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Spirulina and the Media's Inaccuracies of Algae

Clearing up some confusion over Spirulina, Chlorella and Aphanizomenon
By Robert Henrikson - 06/10/97
From: Healthy & Natural Journal

More and more people are consuming micro algae each day. They find these green super foods 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 micro vegetable, 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.