Klamath Lake Blue Green Algae — The Ultimate Brain Food

Kirsten Brooks—10/2009
New clinical studies demonstrate mood enhancement, neuro-modulation and anti-inflammatory benefits from a Klamath Lake algae extract.

KLAMATH BLUE GREEN ALGAE from Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon, USA is a wild green food which has long been valued for its broad range of bioavailable nutrients and other molecules. Along with general health benefits, this microalgae has been associated with its positive effects upon mental energy, attention, mood and anxiety which until now have been largely anecdotal. As a Nutritionist who has used Klamath blue green algae herself and on patients for a number of years, I have explored the research on the many health benefits of this green food. I would like to draw other practitioners' attention to the clinical data that now exists on Klamath blue green algae's unique components which suggests it may be one of nature's most potent brain and mood foods.

Fig 1: Klamath Lake                         


Historical Usage of Klamath Blue Green Algae

First a little background: Algae were the first life form on the planet and the first to achieve photosynthesis with the by-product of oxygen; setting the stage for life for all organisms. Even now, algae are still responsible for up to 90% of all photosynthesis on earth.There are over 20,000 species, ranging from unicellular to multicellular organisms such as the seaweeds – the largest and the most complex group of all. Algae as a food supplement have been used by people for thousands of years. Early civilizations including the Aztecs and African tribes used blue green algae as an additional source of protein.

Klamath Blue Green Algae as a Nutrient Dense Green Food

Klamath Blue Green Algae (Aphanizomenon Flos-Aquae or AFA) is one of the few edible microalgae, and differs from others as it grows wild in an optimal mineral-rich environment which allows it to develop a unique nutritional profile. Klamath Blue Green is found growing wild in mineral-rich Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon in North America. The considerable nutrient-contents of the lake available to the algae occurred by a volcanic eruption at about the same time as the lake's formation. In this lake there is enough AFA to help nourish almost all the inhabitants of the Western hemisphere. In fact if you were to empty the lake of all of its algae, it would be able to regenerate itself within a few days; AFA is therefore environmentally sustainable.

Fig 2: Aphanizomenon Flos-Aquae                                 


Historical Usage of Klamath Blue Green Algae

As a single cell form, it is about 98% absorbable, comparing favourably to synthetic vitamin and mineral supplements. Klamath algae contains a full spectrum of natural antioxidants, organic minerals and trace elements, plus all vitamins, all amino acids (60% protein- higher levels than meat and containing all 8 essential amino acids), plus essential fats and enzymes. In particular, it contains a high content of pro-vitamin A as beta-carotene, a high content of B vitamins, 100% of RDA of vitamin K per gram, plus over 50 minerals and a complete spectrum of the rarer trace elements including organic fluorine and vanadium, which contributes to the normalization of blood sugar control, whose imbalance can promote some forms of depression. Because the minerals are organic and naturally chelated, they are easily assimilable. Klamath blue green algae also contains all 15 carotenoids – the family of natural fat-soluble pigments which are powerful antioxidants.  And unlike isolated betacarotene which can promote oxidation,[1] this wider spectrum of carotenoids has a significant antioxidant capacity. It is also one of the original sources of Omega 3 with a balanced proportion with Omega 6 (3:1) and has been shown to decrease plasma levels of arachidonic acid and therefore has anti-inflammatory properties.[2] All these nutrients explain in part its value to the nervous system – for example the B vitamins and magnesium are important for stress tolerance and for its proper functioning, the amino acids are building blocks for neurotransmitter production and antioxidants and Omega 3 are needed for healthy neurons.

Chlorophyll and Detoxification

Klamath blue green algae is not only supplemented for its nutritional content but is also used for detoxification. It contains a high quantity of chlorophyll and once ingested, chlorophyll has been shown to be a powerful antioxidant, a natural antiseptic, and pH balancer. It also possesses anti-tumour abilities[3] and can bind to environmental chemicals, preventing them from attaching to DNA. Given that each year, tonnes of chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogens are released into the atmosphere and can accumulate in our tissues, including our nervous system, it may be prudent to ingest something that can harmlessly bind with them to promote excretion. Like chlorella, Klamath blue green algae can chelate toxins and is often used as part of a protocol for heavy metal detoxification. For example, it is routinely used on new patients at the Hippocrates Institute, USA for this very reason.

In my practice, I have observed that Klamath blue green algae provides many potential health benefits in terms of energy, mood, and relief from chronic fatigue, arthritis, PMS, menopausal symptoms and more. In particular, many practitioners use it to support optimal nervous system function, such as Dr Gabriel Cousins who uses it for Alzheimer's and memory loss. In Germany it has been used for children with ADHD in place of Ritalin. Nevertheless, for the algae to be taken more seriously, its benefits have needed to be substantiated with more detailed clinical research. More recently, Dr Stefano Scoglio of Nutritherapy Research Centre, a research institute affiliated with the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Urbino, Italy has been coordinating laboratory and clinical studies about Klamath Algae. In particular, his clinical studies have demonstrated its ability to provide significant relief from mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, as well as alleviate symptoms of the menopause, which I will outline in more detail.

Klamath Blue Green Algae's Affinity with the Brain and Nervous System

First I'd like to explore the two unique ingredients which explain Klamath blue green algae's particular value as a brain supporting supplement. As well as the broad range of nutrients mentioned, AFA is a valuable source of phenylethylamine (PEA) – a natural endogenous amphetamine which is able to modulate mood. PEA is known as the 'love molecule' because it increases the natural endorphins usually produced when we're in love or during exercise. PEA works by activating the neurotransmission of dopamine and other catecholamines in the brain.[4] Unlike synthetic amphetamines, which are not easily metabolized and continue over-activating the nervous system to the point of damage,[5] PEA is considered a natural neuro-modulator, which can be used according to our homeostatic needs and is quickly eliminated when it is no longer required. This is the reason that PEA can be safely taken indefinitely by Parkinson's or Alzheimer's patients, where it is not just a case of poor metabolism of neurotransmitters but also low production of neurotransmitters due to the degeneration of neurons. The role of dopamine has been implicated in Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease; Parkinson's patients have in fact found to be PEA deficient.[6]

Serotonin pathway

L-tryptophan
     :
5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP)
     :
Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine)

Catecholamine pathway

L-phenylalanine
     :
L-tyrosine
     :
L-dopa (dihydroxyphenylalamine)
     :
dopamine
     :
noradrenalin (norepinephrine)
     :
adrenalin (epinephrine)


Oral intake of PEA has been shown to stimulate concentration, provide mental energy and increase libido, through its effect on the dopaminergic cascade, and it can also reduce pain by increasing production of pain killing endorphins. Due to its effect on serotonin, it can also reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally PEA is involved in the response to stress of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) and therefore it has a general anti-stress effect.[7]

Klamath Blue Green Algae and MAO-B inhibition

AFA is not the only food to contain PEA, as it is present in many well known foods and as it is also a very small molecule, it can easily pass through the intestinal membrane and the blood-brain barrier. However when PEA is ingested, it is usually broken down by specific enzymes known as monoaminoxidase-B (or MAO-B) within the liver and intestines, rendering it ineffective. But the PEA in Klamath Blue Green Algae is naturally protected from this phenomenon by powerful phyco (algae) antioxidants. These function as natural MAO-B inhibitors which protect the PEA allowing it to enter the brain to carry out its benefits. The MAO-B inhibitors within Klamin have a similar inhibitory power comparable to that of the drug segeliline, used in Parkinson's disease, but without the side effects. The drug segeliline is an irreversible MAO-B inhibitor which destroys the enzymes, whilst natural inhibitors are reversible and only slow down their action.

Not only do these natural antioxidants – known as AFA phycocyanins – protect the PEA, but they also provide a significant degree of neuroprotection. This is important because oxidative damage caused by emotional, nutritional and environmental stress is at the root of the progressive development of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and are also a feature of mood disorders such as depression.[8] Also as we age, dopamine concentrations in our bodies decreases 12% every 10 years after age 45, whilst MAO-B enzyme activity on the hypothalamus of individuals over 50 years and older is about 2.5 greater than younger individuals.[9]

Dr Scoglio's Clinical Studies upon Menopause Symptoms

In his clinical studies, Dr Scoglio used a concentrated extract of Klamath algae known as Klamin which contains approximately 15mg for gram of PEA. Dr Scoglio has carried out a study, to be published in Gynecological Endocrinology, upon 20 women with typical menopausal symptoms such as mood swings, depression, anxiety and lack of self-esteem.[10] The subjects took 2 tablets a day of Klamin for 2 months.

There were statistically significant results, with improvements ranging from 30% to 40% in the specific measuring scales for depression, anxiety and self-esteem. Furthermore, they all reported a significant increase of their general well-being and energy levels. As oestrogen levels fall at the menopause there is a parallel change in the level of neurotransmitters (dopamine and serotonin decrease, whilst noradrenaline increase) which causes many of the menopausal symptoms. The subsequent mood disorders, memory loss and reduced libido are all linked to the fall in dopamine.[11]

On Depressive Symptoms

In another study with the Department of Psychiatry, University of San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, 20 patients with major depression who were using anti-depressant medications with limited results were administered 2 tablets of Klamin a day for a month. The results were very encouraging with statistically significant improvements on the specific depression scales. Furthermore, in spite of the increase in lipoperoxidation – oxidation of our fatty tissues – generated by the use of drugs, the patients using the Klamin(r) based product had a decreased level of lipoperoxidation (-22% plasma MDA reduction) due to its antioxidant protection. A further study at the Oncological Centre in Italy  on 18 patients with terminal cancer requiring palliative therapies who were no longer on chemotherapy also had significant improvements in depression, anxiety and fatigue after taking 2 tablets of Klamin a day for two months.[12]

Dr Scoglio has also carried out a small study on vegan subjects to determine the bioavailability of the vitamin B12 contained in Klamin. Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient needed for a healthy nervous system; levels tend to drop after the age of 50. Although animal products are normally considered to be the only reliable source of vitamin B12, Klamin may contain a utilizable source because there was an increase in blood levels of B12 and decrease in homocysteine in the majority of participants.

Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Properties of Klamath Blue Green Algae

As well as providing a rich natural source of PEA, Klamath blue green algae contains the aforementioned AFA phycocyanins which gives the algae its blue pigmentation. Phycocyanins from Spirulina, have been shown, in many animal models, to have strong antioxidant action. In vitro studies on lipoperoxidation which have compared Spirulina's phycocyanins with AFA –phycocyanins have shown that the latter can inhibit lipoperoxidation more effectively – typically by 50% at very low doses.[13]

In vivo studies in humans have showed that the level of MDA (Malonyldialdehyde), a byproduct of lipoperoxidation (LPO), has a direct link to the health of the cardiovascular system, the bones, joints, eye and the nervous system. A reduction of LPO may also be another contribution to the neurological protection of Klamin, since those with depressive symptoms tend to have higher rates of LPO and Klamin has been shown to successfully reduce MDA in depressive subjects.[14] Moreover, AFA phycocyanins also function as COX-2 inhibitors, similar to non steroidal anti-inflammatories, but without the side-effects. Since low grade inflammation is now associated with most health conditions, especially to those of the nervous system, this may be another reason for its benefits. For instance, AFA has been shown to block the production of the inflammatory agent leukotriene B4, linked to migraines and headaches.[15]

A recent study has also shown that Klamin increases the levels of the body's own endogenous antioxidants (vitamin A, vitamin E, and carotenes) by reducing the oxidative stress which contributes to health problems.[16] As well as AFA phycocyanins, Klamin also contains all carotenoids, including alpha and beta-carotene, xanthophylls such as lutein and lycopene and canthaxanthin which have been shown to have powerful protection against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis.[17]

Klamath Blue Green Algae Potential Benefits to ADHD and Autism

Another area where Klamath Blue Green Algae may prove beneficial is to children with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, as it has been found that children diagnosed with this condition are significantly deficient in PEA.[18] In fact, Ritalin increases production of endogenous PEA, but with side effects which may include neuronal damage. Although many children with both ADHD have appeared to considerably benefit from AFA, clinical studies are warranted to verify this. In conclusion, Klamath Blue Green Algae provides a broad range of bioavailable nutrients including chlorophyll to chelate heavy metals and other toxins, as well as key molecules such as PEA and AFA phycocyanins which have been shown to provide particular support to the nervous system. AFA also provides significant antioxidant protection and has a balancing effect on neurotransmitters especially dopamine, helping to relieve stress by its action on the HPA axis and is associated with improved mood and concentration as shown in clinical studies.

 

References

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