some clear advantages:

  • They can hide antigens, the toxins that bind with T-cells to trigger an immune response, inside the envelope.
  • They can piggyback on a cell’s exocytosis, the process by which cells move materials, to avoid provoking immune responses.

Fortunately, enveloped viruses have a harder time existing outside of host cells. They are far more vulnerable to heat, extreme drying, alcohol disinfectants, and detergants than non-enveloped viruses, making it easier to prevent their spread before they make their way inside the building blocks of the human body. That’s how any new influenza treatment can and should stop the virus in its tracks.

How Seaweed Extract Neutralizes Flu Viruses

The organic compound in seaweed that presents the most potential in the fight against the flu is a sulfated polysaccharide found in certain red algae. In a study published in 2021, researchers used a purified form of the seaweed extract to test the anti-influenza viral activity of this marine resource against influenza A and B.

Researchers infected (or mock-infected for the control group) kidney cells with strains of influenza for an hour at 95°C, removing any of the unabsorbed virus after that period. Then, a threefold dilution of the sulfated polysaccharide compound and several comparable compounds were introduced to measure various degrees of effectiveness.

The early results were promising. When the researchers reviewed the kidney cells for signs of cytopathic effect, the structural change that are visible to host cells under the microscope, there was no indicators of infection. The compound made from seaweed extract inhibited the infection of both influenza A and B without any traces of cytotoxicity up to a maximum concentration of 300 μg/m. This compared favorably with other marine resources shown to prevent the spread of the flu virus.

For pharmaceutical firms along with hygiene companies, there are some key applications. For starters, the use of this sulfated polysaccharide in hand sanitizers can and will continue to curb the spread of the virus before it enters the body. Moreover, the above study suggests that, if trials in humans prove effective, this type of compound could be viable as an intranasal treatment. In the future, a handful of sprays in each nostril might be enough to combat the virus.

Either way, we might be saying goodbye to the complicated process of manufacturing flu vaccines and hello to an effortless way to chase influenza away.

Are you looking to stay current with seaweed research as a new influenza treatment or general anti-viral? Check out our blog.


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