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Update on Spirulina

Concerns about spirulina supplements extend to liver toxicity.

September 28, 2009 |
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Acknowledgements

Image thanks to Music4thekids via Wikimedia Commons.

Transcript

What about the microscopic greens, blue-green algae? Of all the controversial findings I’ve shared from the medical literature over the years, the one I get the most mail about. People love their pond scum.
So I’ve stayed on top of the literature and it’s time for an update. There’s no doubt that spirulina does some amazing things, but as with everything in life it’s all about risk/benefit, and so although in 2007 the data pointed against spirulina and I threw mine out and encouraged others to do the same, is it possible that the balance of evidence has shifted back in favor? Still harmful, half and half, or crept back to helpful?
In 2007 I was concerned about spirulina causing muscle breakdown, and these new findings have me concerned about liver cancer too. 94% of samples were found to be contaminated with hepatotoxic microcystin toxins.

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. And check out theother “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

For some context, please check out my associated blog post: Soymilk: shake it up!

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

    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. And check out the other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?). Also, there are over a thousand subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/7worships/ 7worships

      I just read an article by Dr. Mercola praising the benefits of spirulina and noting it was voted the number 1 superfood by AARP. I am wondering if you have learned anything else about spirulina that changes your mind about whether it is harmful, helpful or harmless.

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

      Is the spirulina in this study only from China? I wonder if Organic spirulina harvested in the USA would have the same findings……

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

        tduke,
        We are not looking at the contaminants found in spirulina, like we would in fish products or rice products, but the physical byproducts produced BY spirulina itself. With this in mind it should’nt matter whether or not it was shipped from China or USA.

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

          thank you! Seems like I should throw mine out too!

        • Guest

          Hey Toxins,

          I was wondering where I could find this information about the physical byproducts produced by spirulina. I’ve looked through all the sources cited by Dr. Gregor in a few videos but haven’t seen anything on the physical byproducts spirulina itself.

          There were the two studies: (Detection of the hepatotoxic microcystins in 36 kinds of cyanobacteria Spirulina food products in China), and (First detection of anatoxin-a in human and animal dietary supplements containing cyanobacteria.) which both sort of conclude that Quality control of cyanobacterial food supplements is required to avoid potential health effects in humans and animals but didn’t seem to deal with byproducts of digestion. Perhaps I missed something.

          If you could help clarify this for me that would be awesome!
          Thanks

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.haynes.90813 David Haynes

            Hey Toxins,
            I was wondering where I could find this information about the physical byproducts produced by spirulina. I’ve looked through all the sources cited by Dr. Gregor in a few videos but haven’t seen anything on the physical byproducts spirulina itself.

            Therewere the two studies: (Detection of the hepatotoxic microcystins in 36 kinds of cyanobacteria Spirulina food products in China), and (First detection of anatoxin-a in human and animal dietary supplements containing cyanobacteria.) which both sort of conclude that Quality
            control of cyanobacterial food supplements is required to avoid potential health effects in humans and animals but didn’t seem to deal with byproducts of digestion. Perhaps I missed something.

            If you could help clarify this for me that would be awesome!
            Thanks

          • http://www.facebook.com/david.haynes.90813 David Haynes

            Sorry for the double post

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/laurie-k/ Laurie K.

    Yes, there is an update. The video you commented on (from Nov., 2010) indicates that spirulina could cause muscle breakdown and liver cancer. In March of this year, another video was posted, this one on it’s potential to cause neurotoxicity: http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/update-on-spirulina-2/, but fortunately, “…kale is cheaper”, and many other fruits and vegetables can prevent numerous cancers, see for example:http://nutritionfacts.org/videos/an-epic-study/.

  • Christopherconsciousness

    Hey Mike I shared your spirulina videos with the spirulina division on face book…they responded to me…Spirulina Division Hello, Christopher. The point you raise is the prime reason why it is extremely important to harvest spirulina at a pH over 10 (between 10-11). This is part of the quality control that commercial producers and small-scale producers employ to ensure spirulina’s quality for consumers. If it’s not at the right pH, it simply doesn’t get harvested. The liver toxins you’re speaking of are called microcystins, which are peptides produced microcystis, not by spirulina. Microcystis are unable to survive at such a high alkaline level between 10-11. This is what separates spirulina from another superfood cyanobacteria, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (aka AFA blue-green algae), which commonly grows up in Klammath Lake in Oregon. AFA, however, cannot grow at the high alkaline levels that spirulina can in order to avoid microcystins. This is the prime reason why I grow spirulina and not AFA, or chlorella for that matter, which also grows at a lower pH. Commonly, people and researchers assume that since AFA and spirulina are both cyanobacteria, their ideal growing conditions are also one and the same, but they usually get lumped together anyway when the research is not complete. It would be helpful if the gentleman who produced the video would learn more about each species and their 

  • Christopherconsciousness

     Hey Mike thought I would share your Spirulina videos with the spirulina division on Facebook. They asked me to tell you to do more research…here is there response, Hello, Christopher. The point you raise is the prime reason why it is extremely important to harvest spirulina at a pH over 10 (between 10-11). This is part of the quality control that commercial producers and small-scale producers employ to ensure spirulina’s quality for consumers. If it’s not at the right pH, it simply doesn’t get harvested. The liver toxins you’re speaking of are called microcystins, which are peptides produced microcystis, not by spirulina. Microcystis are unable to survive at such a high alkaline level between 10-11. This is what separates spirulina from another superfood cyanobacteria, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (aka AFA blue-green algae), which commonly grows up in Klammath Lake in Oregon. AFA, however, cannot grow at the high alkaline levels that spirulina can in order to avoid microcystins. This is the prime reason why I grow spirulina and not AFA, or chlorella for that matter, which also grows at a lower pH. Commonly, people and researchers assume that since AFA and spirulina are both cyanobacteria, their ideal growing conditions are also one and the same, but they usually get lumped together anyway when the research is not complete. It would be helpful if the gentleman who produced the video would learn more about each species and their differences.

    • http://HumanExcellence.com/ JD Mumma

      Christopherconsciousness – Thank you for adding this information. I see you posted this more than once.Q: Has Dr Greger responded to your information addressing harvesting Spirulina at the “high alkaline level between 10-11.”

  • Christopherconsciousness

     Spirulina Division The same goes true regarding BMAA — and I’m glad you bring it up to help demystify it. Cyanobacterias are a diverse organism kingdom and BMAA has been associated with certain species of cyanobacteria, but not with arthrospira (this is the spirulina species). This was the point of a response published April 2005 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS 102: 5074-5078).