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Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, or AFA for short, is also popularly called "blue-green algae" and in many cultures it's thought to be a superfood. Considering AFA as a superfood, however, may actually be somewhat misleading since there are many different types of this algae, and some of the types don't have any health benefits. Still, claims touting the benefits of AFA are numerous, ranging from the anecdotal to the well-documented. In fact, though hard clinical evidence supporting its therapeutic uses have yet to be found, many mainstream medical authorities support the notion that the algae is beneficial.
The basis for many of the health claims made about Aphanizomenon flos-aquae is that it is believed to be the foundation of the entire planet's food chain. Some AFA studies show that a large part of its nutrients — upwards of 95 percent — are efficiently absorbed when consumed, making its many micronutrients highly available to the consumer. As a comparison, digested meat proteins average about 20 percent assimilation whereas AFA's protein assimilation rate in mammals is about 80 percent.
Generally, the microphyte grows in cold, clean, freshwater lakes. Both toxic and non-toxic types can be found around the world. In the US, much of the non-toxic AFA that is sold for human consumption comes from Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon.
Commercially, AFA comes in four primary forms: compressed tablets, encapsulated powder, freeze-dried crystals, and fresh-frozen liquid. Some algaculturists report using organic, wild-crafting techniques rather than man-made ponds to ensure optimal nutrient profiles. The highest-quality Aphanizomenon flos-aquae brands usually contain a wide array of digestible, essential nutrients.
AFA is used primarily for boosting energy and immunity. As a result, it is popular among athletes, people undergoing acute or chronic health challenges, and those generally seeking to improve longevity and vitality through nutritional supplements. Others ingest the algae to reduce depression or otherwise improve mood and attention.
AFA's blue tint comes from its phycocyanin component, which is a powerful antioxidant and has been studied for its marked anti-inflammatory effect. In addition, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae is photosynthetic, producing its own food — chlorophyll — from sunlight. Chlorophyll, which gives AFA its green tint, has a similar molecular structure to hemoglobin in the human body. Hemoglobin transports oxygen to all tissues, so it is thought that AFA's chlorophyll content works to increase oxygen availability in the body as well.