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Algae Supplements: The Next Superfood

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Article Summary

  • Discover the 15 surprising benefits of algae supplements
  • Find out who most benefits from algae
  • Learn why algae is so valuable to vegans
  • See what you must do to ensure your algae supplement is safe
  • Gain insight on how to choose your own algae supplement

Blue-green algae supplements continue to grow in popularity. Search online and you’ll find a host of options from a variety of different sources. One popular source is Klamath Lake, recognized as delivering one of the most nutrient-dense algae as a result of the lake’s abundance of minerals and nutrients.

In recent years, researchers have uncovered many amazing benefits of blue-green algae. Some have even called it the next superfood. In this article, we will:

  • Look at many of those benefits
  • Discuss who benefits from taking blue-green algae supplements
  • Share why they’re such a great supplement for vegans
  • Provide guidelines to ensure your algae supplement is safe
  • Offer recommendations for what to look for in your algae supplement

15 Surprising benefits of algae supplements 

There are many types of algae that have been researched for their health benefits. Of these, the blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) Spirulina, and AFA along with the green algae Chlorella have shown the greatest potential. In fact, NASA recommended Spirulina for astronauts’ dietary needs due to its nutrient density.[i]

Let’s take a closer look at the surprising health benefits attributed to these algae.

They’re an excellent source of supplemental nutrition. Algae may be tiny, but they are loaded with nutrition. According to the US Department of Agriculture, a single tablespoon of spirulina contains[ii]:

  • 2 mg iron
  • 6 mg magnesium
  • 4 mg potassium
  • 62 mg choline
  • Only .54 grams of fat

You also get a range of B vitamins including folate, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamins, A, C, and E, and more with every serving.

Likewise, Chlorella and AFA are also nutrient-rich.

Algae supplements may not replace meals, but they certainly offer an excellent way to supplement your diet. And when you’re getting the nutrition you need, you have more energy, feel better, and stay healthier.

 

Naturally enhances athletic performance. In 1968 and 1972, Lee Evans set track-and-field world records at the Olympic Games. He attributed his success to Spirulina.[iii] Since then, Olympic teams and athletes from all over the world have relied on Spirulina and other algae to supplement their training as research supports it as a natural way to support elite performance.[iv]

Helps boost the immune system. Your immune system relies on nutrition to fuel it and keep it actively fighting infection and healing wounds. In addition to the nutrition blue-green algae delivers, research shows taking Chlorella helps to boost antibody production.[v]   

Eases inflammation. Inflammation wreaks havoc on the body, especially when you can’t see it. Studies with animals, cells, and human subjects have shown blue-green algae helps reduce inflammation.[vi]

Calms irritable bowels. Gas, bloating, and digestive disorders afflict many and are often caused by conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or disease. Inflammation of the intestinal lining often contributes to these symptoms. Many people who take algae supplements report calmer stomachs, a response supported by research.[vii]

Can help relieve joint aches and pains. Sore, inflamed joints, especially as you age, make it hard to get around. Blue-green algae taken regularly can help restore movement with less pain.[viii],[ix]

Delivers a powerful dose of antioxidants. Researchers exploring the antioxidant potential of blue-green algae have observed it lowers common indicators of oxidative stress while helping boost levels of the body’s own antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase.[x]

Works great for detoxing. Removing free radicals that cause oxidative stress helps the body support its natural detox processes, but algae like Chlorella goes further. Research shows it binds to heavy metals and other foreign, harmful substances, escorting them out of the body.[xi]

Supports liver health and metabolism. The modern diet wreaks havoc on the liver, often causing it to become fatty. It’s why non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) continues to rise in countries around the world. According to studies, taking spirulina helps the liver process and remove fat.[xii]

Promotes heart and vascular health. Heart disease remained the number one killer of people in the United States in 2019.[xiii] Taking blue-green algae may help as research in human subjects reported it lowered total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides – all factors in heart and vascular disease.[xiv]

Helps to control high blood pressure. In addition to blue-green algae’s positive effect on heart health, it also helps to control and stabilize blood pressure. Research reports both spirulina and chlorella have this effect.[xv],[xvi]

May help with anemia. A University of California at Davis study observed that senior citizens who took Spirulina supplements had improved red blood cell counts with women enjoying the benefits at a faster rate.[xvii]  

Aids with controlling blood sugar. Blue-green algae contain a substance called phycocyanin. Spirulina provides it and AFA is especially known for its phycocyanin levels. In studies, this nutrient has shown an ability to control blood sugar levels by improving insulin activation by the cells.[xviii]

Relieves allergy symptoms. Allergies are your immune system responding to triggers in your environment. No matter your allergen, the response makes you feel miserable. In studies, Spirulina eased nasal inflammation and reduced sneezing and congestion.[xix]

Excellent source of protein, especially for vegans. Both Spirulina and Chlorella deliver 4 grams of protein in every tablespoon.[xx],[xxi] AFA offers another excellent source of protein, being 60% protein itself. Together, they supply the nine essential amino acids you need while Chlorella supplies higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids with Spirulina providing more Omega-6 fatty acids.[xxii]

Who should take algae supplements? 

Most adults can benefit from algae’s nutritional profile and its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammation properties. Algae supplements can help fill any nutritional gaps in your daily diet, especially if your diet includes any of today’s processed and refined foods.

While seniors would certainly benefit, younger adults would too. Healthy living embraced when younger appears to translate into greater energy, clearer thinking, and overall better health when older.

Reports suggest children also can benefit from nutrient-rich algae. Parents should always consult with their child’s pediatrician.

Pregnant and breast-feeding women should consult with their doctors before taking any supplement.

Algae: a key supplement for vegans 

Blue-green algae like Spirulina, Chlorella, and AFA provide robust nutrition for vegans. An excellent plant-based source of protein, blue-green algae offers vegans a simple way to get the nine essential amino acids that can be lacking in their diet.

In addition to protein, algae supply Omega-3 (EPA and DHA) and Omega-6 fatty acids. As fish and algae represent the two best sources for these Omega-3 fatty acids, algae become a key supplement for vegans to ensure they get all the nutrients their body needs.

Are algae supplements safe?  

Algae supplements are generally safe for adults when they are used as recommended and:

  • Produced in a GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) rated facility
  • Manufactured in an FDA-inspected location
  • Free of contaminants such as heavy metals, microcystins (toxins released by algae that damage the liver), and harmful bacteria

These are bare minimums to look for. Ideally, organic sources would be best – those free from pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Any person with a pre-existing condition should always consult with a doctor before taking a new supplement, especially to confirm it will not interfere with any medications being taken. In this sense, the danger is not in the algae supplement, but in the potential interaction with medication.

If you have questions about a product’s safety, you can always call and email a company with any concerns.

How to choose your algae supplement

The nutrition available from algae makes it an excellent replacement for multivitamins. Algae’s advantage? It is a natural source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which means these nutrients are more easily used by the body and include other nutrients (called cofactors) needed to activate them.

You may also want to ask yourself:

  • Are you looking to add protein and amino acids to your diet?
  • Do you need to boost your consumption of Omega-3s?
  • Do you want to support your immune system?
  • Is it part of a detox?

Some supplements may help in some areas and not in others. For example, algae supplements made specifically to supply Omega-3s may not have the full range of nutrition (and benefits) available from a more complete algae supplement.

For the most complete nutrition and health benefits, we recommend algae supplements that combine Chlorella, Spirulina, and AFA. Together, they deliver a full nutrient profile with the added benefits provided by nutrients like phycocyanin.

No matter which supplement you choose, always make sure it comes from a trusted and reputable source. Labels should always list manufacturing standards such as GMP. And it must be clean – meaning free of contaminants. Contaminated supplements of any kind can do more harm than good.

Finally, once you’ve decided on your algae supplement, determine how long you plan to take it. If you are taking a high-potency supplement to address a specific, short-term need, you may need it only until the deficiency is addressed. For general health and nutritional support, you can take algae supplements daily.

[1] https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19890016190.pdf

[1] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170495/nutrients

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/1983/09/01/sports/sports-people-food-not-drugs.html

[1] Kalafati, Maria & Jamurtas, Thanasis & Nikolaidis, Michalis & Paschalis, Vassilis & Theodorou, Anastasios & Sakellariou, Giorgos & Koutedakis, Yiannis & Kouretas, Dimitris. (2010). Ergogenic and Antioxidant Effects of Spirulina Supplementation in Humans. Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 42. 142-51. 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181ac7a45.

[1] Otsuki T, Shimizu K, Iemitsu M, Kono I. Salivary secretory immunoglobulin A secretion increases after 4-weeks ingestion of chlorella-derived multicomponent supplement in humans: a randomized cross over study. Nutr J. 2011;10:91. Published 2011 Sep 9. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-91

[1] Ku CS, Yang Y, Park Y, Lee J. Health benefits of blue-green algae: prevention of cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. J Med Food. 2013;16(2):103–111. doi:10.1089/jmf.2012.2468

[1] Coskun ZK, et al. The study of biochemical and histopathological effects of spirulina in rats with TNBS-induced colitis. Bratisl Lek Listy. 2011;112(5):235-43.

[1] Anne Kerschenmeyer, Øystein Arlov, Vera Malheiro, Matthias Steinwachs, Markus Rottmar, Katharina Maniura-Weber, Gemma Palazzolo, Marcy Zenobi-Wong. Anti-oxidant and immune-modulatory properties of sulfated alginate derivatives on human chondrocytes and macrophages. Biomater. Sci., 2017; 5 (9): 1756 DOI: 10.1039/c7bm00341b

[1] Ku CS, Yang Y, Park Y, Lee J. Health benefits of blue-green algae: prevention of cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. J Med Food. 2013;16(2):103–111. doi:10.1089/jmf.2012.2468

[1] Ibid.

[1] Uchikawa T, et al. Enhanced elimination of tissue methylmercury in Parachlorella beijerinckii-fed mice. J Toxicol Sci. 2011 Jan;36(1):121-6.

[1] Ku CS, Yang Y, Park Y, Lee J. Health benefits of blue-green algae: prevention of cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. J Med Food. 2013;16(2):103–111. doi:10.1089/jmf.2012.2468

[1] https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/01/30/cdc-adults-expected-to-live-a-little-longer-heart-disease-still-top-killer

[1] Ku CS, Yang Y, Park Y, Lee J. Health benefits of blue-green algae: prevention of cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. J Med Food. 2013;16(2):103–111. doi:10.1089/jmf.2012.2468

[1] Martínez-Sámano J, Torres-Montes de Oca A, Luqueño-Bocardo OI, Torres-Durán PV, Juárez-Oropeza MA. Spirulina maxima Decreases Endothelial Damage and Oxidative Stress Indicators in Patients with Systemic Arterial Hypertension: Results from Exploratory Controlled Clinical Trial. Mar Drugs. 2018;16(12):496. Published 2018 Dec 8. doi:10.3390/md16120496

[1] Merchant RE1, Andre CA. A review of recent clinical trials of the nutritional supplement Chlorella pyrenoidosa in the treatment of fibromyalgia, hypertension, and ulcerative colitis. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001 May-Jun;7(3):79-91.

[1] Selmi C, Leung PS, Fischer L, et al. The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens. Cell Mol Immunol. 2011;8(3):248–254. doi:10.1038/cmi.2010.76

[1] Ou Y, et al. Antidiabetic potential of phycocyanin: effects on KKAy mice. Pharm Biol. 2013 May;51(5):539-44. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2012.747545. Epub 2013 Feb 1.

[1] Sayin I, Cingi C, Oghan F, Baykal B, Ulusoy S. Complementary therapies in allergic rhinitis. ISRN Allergy. 2013;2013:938751. Published 2013 Nov 13. doi:10.1155/2013/938751

[1] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170495/nutrients

[1] https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/custom/569428/2

[1] Kent M, Welladsen HM, Mangott A, Li Y. Nutritional evaluation of Australian microalgae as potential human health supplements. PLoS One. 2015;10(2):e0118985. Published 2015 Feb 27. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118985

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