Once dismissed by mainstream medicine as just “pond scum,” blue-green algae, a single-cell organism also known as cyanobacteria, ranks as one of the oldest life-forms on the planet and one that has achieved new respectability as a source of healing agents. Fossilized remains of cyanobacteria have been found that date back to nearly three billion years ago. The types examined here can be found in both seawater and freshwater environments.

Spirulina is one of the therapeutic types of blue-green alga, with two species—Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima—now being used as dietary supplements. The Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures harvested spirulina from lakes and then dried it to create cakes eaten as a nutritious food. It has a long history of use in the African nation Chad, where it was harvested from ponds and lakes. It is rich in protein, containing up to 77 percent protein by dry weight, and contains all of the essential amino acids, making it a source of complete protein. It also has the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, niacinamide, pyridoxine, and folic acid and vitamins A, C, D, and E.

Chlorella is a single-celled green algae that contains the photosynthetic pigments chlorophyll a and chlorophyll b. It too is a complete protein. The composition of dried chlorella is nearly half protein and 10 percent vitamins and minerals, with the remainder being fats and carbohydrates. Like blue-green algae, chlorella acts as a detoxifier when absorbed by the human body and has been scientifically proven to reduce cholesterol and high blood pressure and enhance immune system function, among many other health benefits.

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