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Toxic algae

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Background

  • Algae are a family of primitive, primarily aquatic, plants. Estimates of the number of species vary widely, ranging into the tens of thousands. Many species serve as an important source of food for marine life; however, about 40 produce toxic chemicals that may cause death to marine life and lead to human illness. Additionally, toxic algae produce blooms that make the ocean appear red under certain environmental conditions such as hurricanes. This is commonly referred to as red tide or harmful algal blooms (HABs).
  • Harmful algal blooms occur worldwide, although coastal waters are mainly affected. HABs are currently being studied by many organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The number of HABs has increased over the past 30 years due to increased amounts of certain kinds of pollution, which allow these species to thrive. Additionally, enhanced detection methods have made it easier to identify the toxins produced by these blooms that previously would have escaped discovery.
  • Episodes of red tide were first observed in Florida by Spanish explorers in the 16th Century. However, scientifically documented cases were first noted in the 1800s in Florida. Although red tides are perhaps the most famous of algal blooms, not all HABs discolor the water, nor are all discoloring blooms red.
  • Ocean-related human illnesses are usually caused by eating fish that have fed on toxic algae, or by breathing in certain toxins known as brevetoxins. Toxic algae cause five major types of seafood poisoning, including paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP), ciguatera fish poisoning (CFP), amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP), and diarrheic shellfish poisoning (DSP). An additional form of poisoning caused by toxic algae, azaspiracid shellfish poisoning (AZP), was only recently discovered, with the first documented outbreak identified in 1995. However, there is limited available data on AZP. Diarrheic shellfish poisoning was first discovered in the 1960s, while ASP was first recognized in the 1980s. The other forms of poisoning have been known for centuries. These illnesses may all lead to serious illness and even death.
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Theory/Evidence

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.