Concentrated Foods: Spirulina vs. Barley

By Mary-Ann Shearer


Spirulina algae growing wild on a saltwater pond.

What is Spirulina?

There appears to be a lot of confusion about this product. Some books (Chlorella by William H Lee & Michael Rosenbaum – edited by Richard Passwater) say that “spirulina is a multi-cell, spiral shaped plant that grows in salt water or brackish water” and Dr Michael Sharon in his book, ‘Complete Nutrition’ says, “spirulina is a blue-green single celled alga, thriving in warm alkaline lakes”.

Either way, I believe we need to look at the process of harvesting, drying and packaging. Then let’s look at the nutrient levels and any levels of toxic substances.

Harvesting and Processing Spirulina

Spirulina (and chlorella) are harvested in a variety of ways, some control the water quality, some don’t, some heat the product when drying, some don’t go over 40C. Some dry in an aerobic condition, which allows bacterial growth and some dry in an anaerobic environment that discourages bacterial growth.

This basic process is that the product is harvested from a water source, dried and then sold either as a powder or compressed into a tablet. Obviously if it is heated during the drying process, then enzyme and nutrient destruction will be extremely high.

Nutrition Content of Chlorella

There is not much available on the nutrient content of chlorella, except that they boast that the chlorophyll level is 5 times greater than spirulina.

Spirulina and Toxins

Spirulina contains 4 heavy metals that are toxic to the body. Click on the links below to find information about the risks associated with these toxins.

In an article titled “Blue green algae and human health”, under the search for harmful algae or spirulina, Dr Thomas Morris a medical epidemiologist says that there are three general categories of toxins in blue green algae (also known as spirulina) they are; neurotoxic (affecting the Central Nervous system & Brain), hepatoxic (affecting the liver) and cytotoxic (poisonous to most cells).

  • He claims there are 50 genera of freshwater blue green algae and about one third have been identified with toxin production.
  • Blue green algae (also known as cyanobacteria) and spirulina are thought to cause a wide range of symptoms in humans. Probably the most notable symptom and sign is abdominal pain with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, skin rashes and eye irritations can also occur. Contact dermatitis similar to a reaction to poison ivy may also occur.
  • The most dramatic documented event of human fatality from blue green algae occurred in Feb 1996 in Brazil, when 60 people died from kidney failure and 66 others where treated medically when they consumed water containing blue green algae. The culprit toxin in the algae was ‘microcystin’ a hepatoxin.

He ends the report with the following statement:

“ It should be noted that the cyanobacterial Spirulina is sold as a dietary supplement in the US markets, ostensibly as a diet aid. While Spirulina has not been implicated as a toxin producing blue green algae, the full understanding of it, how and when cyanobacteria are able to produce toxic compounds is far from complete. Of more compelling concern is that there is no standard for the harvesting of blue green algae, and Spirulina may be confused for or contaminated with a known toxin-producing cyanobacterium. In 2000, the Oregon State department of Health surveyed 87 commercially available products of blue green algae and found 85 (98%) contaminated with microcystin compounds.
Dietary supplements are exempt by law from Food and drug Administration (FDA) regulation.”

Another article titled “Spirulina: Health food or fraud?” Says the following,

“ Because it has considerable amount of Vitamin B12, spirulina is usually recommended to strict vegetarians who can’t get this vitamin from plant sources. But Dr. Varro Tyler, a world-renowned authority on herbs at Purdue University, said spirulina Vitamin B12 contents are due mainly to contamination with insect or animal fecal matter. This is not surprising since spirulina grows in open lakes and ponds and is not thoroughly washed before it’s dried.

In Health Schemes, Scams and Frauds, Dr Stephen Barrett, a psychiatrist and board member of the National Council Against Health Fraud, Inc. said that an FDA analysis of one popular product called Blue Green Manna contained 15 whole adult flies, 164 fly fragments, 41 whole or equivalent maggots, 59 maggot fragments, one ant, five ant fragments, one adult cicada. One cicada pupa, 763 insect fragments, nine ticks, four mites, 1000 ostracods, two rats or mouse hairs, four bird feathers, six bird feather barbules and 10 500 water fleas” Some strains of spirulina also have toxins that can cause nausea, diarrhea and throat infections.

In test animals injections of the toxic algae causes tumors, and larger doses can cause death within minutes…since the toxins are not routinely tested for by all manufactures, it would seem that using algae is like playing Russian Roulette…”

He goes on to say that any symptoms people may experience using spirulina is in fact from poisoning and not from so called “cleansing” of the body.

There are reams more of this type of information which I can supply you with or refer you to the websites.

Barely Grass, A Superior Alternative


Young Barley Grass

BarleyLife, Green Barley Juice from Aim
This product is organically grown in rehabilitated land, it is then picked at a certain height, when the nutrient level is at it’s peak. Then it has the juice extracted within 30 minutes of picking and then within 2 seconds of being juiced it is spray dried at room temperature to ensure no nutrient destruction. It is then has rice dextrin and ground brown rice added to prevent the enzymes oxidizing and to naturally extend shelf life

Other green powders
Since the introduction of barley grass nearly 20 years ago and it’s phenomenal success, there have been a variety of copy cat companies promoting their products as superior. One of them, a local company, dropped off a bottle of barley grass for me to try. The rep that dropped off the samples not only smelt like an ashtray, but promised that she would send or drop off research that backs her claims. That was over 10 years ago! Unlike Barley grass juice, this product is not juiced before dried. It is just dried, roots and all and ground into a pulp. What you get then is mostly fibre with very little nutrient content. The grey colour speaks for itself.

Nutrient content in blue green algae, spirulina and green barley grass juice

It must be understood that plant nutrients can alter from season to season, so that anyone claiming an exact amount of a particular nutrient is either misleading you or the product has been manipulated to have a constant level and is therefore no longer a natural food product, but now an altered and extracted supplement.
Spirulina vs Barley
It’s your choice…


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