College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Harvesting Seaweed to Treat Diabetes and Obesity

Ms S’thandiwe Magwaza received her Master’s in Biochemistry cum laude for her research on the use of seaweed to treat diabetes and obesity.

Her dissertation titled: Studies on the Antioxidative, Antidiabetic and Antiobesogenic Potentials of some Marine Macroalgae or Seaweeds Collected from the Southern and Western Coastlines of South Africa, was supervised by Professor Shahidul Islam.

Magwaza explained that obesity and type 2 diabetes (T2D) have become significant global health concerns in recent years. ‘These conditions are associated with a range of serious health complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and certain types of cancer,’ she said. ‘Understanding their causes, risk factors and management is crucial to improving public health and reducing the burden of chronic diseases.’

The prevalence of obesity and T2D has continued to rise in recent decades and is expected to triple in the next 30 years. They are not only a health problem, but they also impose an economic burden. These conditions are often linked as obesity is a major risk factor for the development of T2D. The pharmacological treatments have side effects and are expensive.

‘There is great demand for natural anti-obesity and anti-T2D remedies owing to the fact that they cost less and have fewer to no side effects,’ said Magwaza. ‘A number of seaweeds go to waste although many medicinal plant extracts and their isolated compounds have been scientifically proven to possess anti-obesity and anti-T2D properties.’

Her research evaluated the anti-obesity, anti-diabetic and antioxidant potentials of 23 seaweeds collected on South Africa’s southern and western coastlines. They were evaluated using in vitro and ex vivo experimental models.

Seaweeds have been used to treat various ailments in East Asian countries for centuries. Yet the health benefits of seaweeds from South African coastlines are not well explored. Seaweeds are rich in bioactive compounds including polysaccharides, polyphenols and peptides, which have demonstrated potential health benefits. Investigating these natural sources for their anti-obesity and anti-diabetic properties can lead to the development of safer and more sustainable therapeutic options.

Magwaza has registered for a PhD and is currently continuing her research under Islam’s supervision.  She thanked him for his academic guidance and paid tribute to colleagues at the Biomedical Research Laboratory for their contributions and assistance. She also acknowledged the National Research Foundation for financial support throughout her postgraduate studies.

Magwaza thanked her mother, Ms Ntombenhle Ngcobo Magwaza for her love, support, encouragement and prayers and for the sacrifices she made to ensure she had the opportunities she needed. She paid tribute to her late grandfather who ignited her love for education, noting that it was the one thing no one could ever take from her.

‘I always use my breaks to spend time with my family as they are important for my mental and emotional well-being,’ said Magwaza. ‘The memories we create together and the emotional connection I have with them serve as a source of comfort during challenging times.’

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Sethu Dlamini