The Algae AD/HD Connection

Can Blue Green Algae Be Of Help With Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder?


by Dr. John Taylor, Ph.D.        Licensed Clinical Psychologist

TaylorI have traveled throughout North America over the last half decade giving the MEGA ANSWERS TO AD/HD seminar.  In one jam-packed day I survey academic, psycho-social and nutritional approaches to AD/HD for mixed audiences of parents and helping professionals.  While having no connection with any company involved in harvest, manufacture or marketing of foods, medicines, or nutrients, I have been in a position to talk with thousands of parents and professionals very frankly about AD/HD.  And blue-green algae is consistently mentioned to me by parents as being of help for children with AD/HD.  Why?  What exactly is the algae-AD/HD connection?  Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder is primarily a disorder of the central nervous system, particularly of the brain.  The answer to the AD/HD – algae connection lies deep within the tangled web of 100 billion or so nerve cells (called neurons) in the human brain.  Let’s examine what it takes to keep these large and delicate cells functioning at their maximum level of efficiency.

Blood Sugar

A landmark study of adults with AD/HD showed that neurons throughout the brain have sluggish glucose metabolism (36).  In other words, they suffer from an abnormally low energy supply.  As a result they probably aren’t conducting their chemical reactions properly, including the manufacture of key chemicals used in thought – neurotransmitters.   In fact, a low level of dopamine and norepinephrine is one of the most consistent findings in research on brain processes in AD/HD individuals (2,16).  My extensive experience in this field has shown me that anything that helps stabilize and normalize blood sugar level will help AD/HD individuals become calmer and more focused.  Some of the components of blue-green algae seem to have this kind of stabilizing effect on blood sugar level.

Freedom from Toxic Attack

There is a flood of research indicating that brain nerves, when energy supplies are low, are more subject to disruption of their functioning from toxic effects of various irritant chemicals than when energy suppliers are normal (3,17,25).  The AD/HD child’s brain is therefore probably more apt to be disrupted than that of a child who has no psychiatric or medical problems (10).
Some of the neurotoxic chemicals studied so far, that seem to be especially disruptive to low-energy-state brain neurons are among 4000 chemical additives lacing foods and beverages (1,3,9,15,17,19,20,21,22,23,24,26,28,29,33,34,35).
Some studies have actually created hyperactivity and related conditions in lab animals by exposure to these food additives (15, 19).
Numerous research projects have verified that eliminating exposure to these potentially neurotoxic substances can significantly improve the mental and behavioral functioning of AD/HD children (4,5,7,11,13,14,18,30,32,35).
Blue-green algae is a natural food that is harvested rather than manufactured, and is unlikely to be laced with artificial dyes, preservatives or flavor modifiers, such as MSG or artificial sweeteners.

Amino Acids

The neurotransmitters are usually composed of amino acids and are manufactured on-site by the neurons.  AD/HD is ultimately a protein metabolism problem.  Giving the brain plenty of building blocks from which it can make more neurotransmitters makes good sense.  There is some research evidence verifying that meals high in amino acids help reduce behavioral problems from AD/HD children (10).  The amino acid profile of blue-green algae closely matches optimal profile recommended by the Food and Nutrition Council.
The down side of amino acids is that some of them are quite toxic to the brain and must be kept out, or allowed to enter only in very small amounts, by special protective mechanisms within the neurons.  These protective mechanisms demand cellular energy and will falter if energy supplies are low.  Neurons can become “flooded” — or attacked–by too much of any one amino acid (3).  Examples are the glutamate component of the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the aspartate component of the artificial sweetener aspartame (3,17,19,22,24,25,26,27,28,29).  In AD/HD part of the problem is the low energy supply to the neurons, and this fact could explain the research finding that MSG is sometimes disruptive for AD/HD individuals (5,35).   Ideally, the brain would select whatever amino acids it needs — and in proper amounts — from a wide variety available form the bloodstream.  A feature of blue-green algae proteins seldom mentioned but crucial for AD/HD brain metabolism is that its amino acids are all in relatively balanced proportion to each other.  Thus the likelihood of toxic flooding is minimal.

Trace Minerals

Neurons require numerous trace minerals to support the incredibly large number of chemical reactions they must conduct.  Children with AD/HD have been found to be low in zinc (9).  Their blood copper levels have been found to be abnormal (6).  They are at risk for poor metabolizing of trace minerals and could probably benefit from a consistent source of numerous easily-assimilable trace minerals.  Blue-green algae harvested from a pristine source, such as a mineral-rich lake, is likely to contain a variety of trace minerals in assimilable form.

Protection from Oxidative Stress

The brain is an expensive organ to run.  It uses a lot of oxygen — about 1/5 of what the person breathes in.  It uses about 1/4 of all the calories obtained from food.   Whenever a considerable amount of oxygen is metabolized (in the brain, for example), several electron pairs from the oxygen atoms break their bonds and become unconnected or unpaired. They are said to be “free”, and the resulting bizarre molecule is called a “radical.”  The unpaired electrons instantly seek out new electrons to pair with, grabbing them from a neighboring molecule.  The unstable, unpaired electrons are now stable, but they have changed the neighboring molecule into a “free radical”; that is, a modified molecule with one or more unpaired electrons in their outer orbits.  These chain reaction of electrons taking new partners from neighboring molecules can proceed unchecked into any body tissue and is called oxidative stress.  It has been found by recent research to contribute to various disturbances is body function and to some disease conditions (3).
Our interest, however, is in oxidative stress through free radical damage to neurons.   The brain has its protective mechanisms, chief among which is a special donor of electrons, Vitamin C.  This interesting substance (known chemically as ascorbic acid) provides new partners for unpaired electron, thus preventing the need for grabbing elections from neighboring molecules within the nerve tissue.  Everyone’s brain hoards Vitamin C, most probably for this purpose.  Anything that prevents or reduces oxidative stress would be desirable for any person with stressed neurons or neurons low on energy and protective mechanisms (3).  Vitamin E, and to a lesser extent beta-carotene, perform a similar function.  Blue-green algae contains several components, including the pigmented carotenoids, that are considered helpful in reducing oxidative stress.

Vitamins

If minerals are the soldiers for neurons, vitamins are the generals.  They determine the distribution and activity of trace minerals within nerve tissue.  The trace minerals thus facilitate and carry to completion the actions of the crucial vitamins for the human brain — A, B, C, and E.
Vitamin A is best delivered in the form of beta-carotene, because the body can make exactly the amount it needs from beta-carotene.
All of the B vitamins facilitate functioning of the nervous system in general, and neurons in particular.  In a fascinating research project featuring a direct scientific comparison with generic Ritalin (methylphenidate), Vitamin B-6 was found to produce to more consistent and longer lasting helpful effects on behavior of children with AD/HD (8).
Vitamins C and E are important especially for their free radical quenching properties, but also have other useful functions within neurons.
Blue-green algae contains all of these vitamins and is an especially concentrated source of beta-carotene and Vitamin B-12.

Essential Fatty Acids

Neurons are composed of nearly 50% fatty acids.  These large molecules also facilitate many of the ongoing chemical reactions conducted by the neurons.  Children with AD/HD have been found to be abnormally low in essential fatty acids (9,23,31).   Also some research projects have involved direct treatment of AD/HD with EFA’s , with encouraging results (9,12).  While it contains both Omega-3 and Omega-6 EFA’s, blue green algae is relatively rich in the much harder to find Omega-3.

The Connection

What is the connection?  Is it the presence of easily assimilable trace minerals such as zinc?  Of beta-carotene and Vitamin B-12?  Of Omega-6 and especially Omega-3 essential fatty acids?  Of numerous amino acids in balanced amounts?  The answer, of course, is “all of the above,” and provided in a natural way, free of questionable artificial additives.

REFERENCES

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2. Barkley: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. New York: Guilford, 1990, p. 104
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13. Egger et al: Double Blind Study Demonstrates Yellow No. 5 Triggers Hyperactivity in Majority of Diagnosed Children. The Lancet, March 9, 1985.
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26. Olney et al: Glutamate-induced Brain Damage in Infant Primates. J Neuropath Exp Neur, Vol. 31, 1972, 464-488
27. Olney et al: Acute Glutamate-induced Elevation in Serum Testosterone and Luteinizing Hormone. Brain Res, Vol. 112, 420-424
28. Olney: Glutamate, a Neurotoxic Transmitter. J Child Neurology, Vol. 4, 1989, 218-225
29. Searle Co. Study E-33, 34 Corss Reference E-87, Master File 134 for Aspartame, FDA Hearing Clerk’s Office, 1981
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31. Stevens et al: Essential Fatty Acid Metabolism in Boys with ADHD. Amer J Clin Nutrition, Vol. 62, 1995
32. Swanson & Kinsbourne: Food Dyes Impair Performance of Hyperactive children on a Laboratory Learning Test. Science Vol. 207, Mar. 1980
33. Toth et al: Neurotoxicity of MSG in Pregnant and Fetal Rats. Act. Neuropath (Berl) Vol. 75, 1987, 16-22
34. Toth & Lajtha: Elevation of Cerebral Levels of Nonessential Amino Acids. Neurochem Res. Vol 6, 1981, 1309-1317
35. Tuormaa: The Adverse Effects of Food Additives on Health, A Review of the Literature with Special Emphasis on Childhood Hyperactivity. J Orthomol Medicine, Vol. 9, 1994, 225-243
36. Zametkin et al: Cerebral Glucose Metabolism in Adults with Hyperactivity of Childhood Onset. New Eng J of Med, Vol. 323, Nov. 15, 1990

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