Blue Green Algae health benefit, cyanobacteria, by Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Feb 18 2015


Blue green algae are not really algae, but they actually are more closely related to bacteria. Because they are photosynthetic and aquatic, cyanobacteria are often called "blue-green algae". This name is convenient for talking about organisms in the water that make their own food, but does not reflect any relationship between the cyanobacteria and other organisms called algae. Cyanobacteria are relatives of the bacteria, not eukaryotes. Cyanobacteria are aquatic and photosynthetic, that is, they live in the water, and can manufacture their own food. Because they are bacteria, they are quite small and usually unicellular, though they often grow in colonies large enough to see. They have the distinction of being the oldest known fossils, more than 3.5 billion years old. Cyanobacteria are still around; they are one of the largest and most important groups of bacteria on earth.


Benefit of blue green algae

Promoters claim blue-green algae to be nutritious and to treat or cure a number of medical conditions including allergies, depression, fatigue, hypoglycemia, digestive problems, improve memory and mental ability, “detoxify” the body, and boost the immune system. However, there is no human research to prove any of these claims regarding blue green algae supplements. However, one study hints at the possibility that a compound from blue-green algae may have a role to play in Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps future research may give us a better clue of the potential real benefits of blue-green algae.


Q. I've been approached many times by sales people to take AFA products by StemTech. I'd like to know your professional view about AFA and the hidden dangers of this blue-green algae. There have been many consumers who have taken it and seem to have positive effects in getting rid of their illnesses, e.g., severe skin pigmentation or emphysema, and I was wondering, in your professional capacity, whether the claims on AFA are valid.
   A. As of 2014 I have not seen human studies that confirm these claimed benefits.

Alzheimer's disease
Blue green algae may have a compound that acts as an anticholinesterase, with the potential to be helpful in Alzheimer's Disease.


I am a naturopathic doctor. My main reason for my email is to ask your thoughts on Blue-Green Algae and potential risks, or benefits, for Alzheimer's disease (AD). Gabriel Cousens, MD seems to believe that there is benefit for Alzheimer's in blue-green algae; albeit this was from a publication in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine back in 1985 and the recent edition of his book Conscious Eating (2000). I am cautious though, based on relatively recent research on potential toxins, namely beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) and their association in those with ALS and AD. Klamath Blue-Green Algae's website provides information on a study conducted back in 1993 regarding the strain of blue-green algae used in their products, stating that this particular strain (Aphanizemenon flos aquae - AFA) has never been shown to produce toxins. Research from Germany, however, has found that AFA does produce a hepatotoxin, and at least can potentially be contaminated with microcystin toxins. Is it true though, that AFA does not produce BMAA's? (This is noted in David Wolfe's book Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future). Also, based on one additional study noting the ability to detect potential toxins in blue-green algae, would you be aware of any organization / product that would use such methodology to ensure safety of their blue-green algae products? I would be very appreciative of any thoughts or additional research you may have on this subject. At this point I remain extremely cautious about using blue-green algae in those with a strong family history of AD, but would love to set my own mind at ease due to the other potential benefits of this nutrient/food.
   It appears that there may be an association but it more studies are needed to confirm these initial results. In the meantime, there are many other nutritional choices to treat Alzheimer's disease.


Cyanobacterial neurotoxin BMAA in ALS and Alzheimer's disease.
Acta Neurol Scand. 2009; Pablo J, Banack SA, Johnson TE, Papapetropoulos S, Bradley WG, Mash DC. Department of Neurology, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, Miami, FL, USA.
The aim of this study was to screen for and quantify the neurotoxic amino acid beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA) in a cohort of autopsy specimens taken from Alzheimer's disease (AD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington's disease (HD), and non-neurological controls. BMAA is produced by cyanobacteria found in a variety of freshwater, marine, and terrestrial habitats. The possibility of geographically broad human exposure to BMAA had been suggested by the discovery of BMAA in brain tissues of Chamorro patients with ALS / Parkinsonism dementia complex from Guam and more recently in AD patients from North America. Postmortem brain specimens were taken from neuropathologically confirmed cases of 13 ALS, 12 AD, 8 HD patients, and 12 age-matched non-neurological controls. We detected and quantified BMAA in neuroproteins from postmortem brain tissue of patients from the United States who died with sporadic AD and ALS but not HD. Incidental detections observed in two out of the 24 regions were analyzed from the controls. The occurrence of BMAA in North American ALS and AD patients suggests the possibility of a gene/environment interaction, with BMAA triggering neurodegeneration in vulnerable individuals.

Blue Green Algae research study
Natural compound from 'pond scum' shows potential activity against Alzheimer's: A compound isolated from a cyanobacterium, known as Nostoc, shows promise of becoming a natural drug candidate for fighting Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, according to an in vitro study by researchers in Switzerland. It is believed to be the first time that a potent agent against Alzheimer's has been isolated from cyanobacteria, commonly known as 'pond scum.' Cyanobacteria and other marine natural products have been increasingly found to be a promising source of drug candidates for fighting a variety of human diseases, including cancer and bacterial infections, but their chemistry has been largely unexplored. Karl Gademann, Ph.D., an organic chemist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich reports the newly isolated compound, nostocarboline, was shown to be a potent inhibitor of cholinesterase -- a brain chemical thought to be important for memory and thinking -- whose breakdown has been associated with the disease's progression. The natural compound's potency is comparable to galanthamine, a cholinesterase inhibitor already approved for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. 2005, Journal of Natural Products.


The two types

Blue green algae are an important part of the food chain in lakes and ponds worldwide. The two main blue-green types are spirulina and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). AFA is harvested from Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon and then freeze-dried and sold in capsules and other forms.


Source Naturals Blue-Green Algae 500 mg, 200 Tablets
From Klamath Lake

Source Naturals' Blue-Green Algae is wildcrafted and harvested in the prime upper regions of Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, and is of the highest quality available. The name comes from the two color pigments it contains; phycocyanin, which is blue, and chlorophyll, which is green. Blue-Green Algae also contains significant levels of vitamins, minerals, and rich pigment nutrients and is a good nonanimal source of protein and amino acids.






Blue- Green Algae Supplement Facts:
Amount Per 2 tablets:

Blue-Green Algae 1,000 mg  (Aphanizomenonflos-aquae)
Niacin 4 mg
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) 0.25 mcg
Biotin 5 mcg %
Iron 350 mcg
Phosphorous 7 mg
Manganese 22 mcg
Molybdenum 40 mcg
Vitamin A as Beta Carotene - 500 mcg

Side effects, safety, adverse events, toxicity
Thus far no significant side effects or toxicity has been reported in the medical literature except for the possible association below.


Indian J Exp Biol. 2014. Antiangiogenic and antiproliferative assessment of cyanobacteria. Biologically active compounds with different modes of action, such as antiproliferative, antioxidant, antimicrotubule, have been isolated from algae and cyanobacteria. The present study was designed to evaluate antiangiogenic and antiproliferative potential of extracts of different cyanobacteria. The results obtained from the various algal extracts did not show any significant antiangiogenic activity. Oscillatoria sp. and Lyngbya officinalis exhibited significant anti-proliferative activity. L. officinalis showed the presence of lyngbyatoxin-A and that of Oscillatoria sp. reveals the presence of malyngamide-J suggesting the possibility of antiproliferative activity.


Manufacturer, supplier
The largest manufacturer of blue green algae is a company called Cell Tech, which sells its product as “Super Blue Green Algae”