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Blue-green algae


What is it?

“Blue-green algae” describes a large and diverse group of simple, plant-like organisms found in salt water and some large fresh water lakes.

Blue-green algae products are used for many conditions, but so far, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to determine whether or not they are effective for any of them.

Blue-green algae are used as a source of dietary protein, B-vitamins, and iron. They are also used for weight loss, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), hayfever, diabetes, stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and other women’s health issues.

Some people use blue-green algae for treating precancerous growths inside the mouth, boosting the immune system, improving memory, increasing energy and metabolism, lowering cholesterol, preventing heart disease, healing wounds, and improving digestion and bowel health.

Blue-green algae are commonly found in tropical or subtropical waters that have a high-salt content, but some types grow in large fresh water lakes. The natural color of these algae can give bodies of water a dark-green appearance. The altitude, temperature, and sun exposure where the blue-green algae are grown dramatically influence the types and mix of blue-green algae in the water.

Some blue-green algae products are grown under controlled conditions. Others are grown in a natural setting, where they are more likely to be contaminated by bacteria, liver poisons (microcystins) produced by certain bacteria, and heavy metals. Choose only products that have been tested and found free of these contaminants.

You may have been told that blue-green algae are an excellent source of protein. But, in reality, blue-green algae is no better than meat or milk as a protein source and costs about 30 times as much per gram.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for BLUE-GREEN ALGAE are as follows:

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Precancerous mouth sores (oral leukoplakia). Early research findings show that taking 1 gram of spirulina blue-green algae (Spirulina fusiformis) daily by mouth for 12 months reduces oral leukoplakia in people who chew tobacco.
  • Weight loss. Research to date shows that taking spirulina blue-green algae does not seem to help reduce weight.
  • Tics or twitching of the eyelids (blepharospasm or Meige syndrome). Beginning research shows that taking a specific blue-green algae product (Super Blue-Green Algae (SBGA), Cell Tech) by mouth for 6 months does not reduce eyelid spasms in people with blepharospasm.
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
  • Diabetes.
  • Immune system.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Memory.
  • Energy.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Heart disease.
  • Wound healing.
  • Digestion.
  • As a source of dietary protein, vitamin B12, and iron.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of blue-green algae for these uses.

How does it work?

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Blue-green algae have a high protein, iron, and other mineral content which is absorbed when taken orally. Blue-green algae are being researched for their potential effects on the immune system, swelling (inflammation), and viral infections.

Are there safety concerns?

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Blue-green algae products that are free of contaminants, such as liver-damaging substances called microcystins, toxic metals, and harmful bacteria, are POSSIBLY SAFE for most people.

But blue-green algae products that are contaminated are LIKELY UNSAFE, especially for children. Children are more sensitive to contaminated blue-green algae products than adults.

Contaminated blue-green algae can cause liver damage, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness, thirst, rapid heartbeat, shock, and death. Don’t use any blue-green algae product that hasn’t been tested and found free of mycrocystins and other contamination.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Not enough is known about the use of blue-green algae during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

“Auto-immune diseases” such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), pemphigus vulgaris (a skin condition), and others: Blue-green algae might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to avoid using blue-green algae.

Phenylketonuria: The spirulina species of blue-green algae contains the chemical phenylalanine. This might make phenylketonuria worse. Avoid Spirulina species blue-green algae products if you have phenylketonuria.

Are there interactions with medications?

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Moderate

Be cautious with this combination.

Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
Blue-green algae might increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system, blue-green algae might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.

Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

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There are no known interactions with herbs and supplements.

Are there interactions with foods?

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There are no known interactions with foods.

What dose is used?

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The appropriate dose of blue-green algae depends on several factors such as the user’s age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for blue-green algae. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.

Other names

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AFA, Algae, Algas Verdiazul, Algues Bleu-Vert, Algues Bleu-Vert du Lac Klamath, Anabaena, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Arthrospira maxima, Arthrospira platensis, BGA, Blue Green Algae, Blue-Green Micro-Algae, Cyanobacteria, Cyanobactérie, Cyanophycée, Dihe, Espirulina, Hawaiian Spirulina, Klamath, Klamath Lake Algae, Lyngbya wollei, Microcystis aeruginosa, Microcystis wesenbergii, Nostoc ellipsosporum, Spirulina Blue-Green Algae, Spirulina Fusiformis, Spirulina maxima, Spirulina platensis, Spirulina pacifica, Spiruline, Spiruline d’Hawaii, Tecuitlatl.

Methodology

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To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).

References

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To see all references for the Blue-green algae page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/923.html.

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  2. Mao TK, Van de Water J, Gershwin ME. Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients. J Med Food 2005;8:27-30.
  3. Lu HK, Hsieh CC, Hsu JJ, et al. Preventive effects of Spirulina platensis on skeletal muscle damage under exercise-induced oxidative stress. Eur J Appl Physiol 2006;98:220-6.
  4. Hirahashi T, Matsumoto M, Hazeki K, et al. Activation of the human innate immune system by Spirulina: augmentation of interferon production and NK cytotoxicity by oral administration of hot water extract of Spirulina platensis. Int Immunopharmacol 2002;2:423-34.
  5. Vitale S, Miller NR, Mejico LJ, et al. A randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover clinical trial of super blue-green algae in patients with essential blepharospasm or Meige syndrome. Am J Ophthalmol 2004;138:18-32.
  6. Lee AN, Werth VP. Activation of autoimmunity following use of immunostimulatory herbal supplements. Arch Dermatol 2004;140:723-7.
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  10. Romay C, Armesto J, Remirez D, et al. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of C-phycocyanin from blue-green algae. Inflamm Res 1998;47:36-41.
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  3. Hayashi O, Hirahashi T, Katoh T, et al. Class specific influence of dietary Spirulina platensis on antibody production in mice. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 1998;44:841-51.
  4. Kushak RI, Drapeau C, Winter HS. The effect of blue-green algae Aphanizomenon flos-Aquae on nutrient assimilation in rats. JANA 2001;3:35-39.
  5. Kim HM, Lee EH, Cho HH, Moon YH. Inhibitory effect of mast cell-mediated immediate-type allergic reactions in rats by spirulina. Biochem Pharmacol 1998;55:1071-6.
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  7. Gilroy DJ, Kauffman KW, Hall RA, et al. Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements. Environ Health Perspect 2000;108:435-9.
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  9. Anon. Health Canada announces results of blue-green algal products testing – only Spirulina found Microcystin-free. Health Canada, September 27, 1999; URL: www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/archives/releases/99_114e.htm (Accessed 27 October 1999).
  10. Anon. Toxic algae in lake Sammamish. King County, WA. October 28, 1998; URL: splash.metrokc.gov/wlr/waterres/lakes/bloom.htm (Accessed 5 December 1999).
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  12. Jensen GS, Ginsberg DJ, Huerta P, et al. Consumption of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae has rapid effects on the circulation and function of immune cells in humans. A novel approach to nutritional mobilization of the immune system. JANA 2000;2:50-6.
  13. Blue-Green Algae Protein Is a Promising Anti-HIV Microbicide Candidate. www.medscape.com/reuters/prof/2000/03/03.16/dd03160g.html (Accessed 16 March 2000).
  14. The Review of Natural Products by Facts and Comparisons. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Co., 1999.
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Last reviewed - 12/09/2011




Page last updated: 12 March 2014