Spirulina is a filamentous non-differentiated, spiral-shaped multicellular primitive organism, called a blue green algae but it is actually a bacteria called cyanobacterium and technically not an algae at all.
It is known for its “panacea” effect with an extremely long list of health benefits that cannot be denied making spirulina a “superfood” and has even been called “the food of the future” efficient at supporting the immune system, natural anti-inflammatory, addresses nutritional deficiencies, brain food, antibacterial, antifungal, vital enzymes but to name a small few.
But most spirulina is hydroponically mass produced in manmade cement tanks and is grown in areas that are effected by environmental pollution. Think of spirulina as a dry sponge that you place in the water, whatever is in that water will be absorbed.
So if the water is contaminated/polluted you can be sure your spirulina will be too. Many countries grow spirulina USA, Hawaii, Thailand, Chile, Vietnam, India, Cuba, Spain, Argentina, China, Japan, some of these countries are badly effected by environmental pollution.
The problem with some companies in certain parts of the world is that they lack quality control with substandard conditions which lead to the growing of other species of algae which are undesirable for consumption. These other undesirable algae’s can end up been incorporated in the processing of spirulina and end up in the food chain. The undesirable algae and the polluted waters will add a cocktail of heavy metals, neurotoxins, pesticides, hemotoxins and microcystin to your spirulina.
How bad is this problem? A 2015 study found 14 out of 39 spirulina samples as testing positive for this neurotoxin.
There is now a large body of evidence which suggests the toxin beta-methyl amino-L-alanine, or BMAA, may be responsible for neurodegenerative disease. Not many plants on earth produce it, among the few that do are a number of blue-green algae species. Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most well-known person with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and in some countries, motor neurone disease (MND). It is one of the most terrible and puzzling neurodegenerative conditions. Its earliest symptoms can be associated with any number of other conditions, which makes the initial diagnosis difficult. Ultimately, it progresses into paralysis of voluntary muscles. In 1944, the the U.S. recaptured the Pacific island of Guam from the Japanese. Shortly thereafter, a neurologist working for the Navy was surprised to discover how many of the island’s native inhabitants – the Chamorro – were suffering ALS symptoms at a rate that was a staggering 5,000% to 10,000% higher than experienced throughout the rest of the world.
To make a long story short, it was eventually discovered that the Chamorro people were regularly consuming a plant that produced BMAA; cycad trees, which resemble a palm or fern but are not related to either. Not only were they using the cycad seeds to make flour for tortillas, but also eating flying foxes (fruit bats) which feasted on the tree.
Is it possible that BMAA is responsible for many cases of not just ALS, but also dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and a number of other terrible neurological diseases? Many highly respected researchers are backing that hypothesis.
Supplement lovers are clueless as to the fact that the vast majority of BMAA in the world is produced by cyanobacteria. Do spirulina and chlorella produce it? No, those are 100% safe. The problem is not with those two species, but rather the potential contamination from other species of blue-green algae growing in the same water. Even much of the organic chlorella and spirulina grown today comes from China, which should concern you.
From my further research chlorella is not cyanobacteria/ blue green algae it is a microalgae (more plant like) and does not have any of the harmful risks but like the anything growing in water we know now it must be from an unpolluted source. for information on chlorella
So how can you avoid all this and still consume spirulina firstly.
Where is your spirulina coming from? Avoid third world countries, Japan and china due to high radiation levels and contamination with lead, mercury and arsenic.
Product Labels and pictures will contain beautiful pictures of pristine lakes and key words like “natural” and “pure” this can be deceiving you need to read the information. The reality of growing spirulina is the picture on the right, which in the correct conditions, standards and testing is perfectly fine.
Buy organic spirulina you can be sure there will be no controversial fertilizers used in the production.
Look for a company that you are familiar with, that can ensure their strain is pure and testing is done on a regular basis look for a certificate of analysis (COA). If the information you require is not on the package, contact them and find out what you can.
Avoid cheap products, high quality supplements are expensive.
On a fishy side note, as if mercury and heavy metals weren’t concerning enough, now you need to worry about your fish, fish oils and seafood possibly containing BMAA. This should come as no surprise since these animals live along cyanobacteria. Fish get their omega 3 from eating algae (or eating animals which eat algae) since only marine plants produce DHA and EPA. So it should come as no surprise that just like spirulina, fish may be contaminated by BMAA producing algae.
Conclusion my horses don’t consume any spirulina but I do, I’m a bit of a superfood diva. On my last superfood shopping spree, I didn’t purchase any spirulina and purchased chlorella instead to my surprise. This was before a sniff of any information about this, was it divine intervention!! So will I use spirulina anymore... probably not; unless I can purchase certified BMAA and "everything else free" spirulina which I’m sure will be expensive and maybe not worth it? I will continue with my chlorella and stick with my wheatgrass as my number 1 superfood.