Amazing Micro-Algae

By: 

ION Archives

Issue: 
Spring
Year of publication: 
1999

In the last decade specific species of micro-algae have become popular products on the supplement scene. Alexander Luce, DIpION, examines three of the most favoured blue- green and green varieties and compares their contrasts and similarities.

At least 2 billion years old, blue-green micro-algae are one of the earliest forms of life on this planet. Collectively they supply much of the world’s oxygen and bear characteristics of both the plant and animal kingdom.

During the Earth’s first billion or so years of existence, the atmosphere contained vast quantities of hydrogen, methane, ammonia, and carbon dioxide. Blue-green micro- algae were able to utilise these gases, releasing free oxygen. Thus, they transformed the world into a habitable environment, for life to continue to evolve, for the arrival of more complex plant forms and ultimately animals and human beings. They have remained in their alkaline waters virtually unchanged, ever since.

 

MICRO-ALGAE AND MAN

Cultures throughout the world have taken advantage of blue-green micro-algae for centuries - in particular the spirulina strain. The Aztecs of Mexico and the Mayan Indians ate it freshly harvested. In fact, it was so highly valued by the Aztecs as a nourishing food that spirulina was used as currency. Chinese herbalists also utilised it to treat people with diseases arising from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The Kanembu people of Iake Chad still to this day eat “dihe”, a cake mixture made from millet, spirulina, herbs, vegetables, onions and spices.

With the advent of intensive farming in the West and the progression of nutrient depleted soils, there has been much interest in the benefits of blue-green micro-algae as a truly complete food form. The three main varieties that are now sold commercially as food supplements (in their dried state) are spirulina, chlorella and wild blue-green algae. These primitive organisms have a common denominator in that they contain a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Their protein content is highly absorbable and they poss&s more chlorophyll and nucleic acids than any other plant. Enzymes, catalysts of life, are also abundant.
Much of the healing properties of blue-green micro-algae are put down to their chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that functions to collect and store energy from the sun. Because the chlorophyll molecule is almost identical to the haemoglobin molecule in red blood cells it has become known as “nature’s blood”. Like haemoglobin, chlorophyll consists of a linked series of four carbon and nitrogen containing rings (pyrrole rings). The two differ in that the centre of the ring in haemoglobin contains iron and in chlorophyll, it is magnesium.

It has been shown that dilorophyll can stimulate the production of red cell formation in the blood. Foods rich in this substance have been used to treat iron deficiency anaemia with exceptional results. Chlorophyll has the added bonus of being rich in organic iron.

Other benefits of chlorophyll include its ability to cleanse the body and aid colon disorders by promoting the growth of “friendly bacteria. It also helps to speed up wound healing, boost the immune system and counteract inflammatory conditions such as sore throats, ulcers, arthritis and gingivitis (gum disease).

 

SPIRULINA

Cultivated in warm, alkaline fresh water sources, the name spirulina comes from the Latin word for spiral, which refers to its physical configuration, a) seen under a microscope.

Trials with children, in Mexico, as far back as the early 1970s, confirmed that spirulina is an effective food source in the treatment of third degree malnutrition. With the rising problem of famine in developing countries, spirulina is being investigated as part of the answer to nutrient and protein shortages in human beings. Because spimlina grows so prolifically, an area only the size of Wales could be used to feed six billion people - the population of the entire world!

Spirulina has long been advocated by the Russians for treating radiation sickness. It promotes the evacuation of radionucleotides, without the side-effects of drugs, and was given to victims of the Chemobyl nuclear disaster.
Spirulina is rich in vitamin B12, containing more than twice the amount found in liver. It also has 58 times more iron than raw spinach and is particularly high in beta- carotene and many other antioxidant nutrients, which protect against degenerative disease. Spirulina provides one of the highest sources of gamma linolenic acid and its associated hormone like substance - prostaglandin PGE1. This has been shown to be effective in activating the T-suppressor lymphocytes that are instrumental in preventing irregular problems in the immune system. When T-suppressor cells are defective, auto- immune diseases may be encouraged to develop. T-suppressor cells are very low in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, and PGE1 may help prevent this.

On account of the bioavailability of its protein (spirulina contains all eight essential amino acids), athletes are increasingly taking spirulina to help maintain lean muscle mass and a healthy muscle to fat ratio. Much of its protein comes in the form of biliprotein which has been pre-digested by the alga itself. This is good for athletes who often have problems with proper digestion and absorption of protein. Mexican sportsmen taking 8g of spirulina a day found it helped improve endurance and prevent cramp.

Another reason for spirulinas high absorbability is the completely digestible nutrients found in its cell walls - made up of mucopolysaccharides (MPs). These consist of complex sugars, simple sugars and amino acids. MPs can strengthen connective tissue, making it more resilient and elastic. They are also anti- inflammatory. These properties make it useful for older people as well as those who exercise regularly. MPs protect the cardiovascular system by lowering harmful blood lipids.

Spirulina is beneficial for weight control, not only because it nourishes the body so completely that it thwarts the craving for excessive food intake, but because it contains high levels of phenylalanine, an amino acid that curbs the appetite. Russian scientists have also discovered that spirulina contains thyroxin factors which may nourish the thyroid, normalise the metabolism and promote weight loss. For weight reduction progalnliles, the tablets or powder (2 to 4g) should be taken half an hour before each main meal.

Spirulina is richly endowed with the blue pigment phycocyanin, which has been shown to exert an anti-cancer effect in the body. Blue pigmentation in food is uncommon and has astringent properties. In the brain phycocyanin increases mental capacity by helping to draw together amino acids for neurotransmitter formation

 

CHLORELLA
An ancient single-celled green micro-alga, chlorella was used by the Japanese during World War II as an effective way to feed millions during times of food scarcity. Although it contains slightly less protein than spirulina, chlorella contains four times as much chlorophyll, which contributes to its powerful detoxifiying properties. Its cell walls can bind to toxic substances in the body and carry them out of the system. This even includes the elimination of uranium, lead, cadmium and mercury. Chemicals such as insecticides and pesticides can also be removed from the body by chlorella, partly on account of its unique cell wall and because of its very high chlorophyll content. Chlorella can protect the liver from toxic damage by way of a substance called ethionine, a compound that prevents the build up of fatty tissue in this organ.

In studies with animals, chlorella has demonstrated anticancer activity, particularly those involving liver and mammary tumours. Its immune stimulating properties come from the activation of interferon production and killer-T-cells - both vital components of the body’s natural defence against disease, carcinogens and cancer cells.

In the 1950s a substance was isolated in chlorella called Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF), which is rich in RNA and DNA. These nucleic adds, responsible for cell replication, growth, repair and renewal, decline in the body as we age. Poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and pollution also affect its production. Chlorella can aid in the rejuvenation of nucleic acid levels, promoting energy and helping to retard the ageing process.

Chlorella possesses a greater quantity of essential fatty acids than other forms of micro-algae and about 20% of these are the omega-3 variety. Being a good source of vitamin B12, iron and zinc, vegans and vegetarians, the most likely candidates to be low in these nutrients, can benefit from its supplementation.

 

WILD BLUE-GREEN ALGAE
Grown wild in the mineral rich waters of Klamath Lake in Oregon, wild blue-green algae contains a range of all the essential amino acids, almost identical to the balance required for human health. It is valued for its potent antioxidant properties, high levels of vitamin B12, trace minerals and substances called sulpholipids which have the ability to inhibit the spread of viruses.

Wild blue-green algae can be used to alleviate depression and mental or physical sluggishness. It contains low molecular weight peptides which are precursors of neurotransmitters, responsible for firing and calming the brain. Because of its effect on the mind, small daily dosages are recommended at first, which can then be built on over a period of several weeks.

The elderly have reported a return of mental alertness after taking wild blue-green algae, and it has been known to arrest the degenerative process of Alzheimer’s disease. It has also shown to be useful in the treatment of certain neurostimulant addictions, such as cocaine and amphetamines. This is because it stimulates the opening of neural pathways and provides a healthy, natural energising effect.

On account of its uplifting qualities, wild blue-green algae should be used with caution in those with a frail or sensitive constitution. Spirulina or chiorella in these instances would be more appropriate. However, it can be excellent for those with a sluggish metabolism, those who are overweight or where there are signs of dietary excess.

A comparison between some of the nutrients in Spirulina, Chiorella and Wild Blue-Green Algae.

100 gram samples (dry weight) SPIRULINA CHLORELLA WILD BLUE-GREEN ALGAE
Protein 68% 55% 60%
Beta-carotene 250,000i.u 55,000i.u 70,000i.u
Iron 58mg 133mg 130mg
Chlorophyll 0.7 – 1.1% 7% 3-6%
RNA/DNA 4.5% 13% N/A

References and Further Reading.
The Driving Force, Michael Crawford and David Marsh. Mandarin
Spirulirza Maurice Hanssen. Thorsons.
Blue-Green Algae Rita Elkins. Woodland Publishing.
Healing with Whole Foods Paul Pitchford. North Atlantic.
Chioretla William Lee Ph.D and Michael Rosenbhum M.D. Keats Publishing.

Alexander Luce is a DipION nutritionist.

 

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