Do algae omega-3 supplements contain beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) that has been found in blue-green algae?

Image Credit: Ed Bierman / flickr

Do algae-based omega-3 supplements contain beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) that has been found in blue-green algae?

I am taking an algae supplement for omega-3 (per Dr. Greger’s advice a couple months ago) – should I stop since he said blue green algae was a source? How can I find out the BMAA risk? 

Alexandra / Originally posted in Diet and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

Answer:

 Golden algae used to make algae-based omega-3 supplements do not appear to contain BMAA. I think the omega-3 is made from Crypthecodinium cohnii (although I have heard of other types), which is an entirely different kingdom than the blue-green algae Dr. Greger addresses this in his Q&A, “Are neurotoxins only present in blue-green algae?” and in his video, “Is blue-green algae good for you?” 

I will update this information as it becomes available, but from my search I only found 8 studies on Crypthecodinium cohnii and toxins, with zero relating to BMAA. It may be worth mentioning that because of the potential risks from fish oil (toxins, PBC’s, mercury) researchers have been exploring the efficacy and safety of algae-based DHA/EPA oils. In this study, researchers said “safety issues have been raised repeatedly about contamination of toxins in fish oil that makes it no longer a clean and safe source of the fatty acid found the DHA.” They found the DHA in cultured microalgae, Crypthecodinium cohnii, to be effective in controlling cancer growth. Another study found the efficacy of algae-based EPA/DHA oils similar to that of fish oil. In other words – all of the benefits of DHA and EPA without the potential risks of contamination. 

It makes sense we’d want to know DHA from golden algae are free of all contaminants like BMAA, but I am afraid we don’t have the research. There is no literature I could find on BMAA and Crypthecodinium cohnii. Furthermore, I didn’t see anything on BMAA and other algae (Crypthecodinium, Thraustochytrium, Ulkenia, Schizochytrium, Phaeodactylum, Chlorella, Monodus, or Nannochloropsis ) potentially used to make algae-based DHA/EPA supplements, according to some manufacturers.

What about chlorella is it safe? Well, it does not appear to have the toxins which may be present in blue-green algae supplements and spirulina, and it’s been shown to boost immune function even helping treat Hepatitis C, but one case study found it may cause psychosis. Now maybe it wasn’t the chlorella itself, but some toxic impurity or adulteration that caused psychosis, the researchers don’t know. While chlorella is marketed to promote mental health, this case underscores the importance of educating the public about the potential adverse effects and the need for more research in herbal products being marketed in the United States. 

Lastly,  yeast-based DHA may be on the rise, as food industry is catching wind of cheap ways to source DHA from Schizochytrium sp. This may provide another route to help avoid BMAA.

I suggest contacting the companies who sell algae-based or yeast-based omega-3 supplements and ask if they ever test for BMAA or other contaminates. (Gold stars for anyone who can find more literature on this topic or write to a company!). Perhaps our research fund will have the finances necessary to run such tests. I sure would like to know more!

 

Image credit: Ed Bierman / flickr

 
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8 responses to “Do algae-based omega-3 supplements contain beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) that has been found in blue-green algae?

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  1. I have read that Lichen can also be a source of BMAA, thereby is there any concern in taking a lichen based d3 supplement?




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  2. I emailed the company I get my marine Algae supplement from and got this response.. it just left me wondering how well Health Canada’s Natural and Non-Prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD) requirements are.

    Thank you for your inquiry regarding Natural Factors’ Marine Algae-3 Vegan Omega-3 360 mg EPA/DHA (SKU: 35508); we appreciate you taking the time to contact us.

    The microalgae oil in 35508 is produced in stainless steel fermentation tanks. Grown in controlled environment, the microalgae oil is naturally free of ocean-borne contaminants and is not irradiated.

    Natural Factors guarantees product quality by being committed to providing the highest quality products to our customers and enhancing their health. All of our products and raw materials undergo rigorous testing which include tests for potency, impurities, heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, and other chemical contaminants and as per our Quality Control department, BMAA analysis is also tested for. All testing is in accordance with Health Canada’s Natural and Non-Prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD) requirements, which include compendial guidelines such as the United States Pharmacopoeia (USP). Our manufacturing is done according to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines laid out and regulated by the NNHPD.

    Whole Earth & Sea Marine Algae-3 is a sustainable plant source of EPA and DHA that provides all the heart and brain health benefits of these important omega-3 fatty acids. Extracted from specially selected microalgae, this fish-free oil has no fishy smell or aftertaste, and is an excellent vegan alternative to fish oil.

    Factors Laboratories also follows the NNHPD GMP guidelines and are among the finest in North America. Products must meet these high standards, and meet or exceed label claims before being released for sale. Our commitment to meeting or exceeding GMP standards is a major factor in earning and keeping our customers’ trust.

    We hope you find this information helpful. Please find attached a virtual coupon which you may wish to print and use at your local health food store. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact us. We wish you all the best in your search for optimum health and well-being.




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    1. Jeff: You rock. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us. Lots of people have been concerned.

      It’s my understanding that all the DHA/EPA supplements are made from algae grown in sterile tanks, but I was not able to say whether or not that meant that there was no BMAA.




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  3. I’m so confused Is there any vegan DHA/EPA that is safe to take? Based on this I should stop taking blue green spirulina? Just looking for recommendations of brands in Canada Thank you




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