URL of this page: https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/923.html

Blue-Green Algae

What is it?

Blue-green algae refers to several species of bacteria that produce blue-green colored pigments. They grow in salt water and some large fresh water lakes. They have been used for food for several centuries in Mexico and some African countries. They have been sold as a supplement in the US since the late 1970s.

Blue-green algae products are used for treating high blood pressure. They are also used as a protein supplement and for high levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia), diabetes, obesity, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.

Some blue-green algae products are grown under controlled conditions. Others are grown in a natural setting, where they are more likely to be contaminated by bacteria, liver poisons (microcystins) produced by certain bacteria, and heavy metals. Choose only products that have been tested and found to be free of these contaminants.

You may have been told that blue-green algae are an excellent source of protein. But, in reality, blue-green algae are no better than meat or milk as a protein source and cost about 30 times as much per gram.

Don't confuse blue-green algae with algin, Ascophyllum nodosum, Ecklonia cava, Fucus Vesiculosis, or Laminaria.

How effective is it?

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.

The effectiveness ratings for BLUE-GREEN ALGAE are as follows:

Possibly effective for...

  • High blood pressure. Taking blue-green algae by mouth seems to reduce blood pressure in some people with high blood pressure.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

  • Hay fever. Early research shows that taking blue-green algae by mouth might relieve some allergy symptoms in adults.
  • Insulin resistance caused by drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS (antiretroviral-induced insulin resistance). Early research shows that taking blue-green algae by mouth increases insulin sensitivity in people with insulin resistance due to HIV/AIDS medication.
  • Athletic performance. The effect of blue-green algae on athletic performance is unclear. Most early research shows that taking blue-green algae does not improve athletic performance. But not all research agrees.
  • A blood disorder that reduces levels of protein in the blood called hemoglobin (beta-thalassemia). Early research shows that taking blue-green algae by mouth might reduce the need for blood transfusion and improve heart and liver health in children with this condition.
  • Tics or twitching of the eyelids (blepharospasm). Early research shows that taking blue-green algae does not reduce eyelid spasms in people with blepharospasm.
  • Diabetes. Early research shows that taking blue-green algae by mouth might improve cholesterol levels by a small amount in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Hepatitis C. Some early research shows that blue-green algae might improve liver function in people with hepatitis C. But other research shows that it might actually worsen liver function.
  • HIV/AIDS. Early research shows that blue-green algae does not improve CD4 cell counts or reduce viral load in people with HIV. But it might reduce infections, stomach and intestinal problems, feelings of tiredness, and breathing problems in some people.
  • High levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia). Early research shows that blue-green algae lowers cholesterol in people with normal or slightly elevated cholesterol levels. But not all research agrees.
  • A condition caused by a poor diet or the body's inability to absorb nutrients. Some early research shows that giving blue-green algae to undernourished children along with a nutritious diet can increase weight gain. But not all research agrees.
  • Symptoms of menopause. An early study shows that taking blue-green algae by mouth lowers anxiety and depression in women going through menopause. However, it doesn't appear to reduce symptoms such as hot flashes.
  • Mental alertness. An early study shows that taking blue-green algae improves feelings of mental tiredness and scores on a mental math test.
  • Obesity. Some early research shows that taking blue-green algae by mouth slightly improves weight loss. In addition, some early research shows that taking blue-green algae might improve levels of cholesterol in adults with obesity. But other studies show no weight loss with blue-green algae.
  • White patches inside the mouth that are usually caused by smoking (oral leukoplakia). Early research shows that taking blue-green algae by mouth reduces mouth sores in people who chew tobacco.
  • A serious gum infection (periodontitis). Early research shows that injecting a gel containing blue-green algae into the gums of adults with gum disease improves gum health.
  • A grouping of symptoms that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (metabolic syndrome).
  • Anxiety.
  • Arsenic poisoning.
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Low levels of healthy red blood cells (anemia) due to iron deficiency.
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
  • Cancer.
  • Build up of fat in the liver in people who drink little or no alcohol (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD).
  • Depression.
  • Stress.
  • Fatigue.
  • Indigestion (dyspepsia).
  • Heart disease.
  • Memory.
  • Wound healing.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of blue-green algae for these uses.

How does it work?

Blue-green algae have a high protein, iron, and other mineral content which is absorbed when taken orally. Blue-green algae are being researched for their potential effects on the immune system, swelling (inflammation), and viral infections.

Are there safety concerns?

When taken by mouth: Blue-green algae products that are free of contaminants, such as liver-damaging substances called microcystins, toxic metals, and harmful bacteria, are POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when used short-term. Doses up to 19 grams per day have been used safely for up to 2 months. Lower doses of 10 grams per day have been used safely for up to 6 months. Side effects are typically mild and may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, fatigue, headache, and dizziness.

But blue-green algae products that are contaminated are POSSIBLY UNSAFE. Contaminated blue-green algae can cause liver damage, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness, thirst, rapid heartbeat, shock, and death. Don't use any blue-green algae product that hasn't been tested and found to be free of microcystins and other contamination.

Special precautions & warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There isn't enough information available to know if it is safe to use blue-green algae when pregnant or breast-feeding. Contaminated blue-green algae products contain harmful toxins that might be transferred to an infant during pregnancy or through breast milk. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Children: Blue-green algae are POSSIBLY UNSAFE for children. Children are more sensitive to contaminated blue-green algae products than adults.

Auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), pemphigus vulgaris (a skin condition), and others: Blue-green algae might cause the immune system to become more active, and this could increase the symptoms of auto-immune diseases. If you have one of these conditions, it's best to avoid using blue-green algae.

Surgery: Blue-green algae might lower blood sugar levels. There is some concern that it might interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop using blue-green algae at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery.

Are there interactions with medications?

Moderate
Be cautious with this combination.
Medications for diabetes (Antidiabetes drugs)
Blue-green algae might decrease blood sugar. Diabetes medications are also used to lower blood sugar. Taking blue-green algae along with diabetes medications might cause your blood sugar to go too low. Monitor your blood sugar closely. The dose of your diabetes medication might need to be changed.

Some medications used for diabetes include glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), and others.
Medications that decrease the immune system (Immunosuppressants)
Blue-green algae might increase the immune system. By increasing the immune system, blue-green algae might decrease the effectiveness of medications that decrease the immune system.

Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine (Imuran), basiliximab (Simulect), cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), daclizumab (Zenapax), muromonab-CD3 (OKT3, Orthoclone OKT3), mycophenolate (CellCept), tacrolimus (FK506, Prograf), sirolimus (Rapamune), prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone), corticosteroids (glucocorticoids), and others.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs)
Blue-green algae might slow blood clotting. Taking blue-green algae along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.

Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin; clopidogrel (Plavix); nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), and naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn, others); dalteparin (Fragmin); enoxaparin (Lovenox); heparin; warfarin (Coumadin); and others.

Are there interactions with herbs and supplements?

Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar
Blue-green algae might lower blood sugar. There is some concern that using blue-green algae along with other herbs and supplements that have this same effect might lower blood sugar too much. Herbs and supplements that might lower blood sugar include alpha-lipoic acid, devil's claw, fenugreek, garlic, guar gum, horse chestnut, Panax ginseng, psyllium, and Siberian ginseng.
Herbs and supplements that might slow blood clotting
Blue-green algae might slow blood clotting. Taking blue-green algae along with herbs that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.

Some of these herbs include angelica, clove, danshen, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, Panax ginseng, red clover, turmeric, and others.
Iron
Blue-green algae can decrease the amount of iron the body can absorb. Taking blue-green algae with iron supplements might decrease the effectiveness of iron.

Are there interactions with foods?

Iron-containing foods
Blue-green algae can decrease the amount of iron the body can absorb from food.

What dose is used?

The following doses have been studied in scientific research:

BY MOUTH:
  • For high blood pressure: 2-4.5 grams of blue-green algae per day has been used.

Other names

AFA, Algae, Algas Verdiazul, Algues Bleu-Vert, Algues Bleu-Vert du Lac Klamath, Anabaena, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Arthrospira fusiformis, Arthrospira maxima, Arthrospira platensis, BGA, Blue Green Algae, Blue-Green Micro-Algae, Cyanobacteria, Cyanobactérie, Cyanophycée, Dihe, Espirulina, Hawaiian Spirulina, Klamath, Klamath Lake Algae, Lyngbya wollei, Microcystis aeruginosa and other Microcystis species, Nostoc ellipsosporum, Spirulina Blue-Green Algae, Spirulina fusiformis, Spirulina maxima, Spirulina platensis, Spiruline, Spiruline d'Hawaii, Tecuitlatl.

Methodology

To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.

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Last reviewed - 02/23/2021