Seaweeds are an underexploited and potentially sustainable crop which offer a rich source of bioactive compounds, including novel complex polysaccharides, polyphenols, fatty acids, and carotenoids. The purported efficacies of these phytochemicals have led to potential functional food and nutraceutical applications which aim to protect against cardiometabolic and inflammatory risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and some cancers. Concurrent understanding that perturbations of gut microbial composition and metabolic function manifest throughout health and disease has led to dietary strategies, such as prebiotics, which exploit the diet-host-microbe paradigm to modulate the gut microbiota, such that host health is maintained or improved. The prebiotic definition was recently updated to "a substrate that is selectively utilised by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit", which, given that previous discussion regarding seaweed prebiotics has focused upon saccharolytic fermentation, an opportunity is presented to explore how non-complex polysaccharide components from seaweeds may be metabolised by host microbial populations to benefit host health. Thus, this review provides an innovative approach to consider how the gut microbiota may utilise seaweed phytochemicals, such as polyphenols, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and carotenoids, and provides an updated discussion regarding the catabolism of seaweed-derived complex polysaccharides with potential prebiotic activity. Additional in vitro screening studies and in vivo animal studies are needed to identify potential prebiotics from seaweeds, alongside untargeted metabolomics to decipher microbial-derived metabolites from seaweeds. Furthermore, controlled human intervention studies with health-related end points to elucidate prebiotic efficacy are required.
Keywords: carotenoids; complex polysaccharides; dietary fibre; gut microbiota; phytochemicals; polyphenols; polyunsaturated fatty acids; prebiotics; seaweed.