The health food industry has exploded in recent years, becoming one of the fastest growing markets in the United States. Consumers are becoming more aware of how the foods they eat influence their health and in turn, are making more health-conscious decisions.
Spirulina is one of the “superfoods” gaining popularity due to its complex nutritional profile and apparent health benefits. However, some scientists are now concerned that this powdered protein source may increase one’s risk of Alzheimer’s.
Could Spirulina Impact Risk of Alzheimer’s?
If you have not heard of spirulina, it is a type of cyanobacteria. Since this bacteria is both aquatic and photosynthetic, it is often referred to as blue-green algae. Consumed by both animals and people, it is believed to help protect against certain cancers, lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and boost metabolic energy.
However, some researchers are now concerned that this “superfood” may actually increase your risk of Alzheimer’s. This suspicion first arose while studying the Chamorro people in Guam. Since people from this community tend to develop symptoms that resemble those of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, scientists began to conduct research.
They found that this community has a high intake of Cycad seeds. Ground into flour, this ingredient is a staple in their diet. These seeds are known to be infected with a naturally occurring chemical that flourishes in the region. Known as BMAA, this compound is found in blue-green algae. Since BMAA is found in blue-green algae around the globe, this has led to concerns surrounding the consumption of spirulina.
How Does BMAA Impact the Brain?
After discovering the link between Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and a high intake of Cycad seed, scientists began studying the brain in relation to blue-green algae. The researchers fed BMAA to monkeys for 140 days. They then compared the brains of these experimental monkeys with the brains of control monkeys (who had not been given any BMAA).
What they found was that the monkeys who had been eating BMMA showcased greater concentrations of tangles and plaque-like deposits. These are both hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s.
The Results Are Not Conclusive, Yet There Are Additional Concerns
As researchers continue to investigate this potential link, it is important to note that there is no conclusive evidence that spirulina is harmful. In contrast, one study found that a spirulina-enhanced diet offered neuroprotective benefits against neurodegenerative conditions, including Parkinson’s.
However, aside from this recent study, there are some additional concerns regarding the regular consumption of spirulina. Unfortunately, unlike prescription drugs, many supplements are not properly regulated. This is leading to the production and distribution of supplements that vary in terms of their quality and potency.
One of the core concerns is based on the risk of heavy metal toxicity, including traces of lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. This is due to the absorption of these heavy metals from the environment. When poorly manufactured, a lack of testing may also result in heavy metal exposure. These toxic metals can directly threaten kidney and liver function, and in turn, overall health.
Microcystins are also a potential danger, as these amino acids can be toxic to your liver when consumed in large quantities. That is why some states, such as Oregon, limit the acceptable concentration of these microcystins in commercially distributed spirulina.
Additional Supplements That May Be Dangerous
Unfortunately, not all supplements are created equal, and when it comes to vitamins, more is not necessarily better. Some vitamins are a waste of money while others can actually threaten your health. The following supplements may cause more harm than good:
Folic acid — Particularly important for women who are pregnant or are trying to have a baby, this B-vitamin is found in asparagus, legumes, citrus fruits, fortified bread, and dark leafy greens. Although some people supplement this vitamin, some researchers are concerned that it may increase your risk of colon cancer.
Vitamin B6 — Many take this supplement to reduce cognitive decline. However, there is a lack of evidence supporting this theory. Instead, it is recommended that you consume more foods rich in vitamin B6, such as chickpeas, bananas, seafood, nuts, and beans. The same is true regarding vitamin E. Foods rich in vitamin E have been shown to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s, but not Vitamin E supplements.
Before you begin any new supplement regimen, it is important to speak with your doctor. This is particularly true if you suffer from a pre-existing health condition. If you are concerned about your level of cognition, the BrainTest® app can help you detect early warning signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other cognitive impairments. Take your first test for free.