NEW YORK: A seaweed-based fiber supplement, taken daily before meals, helped people lose weight in a new study.
But that was only the case among people who stuck with the diet study over a few months. More than one-fifth of people dropped out when they couldn’t tolerate the supplement’s taste, texture and side effects.
Researchers have explored the potential of seaweed as an appetite suppressant, but so far products haven’t panned out.
“There have been problems in the past to develop something (that tastes) acceptable,” said Dr. Arne Astrup, one of the study’s authors from the University of Copenhagen and a member of the advisory board to S-Biotek, a Danish company that provided funding for the study.
Previous seaweed-based supplements were slimy and caused bloating, and they also had a fishy taste. The new supplement used in this study is less unpleasant — but there’s still room for improvement, said Astrup.
The supplement is based on the seaweed extract alginate, a thickening agent and a common ingredient in foods like soups and jellies. It’s also increasingly used by the weight-loss industry, marketed as an appetite suppressant.
Packaged in powder form and mixed with liquid, alginate expands in the stomach to form a thick gel, mimicking the effect of a large meal.
“This gel is really like a pudding that will last in the stomach for hours, gradually degrading and disappearing,” Astrup said.
For the study, the researchers randomly divided 96 generally healthy but obese people, aged 20 to 55, into two groups.
One group was given packets of the gel supplement, containing 15 grams of fiber, and the other got a seaweed-free placebo drink. Neither the researchers nor the participants knew who was receiving the seaweed supplement.
In terms of calories, flavor and appearance, the placebo and treatment drink were identical.
For three months, study participants drank the supplements, dissolved in two cups of water, 30 minutes before each meal. They were also told to cut back on calories. By the end of the trial, sixteen people had dropped out of the study, including 10 out of 48 from the seaweed group, according to findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Among people who stuck with the trial, those on the fiber supplement lost 15 pounds, on average, compared to 11 pounds in the placebo group. But when all 96 original participants were included in the analysis, the researchers found no significant difference in weight loss between the two treatment groups.