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HERBS: Blue-Green Algae


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Blue-Green Algae

Blue-green Algae

Scientific name

Spirulina sp., Aphanizomenon flos-aquae

Other names

Pond scum, Spirulina platensis, Spirulina fusiformis, AFA-algae, Arthrospira platensis, tecuitlatl, BGA, dihe

Purported uses

  • As an appetite suppressant: No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder): No scientific evidence supports this use.
  • To prevent and treat cancer: Laboratory studies show that blue-green algae may help protect against DNA mutations, but it is unknown whether this effect occurs in humans. One clinical trial supported the use of blue-green algae for prevention of oral cancer in tobacco chewers. There is no evidence that blue-green algae can treat cancer.
  • To prevent and treat fatigue: No scientific evidence supports this use. 
  • To treat HIV and AIDS: Blue-green algae show anti-viral activity in the laboratory, but it is unknown whether this effect occurs in humans. There is no proof from clinical trials that blue-green algae can treat HIV and AIDS.
  • To stimulate the immune system: One study in healthy humans showed that AFA-algae increased blood levels of natural killer cells (immune cells). There is no evidence that such effects help the body fight infections or maintain health.
  • To treat oral leukoplakia (a pre-cancerous condition characterized by thick white patches on the oral mucosa and tongue): One clinical trial supported the use of blue-green algae for prevention of oral cancer in tobacco chewers.
  • To treat viral infections: Blue-green algae show anti-viral activity in the laboratory, but there is no proof from clinical trials that it can treat infections in humans.

Warnings

Microcystin contamination can cause hepatotoxicity, renal failure, and neurotoxicity. Products should be certified free from contamination.

Adverse reactions

  • Infrequent: Nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia
  • Rare: Cyanotoxin (e.g. anatoxin, saxitoxin, microcystins) contamination of AFA-algae and possibly Spirulina may cause hepatotoxicity, renal failure, neurotoxicity, seizures, respiratory arrest, acute pancreatitis, and cardiomyopathy.

Drug interactions

No known interactions at this time.

References

1. Foster S, Tyler VE. Tyler’s Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies 4th ed. New York: Haworth Herbal Press; 1999.

2. Ziegler R. Aphanizomenon flow-Aquae (AFA-Algae). A food supplement with dubious health claims. Meeting of the Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer. Weiskirchen (Switzerland): November 9, 2001.

3. Ayehunie S, et al. Inhibition of HIV-1 replication by an aqueous extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis). J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol 1998;18:7-12.

4. Hayashi T, et al. Calcium spirulan, an inhibitor of enveloped virus replication, from a blue-green algae Spirulina platensis. J Nat Prod 1996;59:83-7.

5. Draisci R, et al. Identification of anatoxins in blue-green algae food supplements using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Food Addit Contam 2001;18:525-31.

6. Patocka J. The toxins of Cyanobacteria. Acta Medica 2001;44:69-75.

7. Zhang H, et al. Chemo- and radio-protective effects of polysaccharide of Spirulina platensis on hemopoietic system of mice and dogs. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2001;22:1121-4.

8. Premkumar K. et al. Effect of Spirulina fusiformis on cyclophosphamide and mitomycin-C induced genotoxicity and oxidative stress in mice. Fitoterapia 2001;72:906-11.

9. Iwasa M, Yamamoto M, Tanaka Y, Kaito M, Adachi Y. Spirulina-associated hepatotoxicity. Am.J Gastroenterol. 2002;97:3212-3.

10. Samuels R, Mani UV, Iyer UM, Nayak US. Hypocholesterolemic effect of spirulina in patients with hyperlipidemic nephrotic syndrome. J Med.Food 2002;5:91-6.

11. Mathew B, et al. Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis. Nutr Cancer 1995;24:197-202.

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Overview of Herbs | Alfalfa | Aloe Vera | Burdock | Capsaicin | Cascara | Chamomile | Chaparral | Comfrey | Echinacea | Garlic | Ginger | Ginseng (Asian) | Ginseng (American) | Gotu Kola | Hawthorn | Licorice | Ephedra | Milk Thistle | Sassafras | Blue-Green Algae