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Why Blue Green Algae Makes Me Tired

    Actually, the algae isn't tiring me. I'm tired of the people trying to sell it to me. Most blue-green algae is sold in a multi-level marketing scheme through Cell Tech. Sellers see me, a physician, as a potentially lucrative franchise to sell algae for them. So I get two or three sales calls every week (once as many as twenty). Never mind that selling algae to make myself money is a conflict-of-interest and an unethical ploy already encouraged by pharmaceutical companies ("The only solution I see for your diagnosis, Mr. Smith, is blue-green algae, which I happen to have right here..."). I've tried the algae and it doesn't do much for me. The cost/benefit ratio is poor. Nevertheless, in the past three years I've received over 400 phone calls, dozens of tapes in the mail, and had people barge into my office and home, all selling algae. One salesperson has continued to call me for almost three years! So what is blue-green algae and why does it make people so obnoxious?

    I investigated the algae when one of my patients came in sick after eating some. The patient had symptoms of poisoning caused by endotoxins or enterotoxins - nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, malaise. I called the salesman who sold my patient the algae, and he said these symptoms proved the algae was working, that the patient's body was ridding itself of toxins. But this patient was a vegetarian, lived in the country, exercised regularly, and was very healthy before she ate the algae. Based on the salesman's reasoning, my reaction to eating algae should have been ten times more nauseating, since I eat meat, drink city water, live in a moldy home, listen to Lou Reed records, etc.

    The species of blue-green algae sold by Cell Tech, scientific name Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, is one of six species of blue-green algae known to produce toxins.1 When I searched the scientific literature, most of the information regarding A. flos-aquae was not about health benefits, but health hazards.2 A. flos-aquae is the green pond scum that sewage engineers constantly try to control. It kills fish, livestock, wild animals, and people's pets. The reason why more people aren't poisoned, one researcher noted, was the repelling appearance of A. flos-aquae-contaminated water. The literature is full of ways to eradicate it with chlorine, copper sulfate, and other compounds. A. flos-aquae proliferates in sewage and other waters rich in nitrogen and phosphorus. Upper Klamath Lake, where Cell Tech harvests its algae, is a shallow eutrophied lake full of nitrogen and phosphorus from animal feces. Klamath Lake lies along a migratory bird flyway, and large colonies of pelicans poop there year-round in a protected sanctuary. The August 1995 issue of Vegetarian Times describes the lake as pretty polluted. Three epidemic fish kills have occurred there recently, due to algal blooms.

    Toxins may also come from bacterial contaminants. Pathogenic bacteria luxuriate in water with a slightly basic pH, like water found in Klamath Lake.3 The mucilaginous sheath encasing A. flos-aquae and Spirulina spp. provides a strong anchor for adhering bacteria. Most Spirulina cultivators recognize this problem and pasteurize their product.4  Cell Tech substitutes expensive pasteurization with a "heat-sanitize" process.5 Toxic samples of A. flos-aquae are frequently infested with gram-negative rod bacteria.6a

    A. flos-aquae also produces hepatotoxins and neurotoxins. Some of these are carcinogenic.6b  Others are acutely lethal. The LD50 of one hepatotoxin, microcystin-LR is a mere 50 ”g/kg, compared to cyanide's LD50 of 10,000 ”g/kg.7  Neurotoxins produced by A. flos-aquae include neosaxitoxin and anatoxin.8 Anatoxin is a chemical cousin to cocaine. Anatoxins may be the reason why people eating blue-green algae sometimes feel energized. Some people also describe being addicted to blue-green algae. Animals are known to develop a fatal attraction to mats of blue-green algae washed up on shorelines.9 Anatoxins are neurotoxins and eventually destroy brain cells.10   And contrary to claims by Cell Tech, toxins have been found in A. flos-aquae coming from Klamath Lake.6,11,12  Cell Tech reportedly tests their algae for these toxins. But in 1984 batches of blue green algae distributed by Cell Tech were found to be toxic and seized by the FDA.13   According to a company posting, tests for toxins are run every other day.14 Cell Tech uses a "bio assay" anatoxin test (which means they inject mice and see if the mice die - PETA are you reading me?).

    Luckily, it seems these toxins rarely arise in Klamath Lake. But why eat algae with such toxic potential? Spirulina, a blue-green algae marketed by other companies, never produces anatoxin nor microcystin. Dry Spirulina contains 66% protein,15 compared to 63% in dry A. flos-aquae "Alpha Sun."3   Spirulina contains about the same or more B vitamins than A. flos-aquae, with the exception of B12. Spirulina also contains more calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and chromium than A. flos-aquae, but less iron, iodine, fluorine, selenium and molybdenum.16

    Despite these facts, or perhaps because of them, Cell Tech slams Spirulina as a vastly inferior food.3  Cell Tech's literature is full of corporate hype. The bogus health claims made by Cell Tech distributors really make me mad. At last count, A. flos-aquae has cured over 600 diseases, including Alzheimer's and AIDS. These claims are creating large expectations in the public. And when these expectations go unfulfilled, the public may turn cynical and stop buying not only blue-green algae but all herbal remedies. The algae/herbal market will crash. (Cell Tech itself is already diversifying its product line, going into telecommunications.) The Cell Tech distributors will dash back to their old jobs, and people like myself, who worked with herbs long before Cell Tech came along, will remain behind to begin rebuilding the public's faith in herbal medicine.

    Blue green algae is a lot like the Kombucha tea - of dubious benefit and full of potential danger. But while most Kombucha is distributed free as an act of caring and love, Cell Tech made $50 million off its algae last year, and 54ą of every dollar's worth of algae goes to sellers as a commission.3  I realize this article may anger some people distributing blue-green algae. I'm sorry. But I hope they'll stop asking me to buy and sell the stuff.

Epilogue

    The above article was published in a local publication, the Vermont Alternative Medicine Newsletter. A mere three days after mailing the newsletter around Vermont, I received a nasty phone call from Cell Tech in Oregon. Cell Tech makes Super Blue-Green AlgaeȘ (SBGA), and they didn't like my article. They rudely assumed I was "paid off by the Spirulina people." They refused to believe that I wrote the article on my own, for nothing. The concept of doing something for free seemed very foreign to them (although Cell Tech does understand tax write-offs, from which they generate hype about corporate humanitarianism). Cell Tech has paid people to write propaganda for them, and they have paid off critics to stop writing. Needless to say, they haven't paid me off yet!

    Christian Drapeau, Cell Tech's Director of Research, sent me a letter saying I "obviously lacked the scientific training and background necessary to correctly interpret the scientific literature that is available on blue-green algae." The arrogance! I've published more research in the scientific literature than Drapeau has; I've probably published more articles than Cell Tech's entire research department. The point of my article on SBGA was not whether SBGA has scientific nutritional value. It most certainly does (albeit at a terrible cost-to-benefit ratio). My article took issue with the greedy misconduct of Cell Tech distributors, spewing their half-truths and lies to generate sales commissions.

    Drapeau missed my point. Instead he vigorously denied that Cell Tech's algae have ever produced toxins in Klamath Lake. For every scientific publication stating the species has produced toxins,6,11,12 Drapeau devised some contradictory flim-flam defense. On several occasions he even contradicted himself. Drapeau did correct me on one point: the FDA never seized algae produced by Cell Tech. The FDA seized algae sold by Victor Kollman, Cell Tech's predecessor. After Kollman was busted for fraud, his brother, Daryl, took over the algae business and Daryl created Cell Tech and its cult of personality.

    I received several pro-algae letters from Vermonters; 100% were Cell Tech distributors. Nobody wrote a positive note who didn't have a vested interest in Cell Tech. I heard from six people with bad "algae stories," who suffered many side effects after taking SBGA, including nausea, vomiting, chills, fever, anxiety, psychosis, and even hepatitis.

    Since the printing of my article I've seen other authors issue warnings about blue green algae in Scientific American, Vegetarian Times, Natural Health, and Prevention. Are they all just crying sour grapes because Daryl Kollman is a millionaire? I think not. It seems SBGA, like many species of blue green algae, is encased by a mucilaginous sheath, which provides a strong anchor for adhering bacterial contaminants. One such bacterium associated with blue green algae is Legionella pneumophila, the cause of Legionnaires disease.17 Another bad bug, Vibrio cholerae, can actually live inside blue green algae.18, 19  Drinking V. cholerae-contaminated water causes cholera, if the bacteria survives passage through the stomach. Protection within algae may aid the bacteria's passage through the gastric acid barrier.20 Algal protection also allows bacteria to survive in aquatic conditions that would normally kill them. McCarthy & Khambaty21 suggest this is how cholera spread from Bangladesh to Latin America - first V. cholerae attached to algae in polluted Bangladesh water, then cargo ships took on the algae-infested water as ballast, sailed to Peru and Mexico, discharged their ballast, the cholera reverted to an infectious state, and started a New World epidemic. Ships are now required to discharge their ballast on the high seas to reduce the possibility of introducing pathogens into U.S. coastal waters.

    I'm not saying Cell Tech sells algae contaminated by Legionella pneumophila or Vibrio cholerae. But has anyone looked for these organisms? Both are extremely difficult to isolate in vitro.19 According to Epstein,22 algae-disseminated disease will increase on a global scale due to global warming. Like Cell Tech's propaganda, Epstein sees blue-green algae looming large over the 21st century. But Epstein is not happy about it.

Correspondence:

John M. McPartland, DO
Director, Vermont Alternative Medicine
53 Washington Street
Middleburg, Vermont
05753 USA

Peer Review

    The manuscript has undergone truthful peer reviews by another health practitioner, Dr. Matheson; an author/medical researcher, Dr. Roos; and researcher, Dr. Soons. Their letters are enclosed. All references directly support the statements and assertions of my article. No conclusion or summary statement of any reference is in opposition to my premise. I have not been paid to write this article. I do not work for a proprietary company which will benefit by publication of this article. I do not sell or provide a product or service which will benefit by publication of this article.

References

1. Gorham PR. 1964. Toxic algae, pp. 307-336 in Algae and Man, Jackson DF, Ed., Plenum Press, NY.

2. Alam M, Euler KL. 1981. Chemical studies on toxins from the blue-green alga Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, pp. 405-414 in The Water Environment: Algal Toxins and Health. Ed. WW Carichael, Plenum Press, NY. 491 pp.

3. Kollman DJ. 1994. Product Information Booklet: The Miracle of Super Blue GreenȘ Algae. Cell Tech, Klamath Falls, OR. 45 pp.

4. Jassby A. 1988b. Some public health aspects of microalgal products, pp. 181-202 in Alagae and Human Affairs. Eds. CA Lembi & JR Waaland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

5.     Drapeau C. 1996. Personal letter to John McPartland, 8 April 1996.

6a. Ecker MM, Foxall Tl, Sasner JJ. 1981. Morphology of toxic versus non-toxic strains of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, pp. 113-126 in The Water Environment: Algal Toxins and Health. Ed. WW Carmichael, Plenum Press, NY. 491 pp.

6b. Elder GH, Hunter PR, Codd GA. 1993. Hazardous freshwater cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). Lancet 341:1519-1520.

7. Hunter PR. 1992. Cyanobacteria and human health. J Med Microb 36:301-302.

8. Carmichael WA, Biggs DA, Peterson MA. 1979. Pharmacology of anatoxin-a, produced by the freshwater cyanophyte Anabaena flos-aquae. Toxicon 17:229-236.

9. Codd GA, Edwards C, Beattie KA, Barr WM, Gunn GJ. 1992. Fatal attraction to cyanobacteria? Nature 359:110-111.

10. Adeyemo OM, SirŽn A-L. 1992. Cardio-respiratory changes and mortality in the conscious rat induced by (+)- and (±)-anatoxin-a. Toxicon 30:899-905.

11. Gentile JH. 1971. Blue green and green algal toxins, pp. 27-67 in vol. 7 of Microbial Toxins, Kadis S, Ciegler A, Ajl SJ, Eds., Academic Press, NY.

12. Phinney HK, Peek CA. 1961. Klamath Lake, an instance of natural enrichment. Trans. Sem. on Algae and Metropolitan Wastes. Robert A. Taft Sanitary Engineering Center, Cincinnati, OH.

13. Rados WM. 1985. Algae eaters. FDA Consumer 19(2):38-39.

14. Cell Tech. 1995. Cell Tech products are safe! Internet http://www.island.net/~bionet/whatabo.html.

15. LappŽ FM. 1982. Diet for a Small Planet. Ballentine, NY.

16. Jassby A. 1988a. Spirulina: a model for microalgae as human food, pp. 149-179 in Alagae and Human Affairs. Eds. CA Lembi & JR Waaland. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

17. Tison DL, Pope DH, Cherry WB, Fliermans CB. 1980. Growth of Legionella pneumophila in association with blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). Applied & Environmental Microbiology 39:456-459.

18. Tamplin ML, Gauzens AL, Huq A, Sack DA, Colwell RR. 1990. Attachment of Vibrio cholerae serogroup O1 to zooplankton and phytoplankton of Bangladesh waters. Applied & Environmental Microbiology 56: 1977-1980.

19. Islam MS, Miah MA, Hasan MK, Sack RB, Albert MJ. 1994. Detection of non-culturable Vibrio cholerae O1 associated with a cyanobacterium from an aquatic environment in Bangladesh. Transactions Royal Society Tropical Medicine & Hygiene 88:298-299.

20. Spira WM. 1981. Environmental factors in diarrhea transmission: the ecology of Vibrio colerae O1 and cholera, pp. 273-288 in Acute Enteric Infections in Children. Holme T, Holmgren J, Merson MH, Mšlby R, Eds. Elsevier/North-Holland, Amsterdam.

21. McCarthy SA, Khambaty FM. 1994. International dissemination of epidemic Vibrio cholerae by cargo ship ballast and other nonpotable waters. Applied & Environmental Microbiology 60:2597-2601.

22. Epstein PR. 1993. Algal blooms in the spread and persistence of cholera. BioSystems 31:209-221.

 


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