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Blue-green algae is a rich source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. In one double-blind trial, overweight people who took 2.8 grams of blue-green algae as spirulina three times per day for four weeks experienced only small and statistically nonsignificant weight loss.1 Thus, although spirulina has been promoted as a weight-loss aid, the current scientific evidence supporting its use for this purpose is weak.
Few side effects have been reported from the ingestion of blue-green algae. However, as blue-green algae can accumulate heavy metals from contaminated water, consuming blue-green algae could increase the body’s load of lead, mercury, and cadmium,2 though noncontaminated blue-green algae have been identified.3 Another popular species of blue-green algae, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, has been found to produce toxins.4 A few reports also describe allergic reactions to blue-green algae. Animal studies have found spirulina to be safe during pregnancy.5, 6, 7
There is one case report of a man who developed liver damage while taking spirulina.8 As he was also talking three prescription medications, it is not clear whether the spirulina caused or contributed to the liver injury.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.