Health Care Professional Information

Scientific Name
Staurocucumis liovillei, Mensamaria intercedens Lampert
Common Name

Holothurian, Haishen

Clinical Summary

Sea cucumber is a marine invertebrate found all over the world. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fatigue, impotence, constipation, frequent urination, and joint pain. It is also a rich source of mucopolysaccharides, especially chondroitin sulfate, commonly used for arthritis. In vitro studies have shown that the saponins and fatty acids present in Sea cucumber are responsible for its anti-angiogenic, anti-tumor (2), antiproliferative (1), and antiviral properties (4) (3).
One study suggests that Sea cucumber extract is beneficial in treating chronic gingivitis (5).
No adverse effects have been reported from its use.

Food Sources

Sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy in Asian countries. They are cooked, dried and then used in soups and other dishes.

Purported Uses
  • Antiaging
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer treatment
  • Frequent urination
  • Impotence
Constituents
  • Mucopolysaccharides: Chondroitin sulfate
  • Saponins: Triterpene glycosides, Philonopside A, Intercedensides
  • Branched chain fatty acids: 12-methyltetradecanoic acid
    (1) (2) (3) (6) (7)
Mechanism of Action

A branched-chain fatty acid known as 12-methyltetradecanoic acid, isolated from sea cucumber, is thought to inhibit prostate cancer cell proliferation by increasing caspase-3 activity (1). The proposed mechanism for the anti-angiogenic and anti-tumor effects of Philinopside A, a saponin derived from sea cucumber, is by inhibiting tyrosine kinase receptors (2).

Contraindications

Sea cucumber may not be appropriate for individuals who are allergic to seafood.

Herb-Drug Interactions

Anticoagulants: The polysaccharides sulfated fucan and fucosylated chondroitin sulfate may potentiate the actions of anticoagulants (8).

References
  1. Yang P, et al. Inhibition of proliferation of PC3 cells by the branched-chain fatty acid, 12-methyltetradecanoic acid, is associated with inhibition of 5-lipoxygenase. Prostate 2003; 55(4):281-91.
  2. Tong Y, et al. Philinopside A, a novel marine-derived compound possessing dual anti-angiogenic and anti-tumor effects. Int J Cancer 2005; 114(6):843-53.
  3. Maier MS, et al. Two new cytotoxic and virucidal trisulfated triterpene glycosides from the Antarctic sea cucumber Staurocucumis liouvillei. J Nat Prod 2001; 64(6):732-36.
  4. Zou ZR, et al. Intercedensides A-C, three new cytotoxic triterpene glycosides from the sea cucumber Mensamaria intercedens Lampert. J Nat Prod 2003; 66(8):1055-60.
  5. Taiyeb-Ali TB, et al. Efficacy of 'Gamadent' toothpaste on the healing of gingival tissues: a preliminary report. J Oral Sci 2003; 45(3):153-59.
  6. Antonov AS, Avilov SA, Kalinovsky AI, et al. Triterpene glycosides from Antarctic sea cucumbers. 1. Structure of liouvillosides A1, A2, A3, B1, and B2 from the sea cucumber Staurocucumis liouvillei: new procedure for separation of highly polar glycoside fractions and taxonomic revision. J Nat Prod. 2008 Oct;71(10):1677-85.
  7. Antonov AS, Avilov SA, Kalinovsky AI, et al. Triterpene glycosides from Antarctic sea cucumbers III. Structures of liouvillosides A(4) and A(5), two minor disulphated tetraosides containing 3-O-methylquinovose as terminal monosaccharide units from the sea cucumber Staurocucumis liouvillei (Vaney). Nat Prod Res. 2011 Aug;25(14):1324-33.
  8. Fonseca RJ, Santos GR, Mourão PA. Effects of polysaccharides enriched in 2,4-disulfated fucose units on coagulation, thrombosis and bleeding. Practical and conceptual implications. Thromb Haemost. 2009 Nov;102(5):829-36.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Sea cucumber has not been shown to treat cancer in humans.

Sea cucumber is a marine invertebrate related to sea urchins and star fish. It is dried and used in soups and other dishes and is considered a delicacy in Asian countries. Sea cucumber is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat fatigue, impotence, constipation, frequent urination, and joint pain. It is also a rich source of chondroitin sulfate, commonly used for arthritis. There are no reports of adverse effects from use of sea cucumber.

Purported Uses
  • Cancer Treatment
    Laboratory experiments suggest a saponin component derived from sea cucumber may have antitumor effects by inhibiting formation of new blood vessels. This effect has not been studied in humans.
  • Longevity
    Sea cucumber is used in Chinese medicine to increase longevity, but there are no clinical data to support this use.
  • Impotence
    Although Sea cucumber in Chinese medicine used to treat impotence, there are no clinical data to back this use.
  • Joint Pain
    Sea cucumber is a rich source of chondroitin sulfate, shown to be effective for osteoarthritis.
  • Frequent Urination
    Sea cucumber is used in Chinese medicine to treat urinary problems. However, clinical data to support this use are lacking.
Do Not Take If
  • You are allergic to seafood.
  • You are taking anticoagulants: The polysaccharides present in sea cucumber may increase the effects of anticoagulants, increasing the risk of bleeding.
E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.