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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

    


 

And a Side of Algae, Please

Blue-green plant may boost immune system

By Anne Burke
HealthScout Reporter

http://healingwell.subportal.com/

MONDAY, Dec. 11 (HealthScout) -- A dose of algae may be good for what ails you.

Laboratory tests at the University of California, Davis, suggest that spirulina -- a blue-green algae considered to be a nutrient-rich food supplement -- may boost the immune system.

However, even the lead researcher on this project cautions not to jump to conclusions.

Adding spirulina to cultured immune system cells significantly increases the production of infection-fighting proteins known as cytokines, say researchers at the university's medical school.

"Cytokines are good because they stimulate cells that target certain pathogens," or disease-causing organisms, says Judy Van de Water, an associate professor of rheumatology, allergy and clinical immunology at UC Davis.

"The more of those cells you have, the more attack forces you have, she says. "It's like building up your army."

 


Spirulina is packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Grown naturally in lakes with high pH, or acidic, levels or harvested commercially from ponds, spirulina has been used as a food supplement for more than 20 years.

Extensive studies of its effect on humans have not been conducted, but research so far suggests that spirulina may have a good effect on cholesterol and may help obese people lose weight. Research on animals indicates that spirulina inhibits allergic reactions and increases antibody responses and the activity of cells that destroy infected and cancerous cells.

In the latest study, researchers found that spirulina significantly stimulated the cytokine interferon-g and moderately stimulated two other cytokines, interleukin-4 and interleukin-1b. Interferons interfere with the ability of viruses to reproduce, and interleukins stimulate the growth and activities of certain white blood cells.

In their study, the researchers mixed powdered spirulina with blood cells from 12 healthy volunteers. They added phytohemagglutanin, a substance that stimulates lymphoid cells, to half of the cell cultures to see how spirulina effects the immune system at rest and when mounting an allergic response. The cytokine levels were measured after 72 hours.

The results indicate that spirulina may protect against certain pathogens and parasites and may stimulate inflammation, the body's natural response to infection and trauma, the researchers say. Their findings appears in the current issue of the quarterly Journal of Medicinal Food.

Earthrise Nutritionals Inc., the company that teamed up with the National Institutes of Health to fund the California study, touts spirulina as a "superfood" that can enhance immune systems and T-cell counts. T-cells are a specific type of infection-fighting white blood cell.

Spirulina has helped child victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia and has produced favorable results in people with AIDS and HIV, the company claims.

But Van de Water urges healthy skepticism about the results of her study and food supplements generally.

 


"These kinds of research studies are of interest," she says, "but they're by no means definitive as to what would happen" in the human body.

"My personal view is that we should be very cautious about all these [food supplements] and the broad claims they make," she says.

Charles Fetrow, a pharmacist and co-author of The Complete Guide to Herbal Medicines, agrees.

"This reminds me of the echinacea story," Fetrow says of the coneflower considered a medicinal herb by many. "There were a lot of different in vitro studies, and it looked very good in the petri dish, but two recent trials failed to find any value for echinacea in reducing the incidence of upper respiratory infections."

Van de Water says she believes it's fine for people to take spirulina -- as long as they don't expect miracles and don't have an inflammatory disease. It may not do any good, but it probably won't do any harm, either, she says.

Fetrow's not so sure. While spirulina is packed with wonderful proteins, vitamins and minerals, it tends to take on the composition of its environment, he says. This means that it occasionally has been found to contain toxins -- mercury and radionuclides among them, Fetrow says.

What To Do

Spirulina supporters and skeptics abound. To read one view on the role of spirulina in weight loss, visit the Food and Drug Administration online. For further discussion of this popular algae, check out the WellnessWeb or the Earthrise Web site.