Spirulina is an organic and completely natural product that can be found in salt-water lakes and oceans in sub tropical climates. It is a bright, blue-green algae that is loaded full of goodness for your body. It is protein rich and packed with vital amino acids, nutrients, and minerals. It also has antioxidant properties that keep your gut healthy and is effective in fighting nasty bacteria and viruses.
Spirulina has been credited by its users as helping to relieve the symptoms of or even cure a whole host of diseases ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to psoriasis. While it is not officially recognized or approved for fighting disease, there can be no doubt that it is useful for supporting good health. It is most often taken as a tablet, capsule, or powder supplement. This article will answer the following question: Is my spirulina contaminated? and what should I do about spirulina contamination?
How Can Spirulina Become Contaminated?
While spirulina is revered for its highly nutritional properties, there are a number of risks related to its consumption, the foremost related to its growth and harvest.
Spirulina is grown in water that can become infected with sometimes unknown toxins. All types of blue–green algae can become contaminated with naturally-produced toxins referred to as microcystins. Microcystins are produced and released when spirulina and similar algae die. They are made up of various categories, notably hepatotoxins that attack the liver and neurotoxins that attack the nervous system. Neurotoxins are not considered to be as widespread as hepatotoxins, but both pose a considerable risk to human health.
Spirulina can also be contaminated with heavy metals that might be found in the water in which it grows.
Heavy Metal Poisoning
It may sound like the name of a band, but heavy metal poisoning is the most frequently cited danger of taking spirulina supplements. Poisoning can occur if the water in which the algae grew contained heavy, dense metals like lead or mercury. The metal’s molecules can be absorbed into the algae and remain in it even after it has been dried and harvested. You should never harvest spirulina or any other form of algae from the wild; without proper testing, there is no way of knowing whether or not it is safe and uncontaminated. Water that looks clean can be filled with potentially harmful bacteria and metal toxins.
Heavy metal poisoning is very rare, but if you are concerned about your spirulina supplement, contact the manufacturer of your product and ask if it has been tested. The manufacturer should make a copy of the test results available for you if you request it. Under no circumstances consume supplements that have not been tested!
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, otherwise known as PAH, are a group of organic compounds that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has rated as a proven group 1 human carcinogen. A carcinogen is an agent that is directly involved in causing cancer.
PAHs exist all around us in the air and in our food. Though we consume them on a daily basis, we do not take in enough to cause our bodies damage. In the case of spirulina, the way the supplement is harvested and dried can cause contamination. Unfortunately, spirulina also has a natural propensity to accumulate airborne PAHs. If the herb is dried using diesel or oil dryers, the likelihood of PAH contamination increases.
Manufacturers, suppliers, and importers are aware of the dangers of PAH and run tests to ensure that levels in their products are non-detectable or otherwise below risk. It is important that you choose a spirulina manufacturer that only supplies supplements that have passed the PAH test and makes the results available on request.
What Symptoms Will I Experience If I Have Ingested Contaminated Spirulina?
The microcystins toxins produced by contaminated spirulina will have a number of different effects, including:
- eye irritation (itchy, watery, and/or sore)
- skin irritation (itchy; possible hives or rash) and
- throat irritation (raspy, dry, swelling).
Reports of symptoms from contaminated spirulina include:
- nausea and/or vomiting
- stomach pain
- intense thirst
- muscle fatigue and/or weakness
- liver damage
Should Any Groups of People Automatically Avoid Spirulina?
Generally speaking, doctors consider spirulina as safe for human consumption. However, as with any product, it is advised that particular groups of people avoid it.
People with specific autoimmune conditions linked to overactive immune systems such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, should avoid spirulina as it is proven to enhance the immune system. For the same reason, spirulina is not advised for people who take immunosuppressant drugs as it will counteract them. It is also not recommended for anyone who has had an organ transplant.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid spirulina completely as there is insufficient research on the effect of spirulina supplements for this demographic.
As with all supplements, it is best to consult with your medical practitioner before taking them.
How Can I Protect Myself Against Contaminated Spirulina?
The U.S. Pharmacopeia Safety Evaluation of Spirulina researchers concluded that “the available evidence does not indicate a serious risk to health or other public health concern when spirulina is properly identified, formulated, and used.” With this statement in mind, it is vitally important to fully research the source of your spirulina supplements before taking them to ensure that they are grown in safe conditions and tested for toxins. Many manufacturers now produce spirulina in artificial but safe environments. Choose a reputable and well-known brand, and research it online to be sure that it can be trusted. Too many companies are trying to jump on the supplement bandwagon with the hope of making a quick buck. They use low quality, untested algae that could be teeming with nastiness. Please take the time to check with the manufacturer of your supply and that your supplements have been properly tested.
It is also highly advisable to start your spirulina supplements in small doses. This will allow you to monitor side effects and stop use if any undesirable effects occur. Some of the side effects reported are part of the internal cleansing that spirulina provides. These include dizziness, nausea, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. These symptoms usually appear in the first few weeks using spirulina. While the side effects are not pleasant, once the cleansing and detoxification of your digestive system and liver is complete, these symptoms should vanish. If they continue for more than fourteen days, stop the supplements and consult your doctor.
A lot of medical information can be overwhelming, and much of this information may seem frightening at first glance. It can be difficult to comprehend why anyone would want to take spirulina supplements, but it is important to stress that the symptoms and reactions described in this article are rare, and if you take the advice provided herein, your risk of consuming contaminated spirulina should be minimal.
If you do your research to thoroughly check the source of your spirulina, and ensure that it is fully tested for all toxins, then the likelihood of purchasing contaminated supplements is small. With proper research and guided doses, the health benefits of spirulina may far outweigh the potential risks.