Enthusiasts tout marine phytoplankton as the next important superfood. Online vendors of phytoplankton supplements describe it as containing every nutrient that human bodies need. Clinical trials do not support any alleged benefits of phytoplankton supplements. Using them to replace conventional treatment for life-threatening diseases can be detrimental to your health. And the products may even be toxic.
The American Cancer Society reminds readers that dietary supplements come under much less scrutiny by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration than other products marketed for consumption. Their labeling may be misleading. Claims that the product is "all natural" or "naturally grown and harvested" should not be understood as a guarantee of safety. A risk specific to phytoplankton is toxins. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, most of the natural toxins that contaminate fish and shellfish are produced by phytoplankton. You have no guarantee that your dietary supplement contains no toxin-producing species or plankton harvested from toxin-tainted waters.
Alluring Cure-all Claims
The American Cancer Society says in, "Dietary Supplements: How to Know What Is Safe," claims that sound too good to be true probably are. So fans and resellers of phytoplankton supplements might take phytoplankton supplements with a belief that it can detoxify your cells, jump-start your DNA and even cure chronic health conditions such as diabetes and arthritis. Many consumers trust claims made on supplement labeling, thinking that the law protects them from false advertising. But according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, U.S. law does not oblige manufacturers or vendors of dietary supplements to prove the effectiveness of their product. The danger is forgoing necessary medical consultation in favor of supplements whose purported efficacy rests on no scientific research.
There aren't any clinical studies supporting claims that phytoplankton supplements cure cancer. But a person with a terminal illness may be easily persuaded -- on the strength of having nothing to lose -- to try unproven and possibly dangerous alternative treatments. Drinking a seaweed tincture is undoubtedly more pleasant than undergoing chemotherapy, but it's no alternative from the standpoint of efficacy. If you have cancer, forgoing conventional treatment in favor of experimental supplements may mean giving up your only realistic hope of survival.
Both the American Cancer Society and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine urge you to talk to your health care providers about any dietary supplements you may be considering. This is good advice regardless of whether you intend to use phytoplankton supplements as a replacement for conventional medicine or as a complementary treatment. No matter how harmless you think the supplement may be, you must tell your doctor about it so he can ensure your safe and coordinated care. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, some dietary supplements interact badly with medications -- some can impact your body's response to anaesthesia or increase your risk of bleeding during surgery. And few supplements have been tested for safety during pregnancy and nursing.
Supplement side effects are of specific concern where cancer is concerned. According to the American Cancer Society, some dietary supplements cause skin sensitivity and other adverse reactions if taken in conjunction with radiation treatment. And dietary supplements may also put chemotherapy patients at higher risk for drug interactions.
Vendors of marine phytoplankton supplements often rely on customer testimonials to win your confidence. But testimonials can't substitute for controlled scientific studies, according to The American Cancer Society, which emphasizes that such testimonials are only anecdotal evidence, based on an individual's personal experience and opinion. You have no guarantee that the testimonial is true.
In October of 2010, prices for liquid phytoplankton supplements range from about $40 per 16 oz. bottle to about $30 for 2 oz. bottle.