Can spirulina cause cancer?

19th June 2015
Beryl Shuttleworth
2 Responses

One of my customers gave me a bit of a fright a few weeks back.  She called me to ask if I knew that Spirulina caused liver cancer. And if I did, why was I using it in so many of our products?

I’m not the type of person who assumes that I know everything, so I told her that I would investigate this and get back to her.

This is my reply:

In May 1999, Health Canada warned consumers about the possibility of toxic molecules called microcystins occurring in Blue Green Algae. These molecules accumulate in the liver and can cause a large amount of liver damage.

A huge study was launched, where all of the products containing Blue Green Algae were tested for the presence of these molecules. To understand the results of this testing, you need to understand that there are many species of Blue Green Algae (BGA). For simplicity’s sake, they were divided into two groups – Spirulina BGA and Non-Spirulina BGA.

Microcystins were found in the Non-Spirulina BGA (particularly a species called A. flos-aquae). Absolutely no microcystins were found in the Spirulina BGA. Ever.

Health Canada found that the Spirulina group of BGA was completely safe to consume.

Here at The Herbal Horse & Pet, we use only pure Spirulina, tested to EU standards. I am hugely relieved to know this for sure. For a few moments, I was very worried.

While I’m at it, I might as well explain why I did choose Spirulina as an ingredient in our products (thanks to for most of these references):

  1. Arthrospira platensis (the spirulina we use) actually protects the liver. Following a study conducted on 60 patients presenting with chronic diffuse disorders in the liver and on 70 experimental animals, Gorban’ et al. have found that Spirulina administration prevented the transformation of chronic hepatitis into hepatic cirrhosis. This is just one study – I have listed several more similar studies below – 7 to 14.
  2. This form of Spirulina also has anti-tumour properties. The studies that show this are listed below – 15 – 19.
  3. Anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal activity has also been shown – studies 20 – 38.

There are more health benefits, not least being the array of amino acids which Spirulina provides. But I’m not going to list any more.

Needless to say, I was hugely relieved that I wasn’t poisoning anyone’s animals, but rather providing a host of positive benefits. Phew.


  1. Health Canada announces results of blue-green algal products testing—only Spirulina found Microcystin-free. Health Canada news release, Sept 17, 1999.
  2. Gilroy GJ and others. Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements. Environmental Health Perspectives 108:435-439, 2000.
  3. Dillon JC, Phuc AP, Dubacq JP Nutritional value of the alga spirulina. World Rev Nutr Diet. 1995;77:32-46.
  4. Gilroy DJ, Kauffman KW, Hall RA, et al. Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements. Environ Health Perspect. 2000;108:435-439.
  5. T. Hirahashi, M. Matsumoto, K. Hazeki, Y. Saeki, M. Ui, and T. Seya, “Activation of the human innate immune system by Spirulina: augmentation of interferon production and NK cytotoxicity by oral administration of hot water extract of Spirulina platensis,” International Immunopharmacology, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 423-434, 2002.
  6. E. M. Gorban’, M. A. Orynchak, N. G. Virstiuk, L. P. Kuprash, T. M. Panteleimonova, and L. B. Sharabura, “Clinical and experimental study of spirulina efficacy in chronic diffuse liver diseases,” Likars’ka Sprava, no. 6, pp. 89-93, 2000.
  7. N. Paniagua-Castro, G. Escalona-Cardoso, D. Hernández-Navarro, R. Pérez-Pastén, and G. Chamorro-Cevallos, “Spirulina (Arthrospira) protects against cadmium-induced teratogenic damage in mice,”Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 398-404, 2011.
  8. A. Kuhad, N. Tirkey, S. Pilkhwal, and K. Chopra, “Effect of Spirulina, a blue green algae, on gentamicin-induced oxidative stress and renal dysfunction in rats,” Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 121-128, 2006.
  9. J. L. Blé-Castillo, A. Rodríguez-Hernández, R. Miranda-Zamora, M. A. Juárez-Oropeza, and J. C. Díaz-Zagoya, “Arthrospira maxima prevents the acute fatty liver induced by the administration of simvastatin, ethanol and a hypercholesterolemic diet to mice,” Life Sciences, vol. 70, no. 22, pp. 2665-2673, 2002.
  10. S. K. Saha, M. Misbahuddin, R. Khatun, and I. R. Mamun, “Effect of hexane extract of spirulina in the removal of arsenic from isolated liver tissues of rat,” Mymensingh Medical Journal, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 191-195, 2005.
  11. S. Ray, K. Roy, and C. Sengupta, “In vitro evaluation of antiperoxidative potential of water extract ofSpirulina platensis (blue green algae) on cyclophosphamide-induced lipid peroxidation,” Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, vol. 69, no. 2, pp. 190-196, 2007.
  12. S. M. Farooq, D. Asokan, R. Sakthivel, P. Kalaiselvi, and P. Varalakshmi, “Salubrious effect of C-phycocyanin against oxalate-mediated renal cell injury,” Clinica Chimica Acta, vol. 348, no. 1-2, pp. 199-205, 2004.
  13. R. Rodríguez-Sánchez, R. Ortiz-Butrón, V. Blas-Valdivia, A. Hernández-García, and E. Cano-Europa, “Phycobiliproteins or C-phycocyanin of Arthrospira (Spirulina) maxima protect against HgCl2-caused oxidative stress and renal damage,” Food Chemistry, vol. 135, no. 4, pp. 2359-2365, 2012.
  14. G. E. El-Desoky, S. A. Bashandy, I. M. Alhazza, Z. A. Al-Othman, M. A. M. Aboul-Soud, and K. Yusuf, “Improvement of mercuric chloride-induced testis injuries and sperm quality deteriorations bySpirulina platensis in rats,” PLoS ONE, vol. 8, no. 3, 2013.
  15. V. A. Privalov, A. V. Lappa, O. V. Seliverstov et al., “Clinical trials of a new chlorin photosensitizer for photodynamic therapy of malignant tumors,” in Optical Methods for Tumor Treatment and Detection: Mechanisms and Techniques in Photodynamic Therapy XI, T. J. Dougherty, Ed., vol. 4612 of Proceedings of SPIE, pp. 178-189, January 2002.
  16. Y. Akao, T. Ebihara, H. Masuda et al., “Enhancement of antitumor natural killer cell activation by orally administered Spirulina extract in mice,” Cancer Science, vol. 100, no. 8, pp. 1494-1501, 2009.
  17. Y. Kawanishi, A. Tominaga, H. Okuyama et al., “Regulatory effects of Spirulina complex polysaccharides on growth of murine RSV-M glioma cells through Toll-like receptor-4,” Microbiology and Immunology, vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 63-73, 2013.
  18. M. L. Parages, R. M. Rico, R. T. Abdala-Díaz, M. Chabrillón, T. G. Sotiroudis, and C. Jiménez, “Acidic polysaccharides of Arthrospira (Spirulina) platensis induce the synthesis of TNF-α in RAW macrophages,” Journal of Applied Phycology, vol. 24, pp. 1537-1546, 2012.
  19. B. Li, X. Zhang, M. Gao, and X. Chu, “Effects of CD59 on antitumoral activities of phycocyanin fromSpirulina platensis,” Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, vol. 59, no. 10, pp. 551-560, 2005.
  20. L. P. Blinkova, O. B. Gorobets, and A. P. Baturo, “Biological activity of Spirulina,” Zhurnal Mikrobiologii Epidemiologii i Immunobiologii, no. 2, pp. 114-118, 2001. T. Hayashi, K. Hayashi, M. Maeda, and I. Kojima, “Calcium spirulan, an inhibitor of enveloped virus replication, from a blue-green alga Spirulina platensis,” Journal of Natural Products, vol. 59, no. 1, pp. 83-87, 1996.
  21. S. Rechter, T. König, S. Auerochs et al., “Antiviral activity of Arthrospira-derived spirulan-like substances,” Antiviral Research, vol. 72, no. 3, pp. 197-206, 2006.
  22. S. M. Abdo, M. H. Hetta, W. M. El-Senousy, R. A. Salah El Din, and G. H. Ali, “Antiviral activity of freshwater algae,” Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 21-25, 2012. S. Ayehunie, A. Belay, T. W. Baba, and R. M. Ruprecht, “Inhibition of HIV-1 replication by an aqueous extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis),” Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 7-12, 1998.
  23. Z. Khan, P. Bhadouria, and P. S. Bisen, “Nutritional and therapeutic potential of Spirulina,” Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, vol. 6, no. 5, pp. 373-379, 2005.
  24. J. Balzarini, “Carbohydrate-binding agents: a potential future cornerstone for the chemotherapy of enveloped viruses?” Antiviral Chemistry and Chemotherapy, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 1-11, 2007.
  25. J. Teas, J. R. Hebert, J. H. Fitton, and P. V. Zimba, “Algae-a poor man’s HAART?” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 62, no. 4, pp. 507-510, 2004. M. Sharaf, A. Amara, A. Aboul-Enein et al., “Molecular authentication and characterization of the antiherpetic activity of the cyanobacterium Arthrospira fusiformis,” Die Pharmazie, vol. 65, no. 2, pp. 132-136, 2010.
  26. A. Hernández-Corona, I. Nieves, M. Meckes, G. Chamorro, and B. L. Barron, “Antiviral activity ofSpirulina maxima against herpes simplex virus type 2,” Antiviral Research, vol. 56, no. 3, pp. 279-285, 2002.
  27. E. A. Shalaby, S. M. M. Shanab, and V. Singh, “Salt stress enhancement of antioxidant and antiviral efficiency of Spirulina platensis,” Journal of Medicinal Plant Research, vol. 4, no. 24, pp. 2622-2632, 2010.
  28. M. A. Quereshi, R. A. Ali, and R. Hunter, “Immuno-modulatory effects of Spirulina platensissupplementation in chickens,” in Proceedings of the 44th Western Poultry Disease Conference, pp. 117-121, Sacramento, Calif, USA, 1995.
  29. F. Kokou, P. Makridis, M. Kentouri, and P. Divanach, “Antibacterial activity in microalgae cultures,”Aquaculture Research, vol. 43, no. 10, pp. 1520-1527, 2012.
  30. H. M. Najdenski, L. G. Gigova, I. I. Iliev et al., “Antibacterial and antifungal activities of selected microalgae and cyanobacteria,” International Journal of Food Science and Technology, 2013.
  31. D. V. L. Sarada, C. S. Kumar, and R. Rengasamy, “Purified C-phycocyanin from Spirulina platensis(Nordstedt) Geitler: a novel and potent agent against drug resistant bacteria,” World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 779-783, 2011.
  32. A. Duda-Chodak, “Impact of water extract of Spirulina (WES) on bacteria, yeasts and molds,” ACTA Scientiarum Polonorum Technologia Alimentaria, vol. 12, pp. 33-39, 2013.
  33. J. Sivakumar and P. Santhanam, “Antipathogenic activity of Spirulina powder,” Recent Research in Science and Technology, vol. 3, no. 4, pp. 158-161, 2011.
  34. M. Soltani, A.-R. Khosravi, F. Asadi, and H. Shokri, “Evaluation of protective efficacy of Spirulina platensis in Balb/C mice with candidiasis,” Journal of Medical Mycology, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 329-334, 2012.
  35. M. Moraes de Souza, L. Prietto, A. C. Ribeiro, T. Denardi de Souza, and E. Badiale-Furlong, “Assessment of the antifungal activity of Spirulina platensis phenolic extract against Aspergillus flavus,”Ciencia e Agrotecnologia, vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 1050-1058, 2011.
  36. N. Akhtar, M. M. Ahmed, N. Sarker, K. R. Mahbub, and M. A. Sarker, “Growth response of Spirulina platensis in papaya skin extract and antimicrobial activities of Spirulina extracts in different culture media,” Bangladesh Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research, vol. 47, no. 2, pp. 147-152, 2012.
  37. O. B. Gorobets, L. P. Blinkova, and A. P. Baturo, “Stimulating and inhibiting effect of Spirulina platensison microorganisms,” Zhurnal Mikrobiologii Epidemiologii i Immunobiologii, no. 6, pp. 20-24, 2001.
  38. L. Varga, J. Szigeti, R. Kovács, T. Földes, and S. Buti, “Influence of a Spirulina platensis biomass on the microflora of fermented ABT milks during storage (R1),” Journal of Dairy Science, vol. 85, no. 5, pp. 1031-1038, 2002.


2 Responses

  1. That’s so informative beryl – thank you. There seem to be so many rumors around these days you don’t know what to believe. Your research convinced me – but I would be lying if I told you I have understood all of it 🙂

    Thanks for your great products

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