spirulina pool with toxic symbol

Spirulina, Chlorella Side Effects May Put You In Wheelchair?

[toc]Cyanobacteria – also known as blue-green algae – are superfoods that can be hard to avoid these days. Even if you’re not buying the powder, there’s a good chance you’re consuming small amounts of it in other products. It’s added to many high-end protein powders, organic multivitamins, and even used as an ingredient in a popular brand of cookies sold at health food stores in the Los Angeles area.

Spirulina is gluten free, vegan, and an allergy of it is unheard of. Given its widespread appeal and use, you assume it’s safe. Is spirulina good for you… or downright dangerous?

If it’s 100% pure, it is safe and offers many nutritional benefits. But there is something you probably won’t hear the supplement companies talking about – the plethora of scientific studies which raise an alarming question about a side effect which may be indirectly related, from other neurotoxin-producing cyanobacteria which may be found growing in the same water.

How bad is this problem? A 2015 study found 14 out of 39 spirulina samples as testing positive for this neurotoxin. More on this below.

Difference between chlorella vs. spirulina

Found growing in every aquatic habitat throughout the world, most types of cyanobacteria are poisonous to humans. These two types are exceptions.

chlorella under microscope
chlorella is 2 to 10 microns in diameter

You will find chlorella vulgaris growing in fresh bodies of water such as swamps, ponds, and lakes. If you’ve ever had a fish tank turn green from UV light, that green was chlorella growing. All it needs is sunlight, carbon dioxide, and trace amounts of minerals to reproduce – multiplying itself four times every 24 hours. It was discovered well over a century ago by the Dutch microbiologist Martinus Beijerinck (1). The name comes from the Greek word “chloros” for green and the Latin word “ella” for small, which it certainly is – only consisting of one cell.

The difference with spirulina is that it’s a multicelled organism – growing up to 100x larger than the singled celled chlorella. The two species used for human consumption – Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima – are found primarily in fresh water, but occasionally in salt water environments too. It has been used as a nutritious food source since ancient times. The Aztecs were said to harvest it from the surface of Lake Texaco in Mexico. In the Central African country of Chad, for many generations the Kanembu women have collected the green substance from the surface of Lake Boudou Andja and produced bars of food with it… now that’s a real energy bar! (2)

spirulina under microscope
spirulina will typically have at least 7 to 10 spirals, each being 32 to 45 microns wide and a distance of 27 to 60 microns between them

Despite all the research regarding it as a food, its genome structure has not been extensively studied (3) (4). It is believed to be more closely related to the multi-cellular marine plants we call seaweed like kelp, wakame, and nori versus a single celled organism like chlorella.

While they’re both called blue-green algae, technically chlorella is solid green.

From a nutritional standpoint, unprocessed or raw chlorella is not as edible. This is because it has a cell wall of indigestible cellulose versus the easily digestible mucopolysaccharides which make up the walls of spirulina. It’s why open or cracked wall chlorella supplements are used; they’ve had their cell walls broken using milling or soundwave treatment. Why chlorella costs more than spirulina is because of its size, everything about its production and processing is much more complex. It’s why you often see it sold as a blend versus just by itself (as that is exponentially much more expensive).

With such impressive nutrition facts, it’s hard to imagine that these cyanobacteria may have bad side effects.

The nutrition analyzed

The basics

Nutrition Facts Per Tablespoon (7 Grams Dried Serving)
Spirulina Chlorella
Calories 20.0 28.7
Carbohydrates 1.7 g 1.6 g
Fiber 0.3 g 0.02 g
Protein 4.02 g 4.09 g
Leucine (BCAA) 346 mg 329 mg
Isoleucine (BCAA) 225 mg 161 mg
Valine (BCAA) 246 mg 224 mg
Total Fat 0.54 g 0.65 g
Saturated Fat 0.19 g NM
Omega 3 EFA (as 18:3 undifferentiated)


58 mg

0 mg
0 mg

Omega 6 EFA
(as 18:2 undifferentiated)
88 mg NM
Vitamin A 40 IU 3591 IU
Vitamin C 0.70 mg 0.73 mg
Thiamin (vitamin B1) 0.17 mg 0.12 mg
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) 0.26 mg 0.30 mg
Niacin (vitamin B3) 0.90 mg 1.67 mg
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) 0.24 mg 0.77 mg
Vitamin B6 30 µg 100 µg
Folate (vitamin B9) 7 µg 6.58 µg
Vitamin B12 0 0.1 µg
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) 0.35 mg 0.10 mg
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) 1.8 µg 0
Calcium 8 mg 15 mg
Iron 2 mg 9.1 mg
Magnesium 14 mg 22 mg
Phosphorus 8 mg 63 mg
Sodium 0.14 mg NM
Zinc 0.14 mg 5 mg
Other Nutrients
Choline 4.6 mg NM
Note: NM = not measured / unverified figures reported
Sources  (5) (6) (7)

There are plenty of good reasons why many people claim these are the most healthy, nutrient dense foods on the planet. Not only are both the most protein dense vegan foods, but they also provide more or equal protein per calorie than virtually all forms of meat, even those which have had their fat content removed.

100 calorie serving of spirulina = 20.1 grams of protein
100 calorie serving of chlorella = 14.2 grams of protein

spirulina vs. beef protein contentTo put those numbers in perspective, here is how much protein some common types of meat will give you per 100 calorie serving.

  • Beef (USDA commodity ground, bulk/coarse ground, frozen, raw) = 7.6 grams (8)
  • Chicken breast (Skinless, boneless, meat only, cooked, grilled) = 20.2 grams (9)
  • Sirloin steak (beef, lean and trimmed to 1/8″ fat, raw) = 10.2 grams (10)

Even though spirulina is expensive as a dietary supplement, it still provides a good value for many nutritional benefits, relative to other foods. Take iron as one example.

Raw spinach (100 grams) costs appx. $2

Spirulina powder (225 gram tub) costs $18 to $20 (lower end, online prices)

That serving of spinach provides 2.71 mg of iron, while the spirulina gives you 28.5 mg of iron.

Spinach’s cost of iron per mg = 73 cents
Spirulina’s cost of iron per mg = 63 cents

However given their relatively high prices – especially chlorella – relying on either of them for getting adequate intake of vitamins and minerals would be a very costly endeavor. Or should we, at least in Western nations. In areas of the world where spirulina has been historically used as a food (i.e. Chad), the cost per serving is extremely low and often times cheaper than fish, meat, and many fruits and vegetables.

Spirulina B12 myth

Is spirulina a good source of B12? That’s what you will hear many claim, but it simply isn’t true. This myth was rooted in the fact that it contains a high amount of a pseudo-vitamin B12, not the real thing.

Technically speaking, spirulina does contain vitamin B12 but in a very minuscule amount. The pseudo form represents 83% of the content while the real cobalamin B12 is only 17% (11)

On study has showed that in vitro at least, the estimated human bioavailability of this quasi-B12 is up to 500 times lower than the natural forms of B12, methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin (12).

So the vast majority is in a form humans cannot absorb and the remaining 17% is such a small amount, that according to the USDA National Nutrient Database, it is not even detectable or rounded down to 0 micrograms. Therefore vegans and vegetarians should not rely on it as a source.

Chlorella B12 bioavailability

chlorella tabletsDoes chlorella contain vitamin B12 in a more bioavailable form for humans? The research suggests it might have better absorption.

First of all the USDA does not include chlorella in its nutrient database, so we don’t have an apples-to-apples testing for comparison. Research has shown that it does contain much more of the human bioavailable form of B12 and its absorption was measured in an animal study involving rats (13).

Regardless, it still remains an overall terrible source of B12 for vegans because among the commercially available chlorella tablets, the amount of B12 varied from zero to several hundred micrograms per 100 grams of dry weight. No explanation for variance were provided by the supplement manufacturers. With such unreliability, it would be dangerous to gamble and rely on this health benefit of chlorella. Instead, dried purple laver (nori) was recommended as the best source of vegan B12 (14).

Health Benefits

Before we get to the potential side effects, let’s go over some of the numerous medical and health benefits which have been suggested  – but not proven – by scientific studies. Neither of these ingredients have been proven effective at treating, curing, or preventing any disease or medical condition.

1. Antioxidant content (both)

You will hear many supplement manufacturers as well as nutrition articles claim these cyanobacteria are high in antioxidants, but almost none provide you with any quantitative data to back that claim.

We have not came across a single verifiable source for chlorella’s ORAC value. This makes any claim about the antioxidant content in it flimsy, at best. Though we would predict its value would be similar to spirulina and that is one we do have a verified source for.

We have heard many numbers thrown around about the ORAC value or spirulina and they’re all over the map, sometimes differing by a magnitude of 10 for the exact same species! Obviously, many – or should we say most – are just flat out fabricated.

Excluding powdered drink mixes which include other ingredients, we are aware of only one legitimate and verifiable test for pure spirulina capsules and that provides an ORAC value of 5,970.

Is this high? Yes and no. On an equal weight basis, it’s about 27% more than conventional blueberries. But then again, blueberries are much cheaper than tablets and powder, plus you’re consuming a smaller amount per serving with the supplements. A reading of around 6,000 is not impressive relative to a few other foods that are up to 50x higher on the ORAC chart. Regardless, spirulina is still high in antioxidants relative to most fruits and vegetables.

2. Cholesterol and lipid profiles (spirulina)

syringe viles in cupThere have been a handful of studies which have suggested that spirulina supplementation might benefit blood lipid profiles, including HbA(1c) and possibly lowering LDL (or bad) cholesterol while increasing HDL (or good) cholesterol.

Published in 2001 by the Journal of Medicinal Food, a study evaluated 25 subjects who had type 2 diabetes. Some were randomly assigned powder from spirulina in the amount of 2 grams per day for two months. Glucose levels, HbA(1c), and lipid profiles were monitored. Supposedly a “significant reduction in the HbA(1c) level” was observed and triglyceride levels were reduced. (15)

A study published in 2007 specifically looked at 36 people within a Mexican population and concluded there was a beneficial effect on triglycerides and LDL, but indirectly on HDL and total cholesterol. Reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure was also observed. (16)

A 2008 study (17) and a 2014 study (18) also reported favorable effects on lipid profiles.

3. Allergic rhinitis (spirulina)

Sneezing, coughing, and a drippy nose during pollen season is a condition many of us are all too familiar with.

A 2013 study published by ISRN Allergy claims that in Turkey, a fair percentage of the population uses herbal remedies for allergic rhinitis. Out of the 230 patients who were evaluated, reportedly 12.6% use stinging nettle, 6.1% use black elderberry, and 5.7% use spirulina. Of course, just because people use something does not mean it actually works. (19)

However a 2008 study by Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol claims that “spirulina is clinically effective on allergic rhinitis when compared with placebo.” (20)  Promising to hear, but that’s only one study.

4. Muscle fatigue and endurance (both)

laying on bench lifting barbellsFitness benefits for spirulina have been studied more than for chlorella.

A study published in 2010 by Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE) involved 9 “moderately trained” males who participated in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, counterbalanced crossover study. Each received either 6 grams of spirulina powder per day or a placebo for 4 weeks. The conclusion was that the spirulina supplements “induced a significant increase in exercise performance, fat oxidation, and GSH concentration and attenuated the exercise-induced increase in lipid peroxidation.” (21)

A 2006 study – albeit much less sophisticated – hinted at some similar benefits for athletes (22).

Many runners and bodybuilders claims chlorella benefits, yet whether or not that’s a placebo side effect is unknown. Until somewhat recently, reputable human studies had not been done. There is one that was published in 2014 by the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, which indeed presents strong evidence chlorella is good for you when it comes to fitness.

chart of peak oxygen update in chlorella vs. placebo
It evaluated 7 men and 3 women, averaging 21.3 years old, who were given either 15 chlorella tablets twice daily or placebo for 4 week. Peak oxygen uptake (VO2 max) was said to be “significantly increased” with chlorella but not the placebo trial. (23) While impressive, extrapolating this as evidence for spirulina weight loss would be wrong to do.

5. Side effects from cancer treatment (chlorella)

This is an old study – published in 1990 – and the fact that no similar studies have been conducted since then is disappointing. Regardless, the length of the study (2 years) and the findings are so interesting, it’s worth reporting on.

Conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical College, researchers observed 21 patients; 15 had glioblastoma (brain cancer), 4 with low-grade astrocytoma (a type of brain cancer that does not usually spread), one had anaplastic astrocytoma (a very rare type of malignant brain tumor), and one had high-grade oligodendroglioma (starts in the oligodendroglia of the brain). (24) (34)

Researchers wanted to see the benefits and side effects of chlorella supplements and what, if anything, they did for quality of life and survival.

spoon of chlorella powderIt was speculated that the high amounts of chlorophyll in the chlorella may help protect the body against damage from the radiation treatments.

“Our results with patients taking Chlorella, although limited, suggest that the cellular components and functions of the immune system remain at near-normal levels and are less adversely affected when patients are undergoing chemotherapy and/or taking immunosuppressive medications such as steroids.”

A reduced number of flu-like symptoms and respiratory infections was also observed.

The last sentence of the study’s abstract is important to remember:

“Although, our results suggest that our glioma patients may have benefited from adding Chlorella pyrenoidosa to their diet, more controlled clinical studies and animal experiments will be required to define its mechanism of action and limitations.”

Other claims

There are many wild claims made online, especially by marketers of spirulina powder and alternative medicine enthusiasts.

You will hear them say chlorella detoxifies the body of heavy metals. Some really go into great detail and claim the tablets will dissolve and then “bind” to uranium, mercury, and cadmium and will “usher their prompt removal.”

Or that spirulina has weight loss benefits, that it can clean the digestive tract, prevent cancer, and other impressive miracle-like statements.

The problem is these claims are not backed by science or even suggested by studies!

Even for the benefits which are suggested by studies, they are by no means proven. A couple studies is hardly sufficient grounds for the health benefits people are claiming. Much, much more research needs to be done to find out which – if any – are actually true.

Though what we can all agree on is that both of these micro-algae are very high in protein and other nutrients.

Side Effects

For both chlorella and spirulina, some of the most common side effects you hear about are diarrhea/constipation, flatulence, green discoloration of the stools, stomach cramping, and nausea. These are even more likely with a higher dosage or when you first include them in your diet. When people allege being able to lose weight with spirulina, we hope they’re not talking about the diarrhea from it!

thyroid glandSpirulina has been associated with worsening of migraines and light fever.

Chlorella supplements may also increase your sensitivity to the sun.

Both contain relatively high amounts of iodine. That’s an element humans actually need for normal thyroid function, so getting the recommended amount through dietary sources is actually healthy for most people. However some people experience allergy symptoms to iodine and for those with hyperparathyroidism, having excess amounts may actually hurt them. Both of these groups should avoid using spirulina or chlorella (25).

With the exception of the iodine overdosing for a small part of the population, most of the side effects sound relatively benign or at least nothing too severe, right? Well those side effects aren’t what’s most worrying. Not even close.

Rather the alarm bells have to do with the other types of marine bacteria which can grow alongside and produce BMAA.

BMAA and neurodegenerative diseases

Stephen Hawking is perhaps the most well known person with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease and in some countries, motor neurone disease (MND). It is one of the most terrible and puzzling neurodegenerative conditions. Its earliest symptoms can be associated with any number of other conditions, which makes the initial diagnosis difficult. Ultimately, it progresses into paralysis of voluntary muscles.

Unlike paralysis from a traumatic injury where the spinal cord is damaged, in ALS it is caused by the death of neurons in the part of the brain responsible for voluntary muscle control.

What causes ALS? Inheriting the disease from parents only accounts for 5-10% of cases. For the other 90-95% of cases, there is no known genetic mutation or genome causing it (26). However there is now a large body of evidence which suggests the toxin beta-methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA, may be responsible. Not many plants on earth produce it, among the few that do are a number of blue-green algae species.

It all started in Guam.

Guam beach silhouetteNo, not the disease, but the overwhelming evidence that BMAA may be responsible for it.

In 1944, the the U.S. recaptured the Pacific island of Guam from the Japanese. Shortly thereafter, a neurologist working for the Navy was surprised to discover how many of the island’s native inhabitants – the Chamorro – were suffering ALS symptoms at a rate that was a staggering 5,000% to 10,000% higher than than experienced throughout the rest of the world (27).

To make a long story short, it was eventually discovered that the Chamorro people were regularly consuming a plant that produced BMAA; cycad trees, which resemble a palm or fern but are not related to either. Not only were they using the cycad seeds to make flour for tortillas, but also eating flying foxes (fruit bats) which feasted on the tree.

Is it possible that BMAA is responsible for many cases of not just ALS, but also dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and a number of other terrible neurological diseases? Many highly respected researchers are backing that hypothesis.

Ironically, those who should be on top of this news – people who use dietary supplements – are largely oblivious to it. This is despite the fact that for over a decade now, mainstream media has been occasionally running stories on the topic, even more so lately.

Supplement lovers are clueless as to the fact that the vast majority of BMAA in the world is produced by cyanobacteria. Do spirulina and chlorella produce it? No, those are 100% safe. The problem is not with those two species, but rather the potential contamination from other species of blue-green algae growing in the same water. Even much of the organic chlorella and spirulina grown today comes from China, which should concern you.

CBS News, LA Times, Washington Post, the UK’s Daily Mail and numerous other major media outlets have featured stories on the BMAA-neurodegenerative link in 2016, yet supplement manufacturers and retailers stay silent. Is that because they are afraid of it affecting their product sales by bringing attention to the issue?

Algae bloom “hot spots” correlated with prevalence of neurodegenerative conditions

One of us here at Superfoodly had a grandfather who died from Alzheimer’s. Did he consume chlorella tablets? Definitely not! This is a problem that not just supplement users should pay attention to, but everyone needs to, because BMAA-producing cyanobacteria are found throughout the world and have affected water supplies in the US.

And it’s not just drinking the contaminated water or taking showers with it that you need to worry about. Taking a dip in the pond? Jet skiing on the lake? All of these are potential risk factors for unknowingly consuming blue green algae.

2011 Lake Erie algae bloom satellite photo

Above is a picture from 2011, which was one of the worst algae blooms in recent history around the Great Lakes region (28). All of the green you see is algae.

Coincidentally, the grandfather with Alzheimer’s mentioned happen to live within that red circle, though he died the year before to this particular outbreak.

While NASA’s Lake Erie satellite image is a grandiose example, this same phenomenon happens throughout the United States, from the largest oceans to the smallest bodies of water in your backyard.

When that water makes its way into a municipal supply or a homeowner’s well, that’s a concern.

Sure, any decent water purification method or cooked food kills algae, but the BMAA compound may still remain. After all remember that in Guam, they were getting the BMAA from well-cooked food, tortillas and bats, so clearly it is not easily destroyed by heat.

Rates of neurodegenerative diseases are correlated with living near BMAA sources and the government knows this (29).

While he didn’t specifically address side effects from spirulina and the like, Dr. Paul Alan Cox – an ethnobotanist at the Institute for EthnoMedicine in Jackson Hole, Wyoming – had some remarkable quotes in a 2016 CBS article about cyanobacteria (30).

“When the neuropathology images started coming up, some of the neurologists started weeping. I couldn’t speak, we knew that nobody has ever successfully produced [brain tangles and amyloid deposits] in an animal model.”

Those brain tangles and amyloid deposits are the hallmarks of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Cox and his team were able to cause them in monkeys after just 140 days of feeding food laced with BMAA.

It’s the first time ever researchers have found a way to create an Alzheimer’s-like brain.

“We have discovered that chronic exposure to an environmental toxin [BMAA] triggers Alzheimer’s-type pathology in the brain, thus people can reduce their risk of disease simply by avoiding exposure to cyanobacteria in harmful algal blooms or contaminated foodstuffs.”

That seems like prudent advice, yes?

An unintended side effect of seafood

As if mercury and heavy metals weren’t concerning enough, now you need to worry about your fish and seafood possibly containing BMAA.

This should come as no surprise since these animals live along cyanobacteria. Fish get their omega 3 from eating algae (or eating animals which eat algae) since only marine plants produce DHA and EPA. So it should come as no surprise that just like spirulina, fish may be contaminated by BMAA producing algae.

BMAA levels in seafoodThe chart on the right is from a study which tested seafood purchased during 2013 and 2014 from eight different supermarkets throughout Stockholm, Sweden (31). Coming from both farm-raised and wild caught sources along the coasts of Sweden, the Northeast Atlantic ocean, the Baltic Sea, Norway, France, and Turkey. Those which tested positive for BMAA were:

  • 6 out of 6 samples for farmed blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) – 0.08 to 0.90 µg of BMAA per gram
  • 4 out of 4 samples for farmed oyster (Ostrea edulis, **Crassostrea gigas) – 0.10 to 0.66 µg of BMAA per gram
  • 6 of 6 samples for wild caught shrimp (*Caridea) – 0.11 to 0.46  µg of BMAA per gram
  • 3 of 3 samples for wild caught plaice (Pleuronectes platessa) – 0.01 to 0.02 µg of BMAA per gram
  • 1 of 3 samples for wild caught Baltic herring (Clupea harengus) – 0.02 µg of BMAA per gram
  • 1 of 3 samples for farmed char (Salvelinus alpinus) – 0.01 µg of BMAA per gram

The salmon (4 samples), cod (4 samples), perch (4 samples), and crayfish (6 samples) all came back as negative.

Where to buy safe spirulina?

Remember pure spirulina and chlorella is 100% safe. The two species sold in dietary supplements produce absolutely no BMAA whatsoever. That is a fact.

The potentially dangerous side effects are not coming from these superfoods, but rather other types of cyanobacteria which may be growing alongside them in the same water.

blue green algae samples on spoonsAs for the 2015 study which reported 14 out of 39 samples being contaminated, what makes it particularly terrifying is that those 39 samples were purchased off the shelf in Canadian stores, which sell most of, if not all of, the same spirulina supplements sold in the US. The only reason that study used products purchased in Canada was because it was the University of British Columbia who conducted it (32).

We hear from people who ignore this advice, claiming they’ve experienced the health benefits of spirulina for decades, without knowing where it came from or if it was tested. We’re not denying that fact. But the research suggests that BMAA likely affects some people but not others (or to a much lesser degree). There’s no way to really know how it may affect your brain. For that reason, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

How can you be confident that yours is not contaminated? It’s not easy, but here are a few precautions to help.

1. Ask for the Certificate of Analysis (COA)

Whether you’re talking purified supplements of a food product which contains them, contact the manufacturer and ask to see their COA for the source of spirulina.

This report will provide you with country of origin and which compounds were detected. It may help you catch worrisome levels of heavy metals, too.

Even The China Post admits that 6 of 8 spirulina samples tested contained excessive levels of lead. Many were Chinese, but also a U.S. producer was guilty; “Cont-healthy exceeded the acceptable limit [of lead] by 820 percent” (33).

But even if you get a Certificate of Analysis, that’s just a snapshot in time. A report from 3 years ago doesn’t mean this week’s batch is safe. It might even be more important for those on the hunt for where to buy chlorella supplements, since chlorella grows in a lower pH water versus spirulina. That lower pH environment can potentially support more types of bad algae.

2. Contact manufacturer to find out source and country of origin

chinese flagAlmost all dietary supplement companies are buying these algae from other sources, packaging it up, and slapping their label on it.

That source will be on the COA but in case they don’t provide it, find out where they are getting it and the name of the company who’s making it (which you can then further research).

The bad news is that many supplement manufacturers aren’t really sure where it’s coming from (i.e. they’re buying from a middle man such as in bulk on Alibaba) or they do know but won’t disclose it to you.

screenshot of email

That’s an email from a recent exchange one of us had with a vegan protein company, SoTru. We liked the ingredients in their protein powder, but they were unwilling to provide the spirulina source. Even on the next followup message, from someone presumably higher-up at their company, the stubbornness remained:

“The reason we can’t reveal our sources has specifically to do with that fact that we have spent years and a tremendous amount of investment finding and holding on to the best raw material providers possible.  With that in mind, please know that these sources are finite and are very limited in some cases. All raw materials are not created equally as you already know. You can easily imagine that our competitors would like to know exactly where we purchase some of these exquisite raw materials that go into SOTRU. Giving up an extremely clean and exceptional limited raw material source is just simply something I can’t do.”

In the same message, he also says:

“For your knowledge, I do purchase some raw materials from China. What makes me different then many others is we have a full time employee that spends 8 months of the year over there. She is my eyes and ears to the growers and producers over there. This is a HUGE difference then what most do…order raw material X from Broker Y and it arrives in a random container from some random ship. Less expensive their way? Sure! Less control and with the end product? Absolutely!”

It is not clear whether or not those “some raw materials” include their spirulina protein. If it does, the reliability of one person over there does not give us confidence unless she is testing batches regularly and sending the results back to headquarters.

While not specific to the supplement industry, we can’t even tell you how many people we’ve encountered in business who believe they have “someone in China watching over me” when it turns out they’re really just being taken for a ride. To be clear, we are not inferring that here. Rather, we were just not provided details on testing protocols and the frequency of them. We don’t even know if their spirulina is coming from China.

As much as we liked everything else we saw in that particular protein powder, we won’t use it. We do the same with all supplements if the source will not be disclosed when asked.

3. Stick with the most reputable suppliers

Can smaller operations produce safe spirulina? Absolutely. However as a consumer, vetting their operations is not easy and often not possible. For that reason, we recommend sticking with the most trustworthy suppliers. The largest ones with long track records and ideally, who specialize in cyanobacteria rather than a plethora of different nutrients (because you can’t be the best at everything).

Nutrex Hawaii production facility in Kona
Nutrex Hawaii’s production facility

By far the manufacturer we respect the most is Nutrex Hawaii. Also derived from algae, we actually use their MD Formulas EyeAstin astaxanthin.

These are the primary reasons we prefer this company for algae-based nutrients:

  • 25+ year track record. Founded by Dr. Gerald Cysewski in 1990, an expert in microalgae and carotenoids.
  • American operations. A U.S. company with production on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.
  • Only does marine-derived nutrients.
  • Uses water from 2,000 feet below sea level. Their pools use water pumped from an ultra-deep well, which is free of pollutants. This is very important in the post Fukushima nuclear disaster, which has contaminated water throughout much of the world, especially Asia and the Pacific.

We’re not willing to gamble with our health and buy from unknown suppliers. Even for organic spirulina, unfortunately the numerous Chinese suppliers represent a large share of the market today. When you buy supplements, there’s good chance it may be from China and they’re not even required to disclose it on the label.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.