What do you think of when you think of algae? If you're like most of us, you probably don't think about eating it. But check out the shelves of a health food store, and you're going to find a product called spirulina, a form of algae called cyanobacterium that's found in lakes, ponds and other bodies of freshwater. It's being touted as the greatest superfood ever that cures just about everything you can name. It's even been promoted as the panacea that will end world hunger, a hardy, sustainable food source that flourishes in diverse conditions.
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It's actually been around for centuries. It was consumed by the Aztecs who harvested it from Lake Texcoco in central Mexico. It's a foodstuff in west central Africa too, where spirulina harvested from Lake Chad in made into edible cakes. But its popularity as a dietary supplement actually begin in the 1970s.
When you check out those health food shelves, you'll find it primarily in the form of dark green tablets or powder, the latter usually added to smoothies or juices. And it is rich in nutrients. Dried spirulina is about 60 percent protein—and that's a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids, although lacking certain ones in the same quantity as meat, eggs or milk. It also contains vitamins A, C and E and some B vitamins, various minerals such as potassium, iron, calcium, copper and zinc, and carotenoids like beta-carotene.
Those are all known to have positive impacts on human health. Those who promote it swear it boosts their immune system, wards off colds, blocks allergies, treats anxiety and depression, combats fatigue, improves memory, ameliorates premenstrual syndrome, improves digestion, speeds weight loss, heals wounds—and maybe it can make you fly too!
Some preliminary studies have looked into the potential impact of spirulina on conditions such as HIV, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer's and even Lou Gehrig's disease. So far most have been inconclusive although some have shown promising results.
"Test tube and animal studies suggest spirulina may boost the immune system, help protect against allergic reactions, and have antiviral and anticancer properties," says the University of Maryland Medical Center. "However, there is no proof that spirulina has these, or any, benefits in people. More research is needed."
"A number of animal and test tube studies suggest that spirulina increases production of antibodies, infection-fighting proteins and other cells that improve immunity and help ward off infection and chronic illnesses such as cancer," it says. "However, it has not been tested in people."
It also says that test-tube studies have shown some action against herpes, flu and HIV viruses, as well as oral cancer, and may protect against liver damage in people with chronic hepatitis. However it warns that those studies are preliminary as well. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also notes some limited studies that show encouraging results.
"An early study shows that taking 1.6 grams of a blue-green algae product by mouth daily for 8 weeks lowers anxiety and depression in women with menopause," says the NIH. "Early research findings show that taking 1 gram of spirulina blue-green algae daily by mouth for 12 months reduces oral leukoplakia in people who chew tobacco."
The NIH mentions other limited studies that show it has relieved allergy symptoms in adults, can protect people living in areas with high arsenic content in their water and that it appeared to increase stamina in a study of nine men who took it daily for a month. But it says that studies on its effectiveness against hepatitis and high cholesterol have been inconsistent and concluded in all these cases that there was "insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness."
One other drawback of spirulina supplements is that, to get the same amount of nutrients you would from foods like nuts, legumes, whole grains and meats, you have to consume a very large amount. And while it is safe even in very high doses and there are no known adverse reactions to spirulina itself with the exception of those with autoimmune disorders and one rare metabolic condition, it can cause adverse effects due to contamination.
“Some spirulina supplements have been found to be contaminated with microcystins, very toxic compounds not produced by spirulina but by related algae that can grow with it,” Dr. Randy Baker of the Pacific Center for Integral Health, who has taken spirulina for more than 25 years, told the Santa Cruz Good Times. "Some may be contaminated with lead, mercury and arsenic. Because spirulina can be a magnet for toxins, I am cautious about spirulina harvested from wild sources.”
But with no negative impacts for the ordinary person and the potential to boost health in so many areas—even if unproven so far—what do you have to lose by adding some of this superfood to your smoothie other than a few dollars?
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
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Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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