New Treatment Possibility for Metabolic Syndrome through Korean Medicine Using Seaweed Kelp

2022-09-12 Research

Professor Bonglee Kim at the College of Korean Medicine and his research team discovered a promising treatment possibility for metabolic syndrome using the herbal medicine Konpo (Laminaria Japonica), commonly known as kelp

Konpo is a popular ingredient in a variety of food, which is known to have the effect of purifying the blood. Metabolic syndrome refers to a distinctive group of pathological conditions including abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia appearing together. It poses a serious threat to the health of modern people by causing diverse complications. Through a literature review, the research team confirmed that konpo could be a useful treatment for metabolic syndrome, which suggests a new treatment paradigm for metabolic syndrome that cannot be completely cured yet but can only be managed.

The research team explored the therapeutic efficacy of konpo in the treatment of three diseases: obesity, type 2 diabetes, and arteriosclerosis. Konpo can inhibit lipid metabolism by decreasing fatty acid synthesis. The team also confirmed that konpo prevented and treated obesity by inhibiting fatty acid synthesis of AMPK (AMP-activated kinase), a protein that plays a key role in maintaining cellular energy homeostasis. For type 2 diabetes, commonly referred to as adult diabetes, it was found that konpo functioned as an inhibitor of oxidative stress and α-glucosidase, reducing diabetic complications.

This study is the first systematic survey to demonstrate the therapeutic efficacy of konpo in diverse medical applications and to consolidate its pharmacological potential. While there have been isolated experimental studies on the conditions that characterize metabolic syndrome, no comprehensive and systematic review of these findings has been made to draw a full picture. This research is particularly meaningful in collecting the diverse effects of konpo on metabolic syndrome. Professor Kim said, "If additional mechanistic studies and large-scale clinical studies are launched based on this study, it can become a cornerstone for suggesting new herbal medicine-based treatment for many patients with metabolic syndrome.”

The research team plans to expand the scope to other seaweeds to reveal their pharmacological mechanism of action inside the body, such as the anticancer effect of herbal medicines. With the climate crisis looming in, the possible extinction of many land-based natural herbal products is ever more threatening. In response to this possibility, marine resources that are less affected by the climate have become a popular research area recently. The team will continue to find useful medical resources in the ocean to improve the health of humanity.

It is noteworthy that this study was conducted jointly by the faculty members of basic and clinical science of the College. The team is also planning to apply for large-scale research projects. Professor Kim said, “We are working on about 200 ocean-sourced medicines that have been traditionally used to treat pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer. If their pharmacological effectiveness can be demonstrated in our lab, it will help to develop a reliable treatment option based on Korean medicine.”

This research was conducted jointly with Professors In-Seon Lee of the College of Korean Medicine and Seok Jae Ko of Kyung Hee University Hospital at Gangdong. Students Yuna Lee and Gayeon Lee (Korean Medicine, ’19) and a graduate student Md. Hasanur Rahman also participated. The research result was published in Nutrients (IF: 6.706) under the title, “The Effect of Laminaria Japonica on Metabolic Syndrome: A Systematic Review of its Efficacy and Mechanism of Action.”

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