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Blue-Green Algae & Spirulina

The risks associated with these supplements may outweigh the benefits.

August 23, 2010 |
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Transcript

I'd also recommend staying away from the tiny dark green leafies, blue-green algae and spirulina. This story starts in Guam where the Chamorro people were eating perhaps the world's cutest bat, the flying fox. That was a mistake since it turns out the flying fox's favorite fruit is from this funky looking tree who's watery roots concentrate a toxin produced by some rare algae. The result was that the Chamorro started dying of something called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis parkinsonism dementia, basically a combination of Parkinsons, Alzheimers and Lou Gehrig's disease. We used to think neurotoxins were limited to rare exotic algae but now we know otherwise. We now know that almost all blue-green algae can produce neurotoxins like BMAA. Turns out the only places one is likely to find BMAA is in the brains of Alzheimers patients and at the local all natural food store in the form of blue-green algae. So, until we know more, I recommend leaving that particular product out of your cart. And this, spirulina the other pond scum. Well, it's good for our blood pressure, our cholesterol and seems to work wonders against seasonal allergies but spirulina may dissolve our muscles from the inside out. It's always better when our food doesn't kill us.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/hermanzaum/ hermanzaum

    Not all species of cyanobacteria are poisonous. Spirulina (Arthrospira maxima e A. platensis) doesn’t seem to be dangerous to humans as I’ve been researching lately.
    However, the real risk lies when Spirulina is bought from a suspicious/shady source – the consumer may receive a toxic blue-green algae instead.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Thank you for your comment herman. The synthesis of some of these toxins does not appear to be species-specific. There certainly are toxic types of algae, but even what’s sold in health foods stores as blue-green algae and spirulina may idiosyncratically produce certain toxins (that’s why every batch would have to be tested, which is cost-prohibitive). Please see my other blue-green algae and spirulina videos for more background.

      • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/hermanzaum/ hermanzaum

        Thanks for the heads up, Dr. Greger! I’ll send the links to your videos to my dietitian/nutritionist, as she was the one that suggested that I should take both Spirulina and Chlorella. Thanks again!

      • http://twitter.com/lxmartin1 Luis Martinez

        what about organic spirulina ? toxins or not?? is every batch tested or is it safe because it is organic ?

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/lynncs/ LynnCS

    Oh, Oh. Out goes the spirulina/BG Algae. Thanks for the heads up. I bought it and haven’t used it so much. I am more interested in natural fruits and vegis. Who knows what we’ll find in those next. Ha!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/psychwoman1/ psychwoman1

    Thank you for the info. I had recently read that spirulina had a protective action on cardiac muscle in chemo patients (as chemo can damage cardiac tissue). Have you ever heard that claim? Again, I appreciate the info you provide!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

    Hello psych!

    Check out these couple videos for more on spirulina and you will see any benefits are surely outweighed by the harms.
    http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/update-on-spirulina/
    http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/update-on-spirulina-2/

  • http://www.facebook.com/PurplePriestess Katharine Clark

    There are thousands of kinds of algae, or all colors.  I eat the wild algae. Spirulina and Chlorella are farmed.  At http://www.simplysuperfood.com…  We are PROVEN to be BMAA free (is 3rd party)
    2. We are not farmed, and we are organic, removing herbicide/pesticide issues
    3. We are NSF certified, proving we are clear of all contaminants including microcystin.  I’ve been eating this 25 years.  Too bad that this mis-information is out there.  We have tons of research showing its benefits, and its safetyl.
     

    • Lew Payne

      Katharine – Feel free to post links to published peer-reviewed reproducible studies backing your assertion.  No need to post a ton of them – a few dozen studies, reproduced by reputable sources, should be all you need.  Even just the study names (Journal, volume and article title) should do.  Lacking this, your “tons of research” showing its benefits is but hyperbole.

  • Marychiancola

    What about Omega 3 fatty acids derived from Algae? Are those safe? My husband’s mother and grandfather both suffered from Alzheimers and I want to make sure I’m not giving him anything that may increase his risk. Thanks!

  • Rhys

    Do you know of any evidence for dietary factors in the development or progression of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s/Motor Neuron disease?

  • http://www.facebook.com/joancsmartinez Joan Martinez

    Perhaps you could recommend a reliable brand or store for spirulina? Try a couple of spirulina products and test its toxicity. I am interested in taking it as protein supplement and I need to be sure of my source just in case.

  • http://twitter.com/lxmartin1 Luis Martinez

    what about organic spirulina ? hepatic toxins or not?? are organic batches tested and found to create these toxins?, or is it safer and nontoxic producing due to it being organic?

  • Billy Schoch

    I recently read that fish acquire their dha and epa omega 3′s from eating algae. If that is the case, then what is the difference between eating fish and the bats?

  • Matt Lafontaine

    I have introduced a mixture of organic Spirulina, Cod liver oil and fresh local yogurt. as well as no flush Niacin caplets to my 55% uncooked vegtable diet. I am not a vegitarian but have noticed an increase in water consumption and energy during the day. While lowering my meat intake. The effects on my body from my mixture is nothing short of amazing. More lean muscle mass with less water retention coupled with lightning fast muscle recovery time. For me, protein shakes are useless. I see absolutely no reason not to implement this in a regular diet. We all might see an Epidemic of health. I dont see my health care as a pill for every ill.

    • Deezy

      Well, I see someone watched Foodmatters…

  • Celeste

    Do you know anything about BioSuperfood? This is my main supplement but now I’m questioning it. The ingredients are listed here: http://www.bioage.com/ingredients.html.

  • billyh

    You must have read my mind. A friend posted this article last night, worried about Brooks. That got me wondering about the fancy blue-green algae I use about once a month in juices and smoothies. No wonder my body doesn’t want it very often.

    http://www.times-standard.com/breakingnews/ci_23733429

  • Catherine Meade

    Would fermenting spirulina inactivate potentially harmful properties?

  • Jo-Ann

    Dr. Greger, I started taking Spirulina when I read a number of research papers claiming that Spirulina heals scars. I had had major surgery and was left with a nasty scar, yet, after taking Spirulina for less then six Months the scare is 90% gone. The hardness or scare tissue is no longer there. How can something that is so bad do so much good? That is just one of some of the good I have encountered using Spirulina.
    Thanks!
    Jo-Ann

  • TuxSax

    How about growing your own spirulina at home? Wouldn’t it be safe and bacteria free if done correctly?

  • ortal

    Hello I started to consume Spirulina and Chlorella postnatal iron deficiency and fatigue I’m breastfeeding and told me it was okay for me and the baby. Now tell me that it is full of heavy metals and toxins .. I have nothing to fear I was nursing my son? And the collection myself? I had the these symptoms: headache and muscle pain Please tell me whether I need to stop. Really makes me feel bad that I took it to improve your health and it does the opposite? I’d love a quick answer please I’m very worried about me son.

    Thank you

    • Debbie Calvello

      i have been taking Super Blue Green Algae tablets for almost 20 years and i give the powder to my pets. put it in my babies bottles with juice as well, love it, FB me for the amazing brand that i use.

  • Lana

    I use e3 live do you think this is also bad? What about wheat grass?

  • Worried

    Thank you. I have been taking spirulina and blue algae for several years. At first I found it gave me energy but in the last two years I have become increasing lethargic, forgetful and reduced immune system, catching colds and suffering from sinusitis. I also developed Bells palsy during this period. Could it all be related? I have just thrown my tablets in the bin.

  • Lena

    There are articles that the superfood Spirulina causes decrease in bone mineral density despite its many benefits (including for the various minerals in Spirulina which are essential for calcium absorption and strong bones).

    Hence, is spirulina safe for intake by women with surgical menopause and diagnosed with osteoporosis? Appeciate your thoughts on this.

  • JJ Zapata

    I take Klamath Blue Green Algae sold at a whole foods store. I believe it helps my anxiety although it could just be a placebo affect I am not sure. I do not want to be taking this if it could potentially be toxic :// I have been taking it since October so that’s 4 months now, I take one pill a day. If anyone has advice I would kindly appreciate it thank you. I am 22 years old!!

  • Perez

    My mother has ALS. Doctors state there is no cure. Based upon experience can I at least halt the disease from progressing? We are willing to try anything at this point.