Aphanizomenon flos-aquae or "invisible living flower of the water is the Latin name given to a wild-crafted species of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that is found in many places on Earth. Algae, in the collective sense, is often called the basis of the entire food chain – the foundational nutrient source for creating and renewing life on earth. The single-celled organism named Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (usually abbreviated AFA) is known to contain an array of easily assimilated nutrients including essential fatty acids, active enzymes, vitamins, amino acids, minerals, proteins, complex sugars, and phytonutrients, and is a source of difficult-to-find micronutrients. AFA is an edible food that is easily digested by humans and animals and has been shown to have health benefits.
Algae are classified by color: brown, gold, red, green, and blue-green. Color is determined by the photosynthetic pigments in each major division, and is responsible for each variety’s capacity to absorb different wavelengths of light. Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA) utilizes a broad light spectrum, making it one of the more chlorophyll-rich organisms on Earth. Blue-green microalgae like AFA are unique because they possess characteristics of both plants and bacteria. Like other plants and algae, AFA uses photosynthesis to produce its food material (glycogen) that is stored and utilized by the cell. While plants’ cell walls are constructed of cellulose, AFA’s cell walls are composed of peptidoglycan (carbohydrates and peptide), lipids (oils), polysaccharides (sugars), and proteins. Like bacteria, AFA is adaptable and can exchange genetic information, but chlorophyll is not found in most bacteria; instead, bacteriochlorophyll pigment is used for photosynthesis by bacteria. Therefore, the distinctive designation “cyanobacteria” (Latin, cyano = blue-green) has been given to blue-green algae, including AFA.
The cellular structure of AFA is that of a simple prokaryote. Primitive as algae appear, most are highly efficient photosynthesizers, even more so than plants. Algae utilize light energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air, and hydrogen from the water to synthesize proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. AFA is unique among all food-grade species of algae in that it also metabolizes molecular nitrogen from the air to produce proteins and other nitrogen-containing biomolecules. The cell of AFA contains a wide range of micronutrients, often more than many of the other well-known food types.
Toxic or non-toxic?
Although it has been widely circulated that Aphanizomenon flos-aquae as a species has both toxic and non-toxic formsthe latest research has shown that while some species within the genus Aphanizomenon can produce toxins, the species Aphanizomenon flos-aquae does notand that strains previously labeled as this type were incorrectly identified. This is a very important distinction
For example, research has proven that the species Aphanizomenon flos-aquae from Upper Klamath Lake in southern Oregon has never been known to produce a toxin. In fact, research on the unique properties of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae in Upper Klamath Lake show that the toxin-producing strains called AFA are not the species that grows in Upper Klamath Lake
Colony-forming morphology is one of the characteristics of the non-toxic species Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, and conversely, toxin-producing species of Aphanizomenon are not known to form colonies. Algologists Li and Carmichael noted colony formation, or lack thereof, and other morphologic distinctions when comparing Upper Klamath Lake Aphanizomenon flos-aquae with toxin-producing species of Aphanizomenon. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, their genetic comparison of Klamath Lake Aphanizomenon flos-aquae to other species in the genus Aphanizomenon clearly indicates the dissimilarity between Klamath Lake Aphanizomenon flos-aquae and toxin-producing Aphanizomenon species.
For centuries algae has been a staple in the diets of many cultures earthwide.[In fact, since ancient times, wild freshwater algae have been used for both food and commerce by indigenous peoples all over the globe, from Africa and Asia to the Americas, from the Chinese to the Aztecs and Mayans. In a brief presented to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Select Committee on the Worldwide Use and Safety of Algae as a Food Source, the authors reported that some cultures have traditionally relied on algae for up to 25% of their diets.
That African and American natives considered blue-green algae an integral part of their lives is evident in that they stored dried algae for year-round use and trade. Today, edible blue-green microalgae are accepted worldwide as a nutrient-dense food and a useful commercial resource. Habitats with algae growth sufficient for commercial harvesting include the Pacific Ocean near Japan and Hawaii, and large freshwater lakes such as Lake Chad in Africa, Upper Klamath Lake in North America, Lake Texcoco in Mexico, and Lake Titicaca in Peru, South America. As with any other crop, differences exist with regard to harvesting procedures, quality control against contaminating species, adherence to proper processing to protect nutrients from degradation, and attention to adequate storage conditions of the processed algae.
Late in the 20th century, the commercial possibilities of harvesting Aphanizomenon flos-aquae from sources like Upper Klamath Lake in southern Oregon, USA, were explored. Because of ideal environmental conditions – the volcanic, mineral-rich geographic region, the intense solar energy of the high elevation, and the constantly moving, oxygen-rich waters of the lake – each year millions of pounds of AFA are available for harvesting from Upper Klamath Lake and for subsequent production of a variety of nutritional foods and supplements by a number of commercial harvesters. Commercial standards vary greatly in terms of documenting product composition to the consumer.
Harvesting and processing
Freshwater algae are more sensitive to heat, light, and rapid spoilage than their cousins, the edible seaweeds. In traditional times, some native cultures in Africa and the Americas used simple sun-drying methods to process their freshwater algae, but it is likely that a significant amount of the nutritional value was lost in the process because of exposure to extreme heat during harvesting and processing. Therefore, the methods for harvesting and processing used to make lake algae available for consumption today are critical factors in the quality and safety of the finished product.
At this time, only the Aphanizomenon flos-aquae in Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, USA, grows in sufficient enough amounts to be harvested commercially. No matter what the AFA source, meticulous testing and assiduous harvesting methods per good manufacturing practices (GMP) must be followed by processors offering AFA for consumption, including screening the harvested AFA to remove all debris, storing at the optimum temperature (e.g., -40°F), and then drying, preferably by a method that preserves vital nutrients, such as a low-temperature spray-drying process.
The nutrient profile of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae is subject to much variation due to diverse habitats, environmental factors, and harvesting procedures, all of which influence the nutritional content of the algae; for example, altitude, temperature, and sun exposure can greatly affect lipid and pigment composition. The nutritional profile of species grown at sea or in man-made ponds will differ from that of wild-crafted freshwater algae such as AFA. Due to differences in environmental conditions, algae grown in a natural environment will differ from algae grown in canals or tanks. As more is learned about the phytoceuticalcomponents of different blue-green algae species, growers and harvesters are better able to determine the optimal growth conditions for obtaining optimal yields.
For many consumers, blue-green algae have the appeal of being a raw food that with proper processing can supply many essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids (including omega 3 fatty acids), beta-carotene, chlorophyll, phycocyanin, active enzymes, amino acids, proteins, complex sugars, phytonutrients, and other bioactive components.Vitamins
Fewer than 20 substances have been discovered so far that are believed to be active as vitamins in human nutrition. Aphanizomenon flos-aquae contains 13 of them: vitamin A (beta-carotene), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), niacin, choline, folic acid, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin E, vitamin K, and many of the B-complex vitamins including B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), and B12 (cobalamin).
Aphanizomenon flos-aquae contains many minerals and trace minerals (including calcium, chloride, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc) that are essential to human health. Due to modern agricultural practices, the topsoil feeding food plants is seriously lacking in the full spectrum of minerals and trace minerals they once possessed in abundance. Without the presence of minerals in the soil, plants are simply incapable of synthesizing complete nutrients and this is a major cause of a wide spectrum of nutritional deficiencies. The mineral content of AFA microalgae’s source is an important factor in assuring a unique balance and abundant supply of bioavailable minerals and trace minerals necessary for building strong bones, activating vitamins and enzymes, strengthening cell structures, and providing the basis for all electrical impulses that regulate muscle and heart contractions as well as brain and neurochemical functions, among others.
AFA is about 60% protein by dry weight; therefore, one gram of AFA equals 0.6 grams of protein.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein molecules often make up more than half of the physical structure of all cells and tissues. There are ten non-essential amino acids that the body is able to biosynthesize from other foods. There are ten essential amino acids that the body must receive directly and intact from food sources. AFA contains all twenty amino acids, and this is unique among all food plants. Each amino acid provides a variety of health benefits, but together they provide vital fuel and energy sources, build and maintain neuropeptides (chemical messengers of the nervous system), and help biomodulate emotion and mood swings.
Essential fatty acids
Approximately 45% of the lipids (fats) within AFA are essential fatty acids. The ultimate photosynthesizer, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae contains an ideal balance of both linoleic acid (LA, the essential omega-6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, the essential omega-3 fatty acid). Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital who studied the algae’s fat content concluded that AFA was a good source of the most valuable fatty acids and "should be a valuable nutritional resource.” AFA raises the blood levels of the good fatty acids far more than would be expected based on its ALA content alone. They concluded that something about the algae – probably its range of micronutrients – was helping the test animals to utilize the fatty acids they were getting from other sources as well as those in the algae. The balancing effect was impressive; not only did the levels of "good" fatty acids (ALA, EPA, DHA) go up, but also the levels of the troublemaker, arachidonic acid, went down.
Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in plants that is responsible for the ingestion of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the production of oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is a significant phytonutrient as well as a powerful antioxidant. AFA contains 1 to 2% chlorophyll (dry weight). AFA is also rich in phycocyanin (PC), a photosynthetic pigment with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that contributes the ‘blue’ to blue-green algae.
A full range of plant-based enzymes, such as those found in AFA, supports a more complete breakdown and initial digestion of all types of food including fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber. More complete digestion of food will help reduce the stress that digestion places on the body. Enzymes have been called the “true yardstick of vitality.”
AFA is known to be a remarkable source of nucleic acids; in fact, it is composed of 3% nucleic acids, the richest percentage of any commercially available food. Nucleic acids help grow and repair cells, and store and transmit genetic information.
AFA contains reasonable amount of phenylethylamine, which alleviates depression, increases concentration, and elevates mood. It contributes to the health of all bodily functions.
Evidence of health effects
Many positive claims are based on research done on individual nutrients that Aphanizomenon flos-aquae contains, such as vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll, various antioxidants, and others. For example, some blue-green algae are especially rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs, which are very important in maintaining membrane fluidity), comprising up to 10% of its dry weight. Animal research at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that AFA microalgae dramatically raised blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are known to be important for optimal functioning of numerous organ systems, including the nervous system. The researchers found that AFA was far more effective than soybean oil, a good source of PUFAs, at raising blood levels of these important omega-3 fatty acids.
A team at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, Canada, working with the particular blue-green algae Aphanizomenon flos-aquae from Upper Klamath Lake in southern Oregon, USA, demonstrated that consumption of this microalgae results in an immediate change in the trafficking of immune cells. The effect is transient and cell-type specific. An extensive body of data documents that long-term consumption does not lead to an unwanted hyper-stimulation of the immune system. The most remarkable effect was seen among natural killer cells, indicating that consumption of this particular species of AFA blue-green algae makes these cells "patrol" better throughout the body. High doses were not necessary in order to see these changes. The effects were seen when using a low oral dose of algae (1.5 gram), corresponding to a low amount of food supplementation.
The special molecule that provides the blue color in blue-green algae is called phycocyanin. Depending on the algae source, the amount of phycocyanin can amount to up to 15% of the dry weight of the algae. Phycocyanin has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. One study evaluated the ability of a novel natural extract from AFA enriched with phycocyanin to protect normal human erythrocytes and plasma samples against oxidative damage in vitro. In red blood cells, oxidative hemolysis and lipid peroxidation induced by the aqueous peroxyl radical generator [2, 2’-Azobis (2-amidinopropane) dihydrochloride, AAPH] were significantly lowered by the AFA extract in a time- and dose-dependent manner; at the same time the depletion of cytosolic glutathione was delayed. In plasma samples, the natural extract inhibited the extent of lipid oxidation induced by the pro-oxidant agent cupric chloride (CuCl2); a concomitant increase of plasma resistance to oxidation was observed as evaluated by conjugated diene formation.
In recent years, there has been a tremendous increase of interest in microalgal metabolites. A water-based extract of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae containing high concentrations of phycocyanin inhibited the in vitro growth of one out of four tumor cell lines, indicating that at least some tumor cell types may be directly sensitive to killing by phycocyanin. Blue-green algae in general contain a significant amount of carotenoids, namely beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, providing microalgae with good antioxidant properties. By their quenching action on reactive oxygen species, antioxidants carry intrinsic anti-inflammatory properties.
Other research describes the identification of three new high molecular weight polysaccharide preparations isolated from food-grade microalgae that are potent activators of human monocytes/macrophages, including “Immunon” from Aphanizomenon flos-aquae. Immunostimulatory activity was measured using transcription factor-based bioassay. Each polysaccharide studied in this research, including AFA, substantially increased mRNA levels of interleukin and tumor necrosis factor-a (TNF-a). These polysaccharides are between one hundred and one thousand times more active for in vitro monocyte activation than polysaccharide preparations that are currently used clinically for cancer immunotherapy.
Certain research characterizes the effect of a water-soluble preparation from known agents that modulate the immune system. One such study suggests that the macrophage-activating properties of an AFA water-soluble preparation are mediated through pathways that are similar to LPS-dependent activation.
The antimutagenic properties of whole, fresh-water AFA blue-green algae were tested using the Ames test. Simultaneous addition of both algae and Nitrovin (a mutagen) to the test medium did not reduce the mutagenic activity. On the other hand, addition of freeze-dried AFA blue-green algae to the test medium 2–24 hours before the application of the mutagen reduced mutagenic activity.
An ethanol extract of AFA-cellular concentrate has been shown to enhance stem cell proliferative action when incubated with human adult bone marrow cells or human CD34+ hematopoietic progenitors in culture. The preliminary study suggests that the ethanol extract of AFA cellular concentrate may act to promote proliferation of human stem cell populations.
Organic certification can be a lengthy, complicated, and expensive process, and it is achieved only through strict compliance with established official regulations. Requirements vary from country to country, and generally involve a stringent set of production standards for growing, storage, processing, packaging, and shipping. It is up to individual algae producers to apply for and secure organic certification by adherence to the certifying agency’s standards