Scientific Data


Blue-Green-Algae
as an Immuno-Enhancer and Biomodulator
Gitte S. Jensen, PhD,1 Donald I. Ginsberg, MS,2 Christian Drapeau , MS2
1. Holger N.I.S. Inc., Port Dover, Ontario, Canada
2. Medical Student, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
3. Desert Lake Technologies LLT, Keno, Oregon

INTRODUCTION
In the evolving health management paradigm,1-4 the general regulation of the immune system as well as the enhancement of specific immune functions have become a growing point of interest, and rightly so. Many health prob­lems result from the inability of the immune system to stop a disease process in its initial stage. This paper will review the scientific evidence for the immunomodulatory effects of blue-green-algae and some of the demonstrated effects of blue-green-algae on health and disease.

The human body is constantly being exposed to foreign organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, all of which coexist to a certain degree in the skin, the mouth, the respiratory tract, the intestinal tract, and the genital tract. Some microorganisms are essential for optimal health, and the healthy human body is well-equipped to keep such organisms from becoming a problem. However, when the natural barriers are compromised, or when we are exposed to more highly infectious organisms, serious dis­ease may result. This includes not only acute infectious dis­eases, but also chronic inflammatory and autoimmune dis­eases. Optimal support of the immune system is important for prevention of and intervention with diseases with micro­biological involvement, whether acute illness or chronic degenerative disease. Inflammation sets the stage for chron­ic disease, and for the initiation and progression of cancer. Enormous research efforts are currently pursuing nutrition­al and botanical intervention of inflammatory processes.
*Correspondence:
Gitte S. Jensen, PhD
Holger N.I.S. Inc.
12 Denby Road
Port Dover
Ontario, Canada N0A 1N4
e-mail: gitte@holgernis.com

BLUE GREEN ALGAE AS FOOD
Blue green algae (cyanobacteria) are among the most primitive life forms on Earth. Their cellular structure is a simple prokaryote. They share features with plants, as they have the ability to perform photosynthesis. They share fea­tures with primitive bacteria because they lack a plant cell wall. Interestingly, they also share characteristics of the ani­mal kingdom as they contain on their cellular membrane complex sugars similar to glycogen. Among blue green algae we find both edible and toxic species, adapted to almost any of the most extreme habitats on Earth, including deep-sea vents, hot springs, and Antarctica’s ice. Edible blue green algae, including Nostoc, Spirulina, and Aphanizomenon species have been used for food for thou­sands of years. Habitats with sufficient algae growth include the Pacific Ocean near Japan and Hawaii, and large freshwater lakes, including Lake Chad in Africa, Klamath Lake in North America, Lake Texcoco in Mexico, and Lake Titikaka in South America. African and American natives recognized the value of including blue green algae in their diet and stored dried algae for year-round use and trade.

Still today, edible blue green algae are a nutrient-dense food. As for any other crop, differences exist with regard to harvest procedures, quality control for contaminating species, adherence to proper processing to preserve nutri­ents from degradation, and storage conditions. The nutrient content depends on the location and environment in which the algae was grown as altitude, temperature, and sun expo­sure can greatly affect lipid and pigment composition. Spirulina is an algae species grown at sea or in man-made ponds, and the mineral profile will differ from fresh-water algae such as Aphanizomenon. Algae grown in a natural environment will differ from algae grown in canals or tanks due to differences in aeration, nutrient circulation and avail­ability, and degree of competition with other algal species. As we learn more about the phytoceutical components of different blue green algae species, the optimal growth con­ditions for obtaining optimal yields can be determined.

The nutrient profile is subject to much variation between habitats and harvest procedures which influences the content of vitamins and antioxidants delivered in the final product. Certain features are common to all blue green algae, including a high content of bioavailable amino acids and minerals, including zinc, selenium, and magne­sium. Industrial standards still vary greatly in terms of doc­umenting product composition to the consumer. However, blue green algae have the appeal of being a raw, unprocessed food, rich in carotenoids, chlorophyll, phyco­cyanin, and many other bioactive components.

BEYOND NUTRITION
Among blue-green-algae, many species have docu­mented biomodulatory effects. This paper will review sci­entific evidence for immunomodulatory effects of blue-green algae and some of its demonstrated effects on health and disease. The research studies span the use of the whole algae of various species in both human and animal studies, as well as in vitro studies on algae extracts and purified compounds (Table 1).
EFFECTS OF BLUE-GREEN-ALGAE ON INNATE (NON-SPECIFIC) IMMUNITY
Several studies have examined the use of whole blue-green-algae in the context of the normal functioning immune response. In our lab, one study using oral doses of 1.5 grams of the bluegreen algae Aphanizomenon flos-aquae on healthy human volunteers revealed it slightly decreases the phagocyt­ic activity of polymorph nucleated cells in vitro.5 This may indicate an anti-inflammatory, rather than anti-phagocytic effect on human neutrophils.
In a study looking at the phagocytic function of cat bronchoalveolar macrophages in vitro, the percentage of

Table 1. Research On Blue-Green-Algae As Biomodulators

Studies on
Route of administration

Compounds investigated

Human

Oral consumption*

Whole algae

Chicken

Oral consumption

Whole algae

Rodents

Oral consumption**

Whole algae

Injection

Isolated fractions

Injection

Purified compounds

In vitro

Added to media

Isolated fractions

Added to media

Purified compounds

*) Humans: oral dose was 1.5 – 2.8 grams per day for adult subjects **) Mice: oral dose varied up to 800 mg/kg

cells that phagocytosed cells increased when they were exposed to a water-soluble extract of Spirulina for two hours.6 The number of particles ingested by the phagocyt­ic macrophages did not change when compared to control cultures.
In another study, mice were fed a Spirulina-supple-mented diet (10% of the dry weight of food) for ten weeks, and the ability of peritoneal macrophages to ingest latex particles was evaluated in vitro. The results of this study showed a slight increase in the percentage of phagocytic cells (4.6%; from 91.3 to 95.9%).7 A similar effect was observed in chickens.8

In addition, murine peritoneal macrophages exposed in vitro to a hot-water extract of Spirulina for 24 hours secret­ed a substance, (speculated to be IL-1), which induced thy­mocyte proliferation.7 In the same study, the ability of spleen cells extracted from algae-fed mice to proliferate in response to mitogens was examined in vitro. These exper­iments showed that splenic cells isolated from algae-fed mice proliferated more when exposed to certain mitogens compared to control mice.

The effect of blue-green algae on non-specific immunity has also been examined at the level of natural killer (NK) cell activity. Using a standard chromium release assay, splenic leukocytes from chickens fed blue-green algae were shown to exhibit greater anti-tumor cell activity when compared to those of control animals.8 The authors speculate that blue-green algae may increase NK cell activ­ity via the production of cytokines such as interferon.

In a study designed to investigate the mechanism behind the immunostimulatory effect of blue-green algae on the human monocyte/macrophage cell line THP-1, a crude extract of the bluegreen algae Aphanizomenon flos­aquae was used to stimulate the cell line. The extract was half as potent as LPS in activating NF-kB, and the purified molecule is ten times more potent than LPS (Pasco, manu­script in press). The molecule responsible for this activation has been identified as a novel polysaccharide.9

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Winter 2001 Vol. 3, No. 4 JANA 28

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