Whole Food Center
BLUE GREEN ALGAE, SPIRULINA & CHLORELLA
Blue green algaes are some of the most nutrient rich foods out there.
They contain lots of essential nutrients such as: carotenoids like beta carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A), vitamin K, iron, magnesium, a beneficial fatty acid called GLA and much more. They also contain many beneficial compounds like phycocyanin- a potent antioxidant-, chlorophyll, zeaxanthin and much more. The three most commonly sold ones are all types of freshwater blue green algae (which are not actually algae, but a species of bacteria called cyanobacteria), Aphanizomenon flos-aquae which is usually sold as klamath lake blue green algae, chlorella and spirulina.
The drying and processing of algae is very important. Most of these algae products are spray or drum dried. Spray drying algae products actually changes the structure of them. When drying foods, we want to leave them as close to their original state as possible.
As you can see from this chart, spray drying results in a lower level of beneficial compounds in every category.
Where do they come from?
Where and how something is grown matters a lot. Klamath Lake Blue Green Algae is from one place: Klamath Lake in Oregon. It is a wild-grown algae. It can only be harvested for part of the year in order to avoid contamination with dangerous toxins called microcystins, which can cause liver problems. These are released when the bacteria die or their cell walls rupture (lysis). This algae has a soft cell wall and is easily digested by people. Since it is a wild algae, there are no fertilizers or pesticides used in the growing process. Every batch of the Klamath Lake Algae we sell is tested to ensure it is free of all contaminants including microcystins. They also test the lake water several times a year to make sure it is pure and safe. Proper testing techniques are important, because certain tests can be very misleading about the microcystin content in algae products.
Klamath Lake, OR
Most spirulina is grown on farms in uncovered outdoor ponds, in places like China, India and Taiwan.
You will see claims made such as "only grown in pristine spring water" or "fed by mountain streams" and all kinds of other wonderful things. Well, that may be true, but guess what? It rains there. So all of that pollution in places like China comes down in the rain. The water from that mountain spring may be pure, but the rain is not going to be. Algae are great bio accumulators (absorbing lots of stuff from their environment, including contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals) and so you often see reports of contamination in spirulina supplements.
We want to make sure that where we source spirulina, does not just have a great water source, but also that it is in a place where there is a not a lot of air pollution. Our search for a super pure, ethically grown, properly made, high quality spirulina took us through growing operations in India, China, Taiwan, Hawaii, California, and New Mexico.
As anyone who has had the “pleasure” of being around me when I start ranting about supplements, knows that I am just a wee bit passionate- (my staff might say nuts).
My assistant Brian after my latest rant (yes, this company is actually just a bunch of cats banging on a keyboard)
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the base of the Sangre De Cristo mountains there is a small spirulina farm run by a very passionate man named Nicholas, who traveled to France to intern with a Maître Spirulinier (Master Spirulina Farmer) and learn the artisinal French method of spirulina cultivation.
The French Artisan Method of Spirulina cultivation differs in several key ways from large scale commercial spirulina farms:
Smaller farms which range from 100 square feet to ¼ acre.
Spirulina is grown in a greenhouse which reduces water evaporation. This is critical in a high desert climate.
The greenhouse also allows the Spirulina to remain at a constant high temperature during cold desert nights. This provides for an optimum growth rate during the summer months.
Retaining a pure Spirulina culture which in a small greenhouse environment is free of dust and other contaminants, so the use of pesticides or herbicides is not necessary.
Harvesting is done almost daily and slow dried in a solar oven to maintain the highest nutritional levels.
The spirulina is pressed into what I like to call “spaghetti”. This results in a larger surface area.
The Spirulina has minimal nutritional loss, so a higher quality finished product is achieved.
During the peak of the season harvesting is done five days a week and the ponds are rested and rejuvenated over the weekend.
The growing season is between April and October. Peak harvesting occurs in the hot summer months.
These spirulina crunchies, as they are called, have a higher nutritional value than traditional spirulina powders and the taste is amazing. You can put them in smoothies or just eat them out of the bag. A great way to get some easy, extra nutrition into your diet.
Last, but not least, is chlorella.
As with spirulina, most chlorella is grown in outdoor ponds in Asia, having all the same problems that spirulina does and more because chlorella is an even stronger bioaccumulator. My search for ultra pure chlorella took me around the world as well and ended in Klötze, Germany.
Unlike other chlorellas that are grown in those outdoor ponds, this chlorella is grown entirely in glass tubes. Zero exposure to the outside environment allows for the production of a super pure and contaminant free chlorella:
"To start with, our 'tubular aquariums' are filled with water. We source this from our own well, which is fed from an artesian aquifer more than 45 meters down. This is very pure water that is also nicely mineralized. Nutrients and an algae starter culture are then added and the algae begin to grow. The advantages of our 500-kilometre system of glass tubing are obvious. The algae get an optimal supply of sunlight because there are no “dark zones” like you get in the lower layers of a pond, and no contaminants from the outside can get into the culture. When the algae are ready to be harvested, they are separated from the water by centrifuging and then gently dried. They can be consumed immediately or processed further."
You will see it often mentioned that chlorella must have its cell wall broken or it can not be digested by people. This is patently untrue and often put out by companies who use inferior drying and production methods. The digestibility of chlorella is not significantly increased by breaking up its cell walls. Factors such as the drying process or the species (strain) of chlorella used have a greater impact.
This is summarized as follows in a publication by T. Kanno (2005), stating that
“The original characteristics and the physiological effects of Chlorella are not changed by breaking up the cell wall” and “It is more to be feared that the process of breaking up the cell wall may degrade proteins, destroy vitamins, and fatty acids, thereby resulting in oxidation effects.”
If you look at “studies” done showing broken cell wall is better, they are almost entirely funded by companies who just happen to sell broken cell wall chlorella. The pH of stomach acid is 1.5 to 3.5 and it produces an enzyme called lysozyme. The combination of stomach acid and lysozyme is plenty for chlorella's cell wall to be broken, without having to risk damaging the proteins, vitamins and fatty acids or exposing them to oxidation that the methods of cracking the cell wall cause.
The cell wall helps to protect the beneficial nutrients and compounds found in chlorella. It keeps all of the compounds intact until digestion.
Chlorella, unlike spirulina, contains usable b-12 as well. Tests on the chlorella we recommend (using the LC-MS/MS method- which detects only usable b-12, not the analogs that the body cannot use) show that a 3g serving contains 3 mcg of usable b-12, which is the recommended daily amount. This is a great way for people who do not eat meat to get their b-12 from a whole food source.
Every Batch of our chlorella is tested for microcystins and other contaminants.
Remember these most important points when shopping for algae supplements:
They must be-
Clean, properly tested and free of contaminants
Grown in the correct environment
Processed, dried and packaged properly
Made by people who truly care and are passionate about what they do