Monday, September 19, 2011

Spirulina scare -- a case study on credibility of nutritionals manufacturer

A student of mine, Angeline informed me recently
that there has been a chained email passing around to
ask people to avoid Spirulina,
due to some possibilities of hepatic and neuronal intoxication.

I am grateful that I was alerted about it,
as I have benn encouraging consumption of Spirulina
as a form of supplement and
especially when the source of the chain email was credible.

I hence went do some literature search to confirm
the situation and I now quickly report it here
for better awareness and clarity:

Some important findings:

i. Cyanobacteria (a.k.a. Blue Green Alage) is proven to be able to produce hepatotoxin (toxin for liver) and neurotoxin (toxin for the brain) in 2005. The study was done on 30 strains of Cyanobacteria, but Spirulina (a genus of a very diversified Cynobacteria phyllum) was not included. -- original full scientific publication here:

ii. Subsequently, two Spirulina manufacturers (Cyanotech and Earthrise) committed third party laboratories to test for the toxins and Spurilina was certified free of the toxin. Reference here:

iii. in 2008, about 36 Chinese health products containing general cyanobacteria and spirulina were subject to toxin test and found to be Mycrocystins (hepatotoxin) positive in most of them. The level was however low. -- I only had access to the abstract of the article, so didn't find out what exactly are the 36 products tested. If they were mixtures of general cyanobacteria and spirulina in the detected samples, it's not conclusive to claim Spirulina produced toxin, as it's not a pure Spirulina health product. Reference here:

iv. In 2009, another group of scientiests detected anatoxin-a (neurotoxin) in 3 of 39 Cyanobacteria supplement (containing Spirulina). Again, only abstract was obtained, not sure if the supplements contains other cyanobacteria besides Spirulina.  Reference here:


i. Spirulina which has been consumed for centuries by indigenous Africans and Americans are unlikely to have lethal dosage of toxins. Tests have been done to prove Spirulina does not produce hepatotoxin and neurotoxins. Ref:

ii. But because general Cyanobacteria ubiquitiously produces these toxins, scientists and the public tends to extrapolate that Spirulina is capable of producing such toxins if given the appropriate growing condition. -- It's known that some Cyanobacteria produce these toxins on and off depending on growing conditions.

iii. Hence it all boils down to the stringency of the culturing and manufacturing processes in which mutation of Spirulina, toxin-inducing growth environment and contamination by other cyanobacteria in the culture (ie hygience/sterility), may occur.

iv. Advice is to buy from reliable manufacturers who commit to testing of each batch of Spirulina for the presence of toxins plus engaging third party certification body to certify the products free of hepato-/neuro-toxins on constant and periodical basis.

-- This is why buying supplements from reliable company is important. Not all supplements on the shelves are safe and sound.

Hope the above quick report could help readers
to make the appropriate choice and adjustment.

Well regards,
Kee Yew

{Learning Holistic Wellness for Wisdom and Compassion}

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