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Sea Algae May Ease Carpal Tunnel Pain

Effect Also Seen in Arthritis; Experts Skeptical

WebMD Health News

Oct. 8, 2002 -- Can sea algae help carpal tunnel syndrome? Patients who took part in a small study say it can.

An herbal supplement containing sea-algae extract reduces carpal tunnel pain, according to a report at the recent meeting of the American College of Nutrition. A companion study suggests the supplement, BioAstin, also helps reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain.

Gene Spiller, PhD, director of the independent Health Research and Studies Center, in Los Altos, Calif., led both studies. Thirteen people with carpal tunnel syndrome and 14 with rheumatoid arthritis took the supplement. In each study, comparison groups of seven patients took a placebo pill. Neither the researchers nor the patients knew which group was taking the extract or the placebo.

The result: patients who got BioAstin reported less pain than those who got the placebo.

"It is a very surprising product. It really has something to offer patients," Spiller tells WebMD. "When the study was over, they were begging to get more of this material to keep taking it."

Spiller's studies were funded by BioAstin manufacturer Cyanotech. The firm grows and processes algae in Hawaii.

Spiller says he is most impressed with the results in people with carpal tunnel syndrome. Because patients in the arthritis study kept taking their doctor-prescribed medicines, he's not sure how much of the effect he saw is due to the supplement. He'd like to see a larger clinical trial to confirm his findings.

BioAstin contains an algae extract called astaxanthin -- the same chemical that makes shrimp and salmon pink. Astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant. This type of chemical soaks up destructive byproducts in the body. Taking antioxidants can also form these so-called free radicals. It's still not clear when, in what form, and in what amounts to take antioxidants.

Rheumatologist L. Gail Darlington, MD, FRCP, Epsom Hospital, England, is an expert on the effects of diet on arthritis. She says that antioxidants play a complex role in human health.

"The high-antioxidant diet is rational in theory, but supplementing one's diet with artificial antioxidants in capsules or tablets has been shown to have problems," Darlington tells WebMD. "It is too simplistic to give antioxidants in supplement form. It is logical to take them in a diet full of fish and vegetables. But you cannot give it in a pill and expect it to solve free-radical diseases."

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