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    Tuesday, September 15, 2015

    What’s in your dietary supplement?

      This June, the  case of an 11-year old with severe injury to the liver was reported. The disease was  linked to the use of a commercially-available blue-green algae dietary supplement.  The victim’s  liver dysfunction was severe enough to adversely affect her blood clotting ability and it required hospitalization.  To the relief of her owners, the 11 year-old, twenty pound Pug dog made a full recovery.

    The case was published (link is external) in the scientific journal BMC Veterinary Research. As the authors of the report note, apparently this was the first such report of liver damage in a dog due to the intentional administration of blue-green algae. The specific poisonous compound found when the supplement was tested was identified a “microcystin.” This naturally occurring toxic material has a predilection to attack the liver. It is produced only by certain and not all species of blue-green algae. But  because such algae can easily grow in a mix with other non-toxic types, microcystin contamination can be an ever-present risk in a blue-green algae potpourri .

    The poisoned Pug is actually far from the first canine causality to blue-green algae, it’s just that the standard exposure scenario is a dog gone swimming in a fresh-water lake covered with an algae bloom, not a pet being pampered with supplements.  Unfortunately, splashing around in a putrefied pond can be even more toxic that an administration of contaminated medicament.  A case in point is that of a Weimaraner  who nearly died of liver failure after swimming in a Kansas lake “that was responsible for deaths of several other dogs the same summer.”  This case, which initially appeared in July 2013, claimed  to be the first reported algae-poisoned canine ever to be reported as surviving. A similar case, though, was reported nearly simultaneously  from Montana .

    Actually, when it comes to algae-related microcystin toxin, canines are not the only canary in the coal mine.  Back in 2010, an alarming report (link is external) appeared that implicated this cause in the deaths of 21 sea otters off the California coast.  Although blue-algae blooms are a fresh-water phenomenon, in this case several rivers flowing into Monterrey Bay were so contaminated that their poison flowed out to sea, where it was concentrated by clams, mussels, and oysters.  Sea otters, feeding on their the staple diet, were killed.

    None of this means that our species gets a free pass. On January 7, 2007 a 19 year-old went jet skiing on a reservoir at Salto Grande, Argentina. Unfortunately for him, he ended up in a green-slimed bay. He pulled himself out, but by a few hours later he had stomach distress and felt weak. He was diagnosed with “idiopathic stress” and told to rest at home. Four days later, he was in hospital with liver and kidney injury. Only after that, high levels of microcystin toxin were documented (link is external) in the contaminated water.

    The hapless water skier survived, but that may be because he started out young and healthy.  Back in 1996, more than a hundred patients at a hemodialysis center in Caruaru, Brazil became inexplicably ill with a variety of symptoms; a number of them went on to die from liver failure. The attack rate was greatest for those undergoing dialysis on a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday-night schedule, which apparently was when the contamination rate of microcystins was highest in the reservoir from which the center drew its water (link is external).

    Algae blooms are on the uptick and the increase may be yet one more piece of fallout from climate change (see my January 2014 posting). Piling on the microcystin through contaminated dietary supplements only adds further injury to the climate insult. As the government’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health advises people (but not pets):  “To use dietary supplements safely, read and follow the label instructions, and recognize that ‘natural’ does not always mean ‘safe.’ Be aware that an herbal supplement may contain dozens of compounds and that all of its ingredients may not be known…The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates (link is external) dietary supplements, but the regulations for dietary supplements are different and less strict than those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs.”

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     This topic brought to you from psychologytoday.com
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