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)


 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


22 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?

  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.

    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.

    2. From Nordic Naturals regarding their Algae Omega supplement:
      “Algae Omega is not tested for BMAA, as it is made from Schizochytrium sp. which does not produce BMAA.”

  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

    1. Retroconverting DHA to EPA is a lot harder an than the other way around. Just like ALA plan to based next to nothing is coverted to EPA and DHA and EPA is what most people want as its the ones most proven against depression, mental function etc and also cancer. DHA only shows.the cancer side without all the others mentioned.

  4. Does anyone know if BMAA builds up in fish oil? I contacted Nordic Naturals but they have not replied yet…and it’s been 3 months. Considering sardines have a high concentration of BMAA and many manufactures concentrate their fish oils from sardines then it’s possible BMAA is passing through the manufactures filtrations and concentrating into their final fish oil products.

    1. Take a look at the studies again before you make statements like that. From all the tests and research that is available online google scholar and pubmed, we see there be N/D none detectable BMAA in sardines in any test sample. It accumulates to higher species in the food chain, sharks have a very high BMAA content. You can call Nordic Naturals as they have a toll free phone number. Also, the question has been answered above, just read. Take the algae supplement if you are concerned, algae that is grown in stainless steel DOES NOT HAVE ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS.

      1. BMAA to methylamine and 2,3-
        diaminopropanoic acid (itself a neurotoxin; [209])
        occurred in rat tissue preparations [210]. Subsequent
        has also been found in shellfish and phytoplankton from
        the Gulf of Mexico [224]. On the western seaboard of
        the United States, razor clams and a variety of fish that
        enter the human food chain, e.g. anchovies, sardines,
        hake, rockfish, salmon and squid have been implicated.

        Dude, read an learn:

  5. I researched all the Algae Omega 3 companies mentioned here and amazon. They are all unknown sadly. There are only consumer reviews. No reviewer that are third party to analyze if the label is accurate and what it contains. On the website of companies, they have pictures and videos of the perfect green fields with friendly people working on them. It looks too perfect, like a propaganda film.
    Here is example, Deva Nutrition is located on a island in the Caribbean. I can imagine they have full control over the island. So you can hide bad things easily. What third party will come to do inspection?
    It is the perfect place if you do not want any legal liability for the product. I wish this product was sold in USA at local store. It would feel more secure. If any knows of any, please let me know. Thank you

  6. Johnathan,

    First let’s get clear as there are a number of excellent high quality supplement manufactures who check each and every batch, follow GMP at the pharmaceutical level and have truth in labeling and contents , consistently.

    On the other hand your absolutely correct as many don’t meet this standard. When it comes to any oil there are multiple indices that you want to check. Obviously the metal content, peroxidation levels, amount/type of preservative and packaging to name a few criteria. As a note you might want to check out the websites at two commercial organizations: their pictogram is really good and You can call any reputable firm and ask for the batch analysis if they are really doing their job.

    Many of the companies do indeed utilize 3rd party testing and remember that there is oversight with US organic labeling and a few other certifications. Make some calls and I think you’ll not only find some good sources but also get a feel for the real quality manufactures.

    Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger

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