Blue Green Algae - A Physician's View

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I wish to thank Herman Aihara for his most stimulating article on blue green algae ["What About Blue Green Algae?" Macrobiotics Today, November/December 1995]. My deep respect for Herman, as a person and as a thinker, caused me to reflect deeply about his ideas. My experiences with Super Blue Green Algae (SBGA) over a ten year period are, I believe, much different from Herman's. I decided to share my perceptions with him by writing this article.

I began the macrobiotic way of eating and using Oriental medicine principles in my family medicine practice in 1981 and have continued, while learning about macrobiotics, through the years. In 1985 I added SBGA to my own diet and began recommending it to my patients.

One Man's Story

I should like to relate one man's story because his beneficial experience with SBGA parallels that of others. Joe, an engineer, born in Germany before the war, is small, energetic and marginally obsessive. (He works seventy to eighty five hours a week and finds it impossible to change that part of his life.) He came to me with high blood pressure and asked if I could help him to solve it without drugs. We agreed to try a change in diet and he started a macrobiotic approach. He attended cooking classes and received counseling. After a year or so of adhering well to the diet, his blood pressure had not budged. At that time, about 1985, I had just begun using SBGA and recommended that Joe add it to his diet. To my surprise, his blood pressure slowly began to go down. It stayed down for several years.

I began to worry about the money Joe and other patients were spending and I changed the algae preparation to another company's. Joe continued to visit and basically remained well until, a few months later, we noted a disturbing trend. His blood pressure had begun to rise. We attributed it at that time to an increase in the tension at work and to the fact that he had begun eating a little more widely. Joe then made an extra effort to improve his diet, but over time this had little effect on his blood pressure. After his pressure had risen to an unsafe level, I prescribed medication. For several years he continued on the medication.

The alternative product to which I switched him after stopping the SBGA also contained blue green algae. I thought it would work equally well or better because it contained flower pollen and a few other ingredients which I thought would be better balanced. Joe continued on his diet and kept taking this new product and the medication for many years.

A few months ago, in 1995, I was re-introduced to SBGA. I asked Joe to stop taking the other product and restart SBGA. To my surprise, his blood pressure slowly began to fall. He is now coming off his medication.

Encouraged by Joe's results, I began using SBGA with a number of other hypertensive patients, with similar results. At the same time, I began recommending the algae to patients who had a number of other conditions.

For people who are cold, weak and depleted, the algae seems to be producing an effect which is tonifying, building energy, helping to relieve depression and lift the spirits.

For the patients who seem initially obese, arthritic, full of mucous or fat, the SBGA seems to release blocked energy and facilitate cleaning up the excess by producing cleansing reactions, followed by increased well-being and more energy. Impressed, I began wondering about the algae from a more scientific perspective.

A More Scientific Perspective

There is no fossil evidence for the algae because it is so small as to have left no fossil trail. However, the assumption is that it evolved at a time in the earth's history when there was little oxygen in the atmosphere and that it, and other early plant forms, were responsible for the production of our atmospheric oxygen.

The algae is a single celled organism that exists without the presence of a nucleus, a characteristic that it shares with other oxygen involved cells like red blood cells. These small life forms reproduce asexually, that is, by simple cell division. They tend to cluster together to form strands of fifty to two hundred algae cells. Similarly, the strands of cells cluster together to form small communities, which float, linked together. These are the algae which are harvested for consumption.

There are two other types of algae cells. One is the cell line responsible for the next year's algae bloom. Found more in the autumn, they sink to the bottom of the lake to wait for spring. The other of these cell lines produces altered cells which are able to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere in a process similar to that of legumes. The nitrogen, which is then `fixed', is available for use by all the algae cells for reproduction and growth. The minerals required for plant growth come from a volcanic eruption some fifteen thousand years ago, loading about fifteen feet of soluble mineral rich ash onto the surrounding landscape. Mountain streams bring fresh minerals and add these to a lakebed already rich with prior deposits.

Klamath Lake, the source of Super Blue Green Algae, is nestled under the peak of Mt. Shasta in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. It is a twenty five mile long body of water, surrounded by national forests. Largely free of agriculture and industry, the water is of a very high degree of purity. The lake is about forty feet deep in places but most of the lake's depth has been filled by organic components and ash. The algae grows under the surface of the water.

Through the course of the seasons, the lake and its algae go through some quite interesting biological changes. The lake is frozen in the winter, so growth is suspended. The winter pH is about 7.0 (neutral). In the summer during the day, the algae, with its very high chlorophyll content, is extremely active. Using dissolved carbon dioxide, sunlight and minerals as raw material, the algae grow and produce oxygen. The algae raise the oxygen content of the lake to a very high level. By midsummer, the lake water becomes quite alkaline, sometimes reaching a pH as high as 11.

As the sun sets each day, the algae uses oxygen for its metabolism. During the night, the oxygen content of the lake drops, the carbon dioxide content rises, and the lake becomes slightly more acidic. Both the lake and the algae then have a breathing cycle which takes place during the course of the day and also through the cycle of the year. The algae can exist in a relatively anaerobic environment for a brief time before the sun rises. But the sun and plant, working together, soon produce a marked excess of oxygen.

The Connection To Cancer Cells?

When I reflect on my experiences and ask myself if I can see a connection between the algae and cancer cells, I conclude that I can not. The following is a list of some of the differences that I find.

- SBGA is a food and oxygen producer. Cancer is more like a parasite which uses the energy of its host.

- SBGA possesses no nucleus. Most cancer cells have a very large nucleus.

- SBGA is capable of living harmoniously with its natural environment and has clone so over a long period of time with no human intervention required. (No nutrients are added to the lake to make the algae grow.) By contrast, the cancer cells sometimes kill their host.

- The algae cell forms tend to be regular. Cancer cells often have cellular forms which are highly irregular.

- SBGA cells are similar to red blood cells which also have no nuclei. The SBGA has a very high chlorophyll content, the structure of which is identical to the structure of the heme molecule of hemoglobin. The only difference is that chlorophyll contains magnesium at its core while the heme contains iron. Both handle oxygen. No cancer cell produces oxygen.

- The algae cell is a food producer and creates, (roughly in equal proportions), essential amino acids similar to those found in human protein and easily digestible carbohydrates. It also contain vitamins -- notably B(12) and carotenoids.

- Cancer cells produce a number of products which are generally quite toxic to their host. There is no report of the algae, which is used for SBGA, ever producing toxins.

- The algae tends to produce an alkaline condition in the lake as it grows. Cancer usually produces an acid condition in its host.

An Acidic Response

The question of SBGA producing an acidic response, when eaten, is not so clear. It is very difficult to determine acid/alkaline conditions in the human body by simple clinical means. In order to make this determination accurate, one has to take a sample of arterial blood. This is not easy or practical in most situations. One is then left with determinations of the pH of the urine and saliva. The urine is unreliable because the kidneys have the capacity to make the urine acid or alkaline depending on the body's need for balance. The saliva is probably much more accurate. Using nitrazine paper, (similar to litmus), the pH of the saliva can be easily obtained. Saliva from healthy people is neutral or a little alkaline. Most people, however, have quite acidic saliva. It seems that the more ill people are, the more acidic the saliva becomes. I have noticed that people who are using SBGA, who previously had an acidic condition, tend to develop a more alkaline saliva. Could it be that the algae is helping to make their condition more alkaline?

Perhaps the most important difference between the algae and cancer is that the algae is anabolic. This means that it is always building, creating, and thus giving food and oxygen for our use. By contrast, cancer cells are always catabolic. Using the energy of the host, they tend to break down reserves of muscle and of fat; drawing from them for their own use.

A person eating macrobiotically likely consumes somewhere between twenty five and forty grams of protein per day. SBGA is quite low in oil but has roughly equal proportions of protein and carbohydrate. Eating the usual amount of SBGA per day will add about two grams of algae to the diet. This is roughly 1 to 1.5 grams of protein. This represents a modest amount of protein.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the algae, a free-living, whole, organic, wild, anabolic, creative, communal, and cooperative life form, likely producing either a neutral or slightly acid reaction when eaten, (although some authors on Oriental medicine have noted an alkalinizing influence), containing a good blend of essential amino acids, carbohydrate, B(12) and minerals, seems a very safe and desirable addition to our diet.

I therefore have a very different picture of the algae from that of Mr. Aihara. In this view, the algae seems unlikely to resemble cancer in any way. My intention is to continue using the algae myself and recommending its use to my family and patients and observing how it affects us. Perhaps in time I will have more observations to offer.

George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation.

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By Christopher H. Hassell

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