COULD sea algae be the secret to a healthy diet?
Scientists in a Bendigo laboratory are asking that very question after harvesting algae from beaches in Australia and Malaysia.
La Trobe University adjunct professor Snezana Agatonovic-Kustrin is among researchers are taking a closer look at Australia's algae to see if it could be used for anti-diabetic drugs.
"Marine algae, as the most ancient members of the plant kingdom, are well known sources of bioactive compounds, with a range of different biological activities," she said.
"The results of our studies indicate beneficial roles of green and brown algae for diabetes prevention and management."
Researchers have looked at 31 species of algae so far for the project.
They are also studying native plants that people could add to their dishes.
Most are found on land and might be just as healthy as Mediterranean herbs like sage, oregano, thyme, lavender, and rosemary.
"We have (previously) shown that the Mediterranean culinary herbs are the secret ingredient not only to a healthy heart, but are also beneficial to the brain," Dr Agatonovic-Kustrin said.
"Several studies have shown that a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of Alzheimer's Disease."
Dr Agatonovic-Kustrin said researchers had focused much of their attention on Australian plants that could substitute for ingredients already found in most kitchens.
"For example, native thyme may be used as a replacement for European thyme," she said.
Academics from several institutions have recently published research on Australian plants including lemon myrtle, native thyme, saltbush, and seablite.
"The strongest antioxidant activity was observed in lemon myrtle extract while the lower antioxidant activities was measured in sea blite," Dr Agatonovic-Kustrin said.
Many native plants have been used by Indigenous Australians for thousands of years but scientists do not have enough information on their therapeutic properties yet, she said.
Discovering if these plants have enough antioxidants and enzymes to prevent age-related diseases is increasingly important, Dr Agatonovic-Kustrin said.
"People are living for longer are more likely to get diabetes and Alzeihmers disease," she said.
"People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing dementia. Diabetes can double your risk of dementia."
Both diseases are linked with the way people's bodies process glucose as they age, or because of lifestyle, recent research suggests.
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