Update on Spirulina

Update on Spirulina
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Concerns about spirulina supplements extend to liver toxicity.

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What about the microscopic greens, like spirulina? Of all the controversial findings I’ve shared from the medical literature over the years, this is 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 because of 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Music4thekids via Wikimedia Commons.

What about the microscopic greens, like spirulina? Of all the controversial findings I’ve shared from the medical literature over the years, this is 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 because of 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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image thanks to Music4thekids via Wikimedia Commons.

Doctor's Note

Check out my other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?- listed below the post.

For more context, see my associated blog post: Soy milk: shake it up! and Toxin Contamination of Spirulina Supplements.

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

20 responses to “Update on Spirulina

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    1. 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.




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      1. 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.




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        1. 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




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          1. 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




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        2. Well, the cited article says it is from batches of spirulina that are contaminated with other cyanobacteria which then produce the microcystins:

          “World Health Organization (WHO) experts have indicated that Spirulina as a healthimproving agent surpasses all so-far-known food components and medication (Mosulishvili et al. 2002). However, the cultivation environments of cyanobacteria Spirulina are also suitable for the growth of some toxic cyanobacteria species, such as Anabaena, Microcystis, Oscillatoria, and Nostoc (Bittencourt-Oliveira et al. 2005; Moore 2005; Babicca et al. 2006). These cyanobacteria can produce microcystins (MCs),”

          Along these lines, a 2012 study found Spirulina on sale in Italy was not contaminated, but AFA was: “using chemical and molecular techniques, on BGAS [Bluegreen algae supplements] of 17 brands available in Italy. Samples containing Spirulina-only were free of contamination. The Aphanizomenon flos aquae-based samples were contaminated by highly variable levels of microcystins (MC-LR and MC-LA congeners), up to 5.2 lg MC-LR equivalents per gram product.”

          ‘Contamination by Microcystis and microcystins of blue–green algae food supplements (BGAS) on the italian market and possible risk for the exposed population’ Susanna Vichi ⇑, Paolo Lavorini, Enzo Funari, Simona Scardala, Emanuela Testai




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  1. 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/.




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  2. 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 




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  3.  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.




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    1. 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.”




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  4.  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).




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  5. hi there
    I just cover a Project including antioxidant effect of spirulina in High atitude and hear rate decrease in this case following physical activity in high altitude after spirulina administration.is there any mechanism for explaining this change??
    thanks in advance




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  6. Hi, very interesting! Would Organic Burst Spirulina be ok to take? Their site states that the company “grow our spirulina in a stunning spot in Southern Taiwan (2,550km from Japan)…Our man-made pools use only underground mineral water (drinking water quality), which means there’s no possibility of radiation or heavy metal contamination from seawater”

    Would this eliminate the risk?




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  7. Once again, this is based on stuff coming from China. So what do I say to this? Grow your own, like I do, or buy from someone who grows their spirulina in the U.S. or France. I have a backup source for organic Spirulina and they produce their product in France. I produce my healthy spirulina in a twenty gallon aquarium in my kitchen. And yes, it is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. And honestly Dr. Greger, have you followed the trail of this information to see who is funding all of this data? Please, I ask you once again, do your due dilligence and stop attacking a perfectly healthy food based on some crappy products coming from China.




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    1. yes, a lot of crappy stuff comes from China, including that they inject a sugar solution into fruits to make them sweeter!! So, what else is new!!
      Btw, I am drinking a powder mix of greens in powder form. Spirulina is listed as the last ingredient. The rest are wheatgrass, barleygrass, chlorella powders. And they are all organic and from Australia. Is this safe?




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  8. The potential risks in spirulina consumption reviewed by Dr. Greger put me in an impossible situation. My iron and ferritin levels are declining slowly but steadily despite my rich, calculated vegan diet, and no supplement seems to help. I have consumed the following: blackstrap molasses, Spatone, Floravital, iron bisglycinate, chlorella, and raw apple cider vinegar (to create an acidic environment in the digestive system). None of these had even a slight effect — with the exception of spirulina, which had an almost immediate effect. The last option I am considering is an angstrom-iron supplement, which is not readily available for me. My main question is, if spirulina is toxic, how could the Aztecs thrive and exist with it as a dietary staple? I am not aware of any significant rate of nerve disease in that culture. Please help.




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