Another Update on Spirulina

Another Update on Spirulina
4.74 (94.74%) 19 votes

Potential neurotoxicity is another concern regarding spirulina supplements.

Discuss
Republish

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What’s the latest on spirulina supplements? The reason I told everyone to throw their spirulina away was that it was found to produce hepatotoxins. While blue-green algae supplements had the brain toxins, spirulina supplements were found to have liver toxins.

Should we continue to avoid the stuff? Yes. Now, spirulina can boast neurotoxins as well. In 2009, a potent neurotoxin was found in spirulina supplements for the first time.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Jennifer via sweetonveg

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

What’s the latest on spirulina supplements? The reason I told everyone to throw their spirulina away was that it was found to produce hepatotoxins. While blue-green algae supplements had the brain toxins, spirulina supplements were found to have liver toxins.

Should we continue to avoid the stuff? Yes. Now, spirulina can boast neurotoxins as well. In 2009, a potent neurotoxin was found in spirulina supplements for the first time.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Jennifer via sweetonveg

Doctor's Note

For more on spirulina, check out Infant Seizures Linked to Mother’s Spirulina Use.

And check out my other videos on spirulina

For more context, also check out my associated blog post: Vitamin B12: how much, how often? and Toxin Contamination of Spirulina Supplements.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

59 responses to “Another Update on Spirulina

Comment Etiquette

On NutritionFacts.org, you'll find a vibrant community of nutrition enthusiasts, health professionals, and many knowledgeable users seeking to discover the healthiest diet to eat for themselves and their families. As always, our goal is to foster conversations that are insightful, engaging, and most of all, helpful – from the nutrition beginners to the experts in our community.

To do this we need your help, so here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

The Short List

To help maintain and foster a welcoming atmosphere in our comments, please refrain from rude comments, name-calling, and responding to posts that break the rules (see our full Community Guidelines for more details). We will remove any posts in violation of our rules when we see it, which will, unfortunately, include any nicer comments that may have been made in response.

Be respectful and help out our staff and volunteer health supporters by actively not replying to comments that are breaking the rules. Instead, please flag or report them by submitting a ticket to our help desk. NutritionFacts.org is made up of an incredible staff and many dedicated volunteers that work hard to ensure that the comments section runs smoothly and we spend a great deal of time reading comments from our community members.

Have a correction or suggestion for video or blog? Please contact us to let us know. Submitting a correction this way will result in a quicker fix than commenting on a thread with a suggestion or correction.

View the Full Community Guidelines

  1. Another aspect of toxicity, specifically in Hawaiian spirulina, is a concern expressed by Steve Blake, a N.D. and researcher on Maui . He noted on a visit to Hawaii, where the production facility is located on the Kona coast, that the Kona airport was nearby and that some or many (?) jet landings and takeoffs transited over the spirulina facility. He contacted the company asking if they were aware of jet fuel residue, etc possibly contaminating the algae and has not received a reply.

  2. Hello again! I am planning on conceiving in the next few months and I have been researching prenatal vitamins. Dr. Fuhrman has a prenatal that looks excellent (most importantly, no folic acid) expect it has some spirulina in it. It is listed as an ingredient in the “250mg of a fruit, veggie and greens blend.” Should I continue my search, or is this as good as it gets?

    1. It seems, from all the data presented, that spirulina is much more harm than good and that maybe Dr. Fuhrman (a doctor I highly respect) may not have received this information.

      1. I could not disagree more- spirulina provides all the minerals, vitamins and even protein that a pregnant woman could need. In fact it was the food staple of choice of the Aztecs before the Spanish colonisation of the Americas. Of course one should buy a reputable label, ensuring it is grown away from pollutants, but that goes for all of our foods including fish and fruit and vegetables. It does a wonderful job of keeping anemia at bay and I have been using it myself for more than 20 years (including while pregnant), and recommending it to my pregnant clients, and have never had any adverse reactions. I would recommend it over any man-made supplement out there. Though nothing is as good as a great wholefoods, organic diet, the fact is that few pregnant women can actually manage to get it. Spirulina really helps to fill in the nutritional gaps.

        1. Comadrona, I’ve used Spirulina as a powder sprinkled on my vegetables, rice, potatoes beans etc, probably on average once a week for 40 years now. My body enjoys spirulina’s rich full flavour. I’m 63 years old & vegetarian 44 years & vegan 28 years with an excellent health record. In the past couple of years I get a few meals per year of fresh green living ‘duck-weed’ which a friend grows in his ponds. I listen to my body, which tells me there is something important about various foods.

          In order to know the effects of certain foods, herbs, lifestyle on our health, we need more primary level statistical gathering. Dr. Greger’s research is an improvement in terms of gleaning statistics from institutional records, but institutionalized professionals don’t know the intimate details (good, bad & so-so) in order to understand the significance of the stories upon which they report. I studied with Bio-statistician Dr. Rosalie Bertell on a couple of week long courses arising from our training for the British Columbia Uranium Moratorium in the 1970s. Rosalie helped me understand how what we are lacking as a world people today is good health & life-story record gathering at the family level, where people have intimate, long-term primary health record knowledge linked to literally millions of day-to-day or episode factors. 7th Day Adventists have been probably the best source of records concerning vegetarian diets gathered at the family level.
          https://sites.google.com/site/indigenecommunity/design/responsable-health

      2. The key is to stay away from powdered Spirulina, from China especially. The science shows that over 50% of the nutrition is destroyed in the spray drying process and another 30% lost in storage. When buying and consuming and food make sure it is living and that means has a high water content like fresh fruits and vegetables. I would highly recommend consuming a fresh living Spirulina instead.

    2. Good for you for planning ahead for the healthiest possible pregnancy! Interestingly, although the idea that pregnant women need to take a special multivitamin is fixed in the minds of the American public, there is no evidence that prenatal vitamins are helpful in Americans, who generally get enough nutrients, even for growing a baby. Multivitamins may help malnourished pregnant women in poor countries, although there is not great evidence for that, either (see the Cochrane data base, www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab004905.html). See also Dr. Greger’s video on multivitamins and breast cancer: nutritionfacts.org/videos/multivitamin-supplements-and-breast-cancer for a discussion of the problems with folic acid supplements. Your safest and healthiest bet is probably to eat green leafy things like crazy starting now, before you conceive. By the way, most doctors and nurses who provide prenatal care will likely advocate vitamin supplements, so you may need to arm yourself with facts from this website! Best of luck with your (future) pregnancy.

    3. You might look up “Propax with NT Factor” – an excellent food-based vitamin/mineral supplement. Available online or via your local “Vitamin Shoppe”

  3. I know there are vegetarians, especially vegetarian weightlifters that eat spiralina.  Is it the amount that is take and/or where is it from that causes the nuerotoxins?  I had my wife quit taking it after giving her this information.

        1. Liz:

          Good research on your part. Dr. Greger covers this very issue in the newest video on the topic of spirulina: (good one to watch)

          http://nutritionfacts.org/video/infant-seizures-linked-to-mothers-spirulina-use/

          I don’t know about you, but if a significant number of products are contaminated, it doesn’t matter to me whether it is the spirulina itself or “just” the contaminants. I’m going to play it safe given that the consequence of getting one bad product is so severe. Just sharing my take on the topic.

          Good luck to you.

  4. 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 

  5. 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.

  6.  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).

  7. Dear Dr. Greger,
    What would you recommend to persons who have consumed spirulina on a regular basis? Are there any “detox” protocols?
    Thanks.

    1. Please understand this is mostly scaremongering, its completely ridiculous, me and dozens of friends have taken spirulina for years, its completely safe as long as its not tainted (same as something like POTATOES, really). This site is ridiculous in some issues.

  8. Anatoxin-a in Aphanizomenon blue green algae supplements has been long suspected or known. The abstract cited here doesn’t say that anatoxin-a was found specifically in Spirulina supplements. Are they more specific elsewhere in the paper?

    “These supplements most commonly contain the genera Spirulina (Arthrospira) and Aphanizomenon…A total of 39 samples were analysed in the study. Results showed that three of the samples (7.7%) contained anatoxin-a…”

    Which samples? Spirulina, Aphanizomenon or mixed?

  9. Information presented in this manner is categorically useless, and intellectually dishonest.

    The questions are:

    1) Is there BMAA in spirulina and/or chlorella?

    2) Is there microcystin in spirulina and/or chlorella?

    If the answer is no, then there is no problem (at least until we discover if there are any other dangerous compounds produced by these organisms).

    The only method of determining the answer is through scientific testing, not rank speculation.

    Keep in mind the study in question was done on algae growing in water ways, and it was beyond the scope of the study to test food or nutritional supplements. That is the obvious next step that must be done.

  10. Pure planet premium spirulina is grown in california in a controlled enviroment should that one be avoided as well. I do have an autoimmune illness called Lupus

        1. The video talks about neuro-toxin contaminations in Spirulina. Not spirulina itself. If you can find non-contaminated spirulina, then it can work wonders. But challenge is how do you know if it’s not contaminated?

  11. Dr Greger,

    I am a keen Endurance Athlete, over fifty and eat only a plant based diet,
    Like all athletes, mine is the battle to recover from hard training or racing,

    most training manuals or experienced athletes write and speak of the benefits of Spirulina, I have always been tempted to try but I’m put of by the information in your 2009/10 video clips, would you have the same concerns for Organic Lab grown Spirlina, should I just exclude it from my diet?

  12. Did I miss a discussion od Barley Life or Barley Green (Dried Barley grass juice)? Also sold as multilevel market product, Claims a lot.

  13. Any update on avocados? I gave up spirulina, and chlorella because of the potential neurotoxins. I also gave up avocado’s because of the gene damage. Any updates on that one? I broke down and had some quac recently . Will I become a mutant?

  14. http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/newsfromnci/2003/ebola

    Anti-HIV Protein from Blue-Green Algae Also Inhibits Ebola Infection

    Researchers have discovered that a bacterial protein known to reduce the
    ability of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to infect cells also inhibits
    infection by the Ebola virus. The antiviral protein, known as cyanovirin-N
    (CV-N), can extend the survival time of Ebola-infected mice, researchers from
    the National Cancer Institute’s Molecular Targets Discovery Program report in a
    study published in Antiviral Research*.

    The study, done in collaboration with researchers from the U.S. Army Medical
    Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and
    Prevention, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
    Diseases, provides important insights into the process of Ebola infection. There
    is currently no treatment for Ebola infection, which causes severe and often
    fatal hemorrhagic fever.

    CV-N comes from a type of bacterium known as cyanobacterium, or blue-green
    algae. Its antiviral properties were originally discovered through NCI’s
    Laboratory of Drug Discovery Research and Development in a screening process
    designed to identify natural materials that act against HIV. CV-N effectively
    inhibits HIV infection of cells grown in the laboratory.

    1. You can check out the six videos on spirulina on NutritionFacts.org for information on spirulina. You might start with http://nutritionfacts.org/video/blue-green-algae-spirulina/. Over the last 40 years in practice I have seen many drugs, diets and supplements come out and be touted as “the answer” to health. Of course there are many interventions that are useful to treat specific conditions in patients. There is a big difference from using a specific substance to treat a condition… say vitamin c for treating scurvy and recommending vitamin c for the entire population. The information on protein in this video is not complete. It implies that we need to take extra steps to get protein. All you need to do is consume adequate calories and your bodies metabolism will take care of the rest. The best three articles on protein were written by John McDougall MD in his monthly newsletters…. Protein History (12/03), Protein Sources(4/07), and Protein Overload(1/04). The neurotoxin BMAA mentioned in the video I cited above is a neurotoxin that is produced by some blue green algae. You should stay tuned as Dr. Greger will have more on blue green algae and ALS in upcoming video’s. For me the take home message is that whenever you see an Ad or informercial for a product then check out the latest science. With the latest and best information you will be armed to avoid disease and disability and work with your health care professionals if symptoms arise.

      1. Hi Don,
        Can you please tell me what the evidence says about E3Live? I know it is a blue green algae. Wondering what Dr. Greger knows about that. Thank you.

  15. For everyone’s information:

    I have contacted two companies: Nature’s Way and Amazing Grass. Both failed to reassure me about this concern, and instead employed vague marketing language to tell me that their products are safe to use. They are not claiming that their products are BMAA-free, despite me asking precisely about this. Therefore I recommend you stay away from them and any company that will not be transparent about this issue.

  16. Benefit of powders v fresh

    Hi
    What are your thoughts on incorporating powdered “superfoods” (Maca, Spirulina, Baobab, Moringa etc) into our diets in comparison to more regular foods (like the typical farmers market fruits and vegetables) that are available fresh but are perhaps a bit less “super”!?

    Does the fact these superfoods are powdered seriously reduce their effectiveness? Or are their health benefits so unique that they are worth buying, even if powdered?

    Many thanks in advance for all the good work you do to help people live more fulfilled lives.

    Edward.

  17. This brief, unexplained video, referencing one study, lacking in any detail and now 7 years old, is your basis for telling people not to consume it? How can this be considered an even remotely scientific opinion?

  18. Data doesn’t have an expiration date. Anything you eat should be proven both safe and effective. Available evidence, that we are aware of, does not justify it’s consumption. If you’re aware of any unbiased new data proving safety and efficacy, we’d all like to evaluate it for validity. Feel free to post it here.

    Dr. Ben

  19. Most organic spirulina are grown in closed controlled pools. There is no risk of contaminations from other algae on those situations.
    I choose brands that use the Parry Nutraceuticals spirulina, as it seems a very reputable producer. They also to extensive tests on their products, including microcystin. Why to tell people to stay away from something that can actually be very benefical for health? The amount of studies showing positive effects seem much bigger than few studies talking about dangers of toxins.

  20. Hello,

    Do you have any opinion on Dr. Spencer’s Miracle Algae with Zeolite? It says it contains Dr. Spencer’s unique Spirulina algae and micronized Zeolite powder in vegetarian capsules. 100% Pure and Natural. No insecticides, herbicides, or preservatives used in growing or processing.

    Thank you for your response!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This