Is Blue-Green (algae) my colour? As I’m sure you soon will be I was surprised to find that the health claims for Spirulina have almost no medical backing. One of the claims I have heard for the supposed wonder single celled organism is that it improves the immune system. These claims are backed up by saying that the product is nutrient dense and the “perfect” food. However I have never seen it marketed as a food, it is a supplement. The amounts of nutrients that are available in the capsule or teaspoon of Spirulina that are the recommended dose can be obtained more easily (and cheaply) from eating a balanced meal.

As for “boosting” the immune system, this claim is common to many suplements and alternative practices and like their many other claims is vague and misleading to the point of meaninglessness. Presumably a “boosted” immune system prevents illness and/or speeds recovery but within medicine there is no such concept and it is quite possible that the increase in immune function that is cited could itself cause problems. The immune system is very complex (but not irreducibly so – Ha) and as such there are many more ways for it to go wrong than go right, any attempt to alter it’s function should be done with caution.

Those that attempt to market Spirulina by attempting to trade on it’s alleged medicinal value make a mistake common in the supplement and alternative medicine business, that of confusing fundamental research and clinical trials. There are always projects looking at the effect of compounds on tissue samples, a proportion can look very promising. However the human body is a network of intertwined and sometimes competing reactions and these studies are not always a good predictor of clinical usefulness.

On second thought I don’t think this shade brings out my eyes.

Resources

http://www.theness.com/index.php/blue-green-algae-natures-perfect-scam

http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/algae.html

http://www.quackcast.com/ *There use to be a link here to something useful on the Quackcast site, but it’s moved and I can’t find it. But go and listen to everything anyway it’s good stuff.