The future's blue-green

Colette Harris on the hidden powers of pond slime

The Japanese are mad for it and the Americans aren't far behind. But the latest natural-health supplement looks far from glam. In fact, it's the slimy algae stuff scraped off the top of a pond.

Okay, so when it's dried, Klamath Lake blue-green algae doesn't look like something the frogs threw up. And although other more famous blue- green algaes, such as spirulina and chlorella, sound exciting enough to be the names of Wayne and Waynetta's newest offspring, in flake or tablet form they just look boring. But beneath the murky green exterior of these food supplements lies a powerhouse of nutrition that it is claimed can help ease the symptoms of conditions ranging from diabetes to anaemia.

Klamath Lake algae is the only wild-growing, blue-green algae you can buy in the shops at the moment. It is scooped off the surface of its natural habitat, Klamath Lake in America's Oregon mountains, and freeze-dried. "It is distinct from spirulina and chlorella because it has a higher content of neuropeptides, which nourish the brain and nervous system," says Madelaine McCavert of Blue Green Planet, which imports Klamath Lake algae. She became a convert when it cured her PMS, but says all the algaes are highly nutritious. "Klamath Lake seems to be particularly good at helping to relieve symptoms linked with hormonal disturbances and skin conditions brought on by problems with the nervous system," she says.

Each type of blue-green algae is packed with vitamins, minerals and betacarotene, which is thought to protect against cancer, and the eight essential amino acids the body needs for repair and maintenance - substances you don't usually find in standard multi-supplements. So algaes are a pretty good daily tonic by any health guru's standards. "But beware of the claims for high vitamin B12 content," warns Patrick Holford of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, "because although it's there, it's in a form that humans can't seem to use. However, they do contain phytonutrients, basically antioxidants that aren't classified as vitamins, and chlorophyll, which helps the body to use oxygen."

Blue-green algaes also possess detoxifying and immune-boosting properties. In fact, the Russians recently approved spirulina for use as a medical food for people exposed to Chernobyl fall-out because of its power to help the body detoxify itself. And scientists at the US Cancer Research Institute have found that chemicals derived from blue-green algae appear to inhibit the growth of the Aids virus.

"They are very simple organisms, which means the body can break them down easily to use the nutrients efficiently," says Holford. To capitalise on this, algaes are sold as wholefoods in a dried form of the fresh organism. All the different bits are left to work together in their natural proportions to give you the perfect health cocktail. The only problem is the taste. Unless you love sprouts, beware - the tablet form is there for a reason.

Klamath Lake algae, Hawaiian Pacifica Spirulina and

Solgar's Chlorella are all available from health-food shops

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