Can sea cucumber help fight cancer?

A staple in Eastern medicine, it isn’t news that sea cucumber is great for your health. People have reported benefits ranging from muscular and digestive health to overall vitality, and that’s only the beginning.

But lately, one new benefit has been making headlines. Here’s what you need to know about the potential of sea cucumber in cancer treatment.

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But first, what is sea cucumber?

Despite its name, sea cucumber isn’t the easy-to-grow vegetable you might be picturing. It’s actually a sea animal, similar to a large caterpillar.

A staple of Asian cuisine, these are typically dried and added to recipes for their vast nutrition benefits. Dried sea cucumber is also a common supplement, thought to help with a variety of conditions.

So how exactly does it fight cancer?

Short answer: It’s complicated. Not so short answer: It’s all in the fatty acids. 12-methyltetradecanoic acid, to be specific.

As it turns out, this acid – found prominently in sea cucumber – might be the key to boosting the activity of caspase-3, an enzyme known to fight cancer.

But how does it work?

Here’s the simple version. Cancer occurs when cell division goes unregulated, allowing for cancerous cells (tumors) to grow uncontrollably. The body relies on a process called apoptosis (programmed cell death) to fight off these abnormal cells.

Typically, apoptosis alone isn’t enough for the body to fight off cancer, which means supporting that process is key. And that’s where sea cucumbers come in – recent studies suggest that their fatty acids might offer that support.

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Does sea cucumber help with anything else?

There’s no shortage of reported benefits of sea cucumber. But most are just that – reported. More research is needed to definitively credit sea cucumber with its anecdotal benefits.

Most experts agree on one thing, though, it’s worth a shot.

Some types of sea cucumbers have been considered anticoagulants, so anyone taking blood thinners should consult their doctor before starting a supplement. But with few side effects and no other known drug interactions, sea cucumber probably won’t hurt your health.

And although they haven’t been proven yet, the potential benefits of sea cucumber include:

  • Heart health
  • Liver health
  • Digestive health

As always, consult your doctor with any medical concerns before making decisions about your health.

Source: MedicineNet, National Cancer Institute