Media Inaccuracies About Algae

Clearing up some confusion over Spirulina, Chlorella and Aphanizomenon by Robert Henrikson

Published in Reader Mail, Healthy & Natural Journal, June 1997

More and more people are consuming microalgae each day. They find these green superfoods do offer real health benefits. But, perhaps because some companies and individuals have made over zealous medical claims, some media publications are over reacting in an equally biased manner. The media has been spreading a lot of misinformation about algae.

One example of a very inaccurate and biased article recently published about algae is "What's so special about blue-green algae?", in Health Magazine, and reprinted in an advertising supplement in People Magazine (Feb. 3, 1997). Nearly every statement is negative and factually incorrect.

The unidentified writer for Health never mentions the actual name of the blue-green algae being targeted, most likely aphanizomenon flos aquae. The article begins: "Some kinds are a good source of vitamins. Others may be toxic". Then says erroneously: "Also called spirulina and chlorella, blue green-algae makes up the scum you see growing on the surface of ponds and lakes."

Scientists know well, Blue-green algae (Cyanophyta) are composed of hundreds of types of which spirulina, aphanizomenon and microcystis are a few. Chlorella is not even blue-green algae. It belongs to a class of algae called Green Algae (Chlorophyta).

Both Spirulina and Chlorella are well known by scientists as safe and nutritious edible algae. Over 30 years of international scientific research, thousands of published peer-reviewed papers, document their safety and nutritional and therapeutic health benefits. Spirulina and Chlorella sold on the market are grown in pure cultures in scientifically designed algae farms, and growing in these ponds, do not form scum on the surface of the water.

The article says "a day's dose of the algae differs little from a serving of broccoli." Algae and broccoli are nutritionally very different, as a quick check with any nutrition almanac would reveal. As a microscopic plant, algae like spirulina is a microvegetable, and just a few tablets a day contains concentrated amounts of substances like natural beta-carotene, Vitamin B-12 and GLA (an essential fatty acid). Broccoli is a great vegetable, but doesn't concentrate these particular substances in such small doses.

Then the article claims that algae can't make vitamin B-12, but "it's made from bacteria, which experts believe gets in the algae via bird feathers and droppings". This is a scurrilous statement. Who are these so-called 'experts' referred to by the writer? It is a known scientific fact that Vitamin B-12 is synthesized by spirulina.

The article continues, "The price tag on a month's supply can run as high as $68." While that may be true for aphanizomenon, a month's supply of spirulina from a natural food store costs about $17, less that 1/3 what the article claims.

Next, Health magazine misrepresents the benefits of beta carotene in algae, saying "When researchers studied people who took supplements, the results weren't nearly as rosy". Its well known (except perhaps to the magazine) that these well-publicized studies used synthetic beta-carotene supplements, containing only the all-trans isomer. Still strongly recommended by scientists is natural beta carotene. It is found in healthy fruits, vegetables and, yes, algae supplements and contains both the all-trans and the cis-isomers with additional antioxidant properties. There has been substantial published scientific research documenting the positive effects of beta carotene in spirulina, even by taking just a few tablets a day.

The article ends with a toxicity scare: "There is another potential downside. One type of blue-green algae that turns up in supplements can sometimes produce toxins...", and continues on. This controversy about potential toxicity surrounds lake harvested blue-green algae such as aphanizomenon flos-aquae, yet the author does not mention it by name. (This issue is better addressed by those companies who harvest and market aphanizomenon.)

The inaccuracy and bias represented by this article in Health Magazine is little different than those miracle claims made by health supplement companies which the media purports to expose. It's even worse when the media misuses its power and misinforms with ignorance and prejudice.

People should be reassured that both Spirulina (blue-green algae) and Chlorella (green algae) are safe, nutritious and healthy. Their value is supported by thousands of published scientific articles spanning 30 years. These microscopic algae are consumed by millions of people in 40 countries around the world. Spirulina and Chlorella are growing in popularity because people find them effective.

Spirulina Boosts Immunity and Clears Bacterial Infections
The 44th Western Poultry Disease Conference
Sacramento, CA, March 5, 1995

Scientists announced the natural food spirulina dramatically strengthens the immune system. Immunologist and Professor M.A. Qureshi, PhD, released a study sponsored by Earthrise Company of California. "Immunomodulary Effects of Spirulina Supplementation in Chickens" 1, 2 shows small daily doses of spirulina in a poultry diet (less than 1%) greatly improve T-cell and thymus function. Spirulina especially boosts cells called macrophages, the first line of body defense. These cells communicate with T-cells to coordinate the fight against infections.

Spirulina caused the cells to increase in number, be more active and display more effective microbial killing. The whole immune system array of killer cells, helper cells and antibody production is supercharged. This means spirulina fed birds are much more resistant to infection, with no undesirable side effects.

Researchers are testing the theory that spirulina acts like a broad spectrum vaccine against bacteria. It may also protect against other disease causing microbes and cancer. Because it is a safe natural food, it has created a sensation among animal scientists. They are scrambling to replace ineffective antibiotics with probiotics like spirulina that strengthen immune systems and prevent disease.

Scientists in China and Japan independently reported spirulina and its extracts fed to mice increase macrophage function, antibody production and infection-fighting T-cells. 3, 4, 5 One study found spirulina extracts inhibited cancer by boosting the immune system. 6 The active phytonutrients are a polysaccharide (a complex sugar molecule) unique to spirulina and phycocyanin (the blue pigment found only in blue-green algae). In 1979, Russian scientists published initial research on the immune stimulating effects on rabbits from lipopolysaccharides in spirulina. 7

These discoveries are significant for human health. Overused antibiotics have created highly resistant bacteria. Most antibiotics are no longer effective. Now scientists want to identify probiotics that strengthen the immune system to prevent disease and cancer. Based on this animal research, as little as 3 grams per day of spirulina may be effective for humans. It seems to turbocharge the immune system to seek out and destroy disease causing microorganisms and cancer cells.

Spirulina, blue-green algae, is 60% all-vegetable protein, easy-to-digest, with the highest food concentration of the antioxidant beta carotene, iron, vitamin B-12, and the rare gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Its dark green color comes from the combination of the phytonutrients carotene, chlorophyll and phycocyanin. It is also a source of polysaccharides and sulfoglycolipids. In the past 15 years, this nutritious microscopic aquatic plant has gained worldwide acceptance.

Spirulina is a safe whole food consumed by traditional people for centuries. It has been enjoyed by millions of people as a natural food in the USA, Japan and Europe. Earthrise Farms, the world's largest spirulina farm located in the sunny California desert, produces over 300 tons per year. The immune enhancement study with chickens used spirulina ecologically grown at Earthrise Farms free of pesticides.

References:
1. Immunomodulary Effects of Spirulina Supplementation in Chickens by M. Qureshi, et al. May 1995. North Carolina State. Pub. in Proc. of 44th Western Poultry Disease Conference, pp 117-120. USA.
2. Immune Enhancement Potential of Spirulina in Chickens by M. Quereshi, et al. August 1994. Poultry Science Assoc. Dept. of Poultry Science, North Carolina State, NC. Pub. in Journal of Poultry Science Vol 73, S.1. p. 46. USA.
3. Study on Effect and Mechanism of Polysaccharides of Spirulina on Body Immune Function Improvement by G. Baojiang, et al. April 1994. South China Normal Univ. China. Pub. in Proc. of Second Asia Pacific Conf. on Algal Biotech. Univ. of Malaysia. pp 33-38. China.
4. Effects of Polysaccharide and Phycocyanin from Spirulina on Peripheral Blood and Hematopoietic System of Bone Marrow in Mice by Zhang Cheng-Wu, et al.. April 1994. Nanjing Univ. China. Pub. in Proc. of Second Asia Pacific Conf. on Algal Biotech. Univ. of Malaysia. p.58. China.
5. Enhancement of Antibody Production in Mice by Dietary Spirulina by Hayashi, et al. June 1994. Kagawa Nutrition Univ. Japan. Pub. in Journal of Nutr. Science and Vitaminology. Japan.
6. Inhibitive Effect and Mechanism of Polysaccharide of Spirulina on Transplanted Tumor Cells in Mice by Lisheng, et al. 1991.Pub. in Marine Sciences, Qingdao, N.5. pp 33-38. China.
7. Immunostimulating Activity of Lipopolysaccharides from Blue-Green Algae by L. Besednova, et al. 1979. Pub. in Zhurnal Mikrobiologii, Epidemiologii, Immunobiologii, 56(12) pp 75-79. Russia.

Be Green. Be Well.