Over the last twenty years, I’ve become – like many Chronic Fatigue Sufferers – an expert of sorts in the theories surrounding what this condition is, and what may possibly help sufferers feel some relief. I’ve also used my own body as a testing ground for innumerable supplements and superfoods in the battle to regain that lost spring in my step. I’ve spent many days and nights reading obscure scientific theorems, and chasing that familiar current of hope after reading the euphoric results from some health forum user who claimed to have finally cracked it. Mostly, I’ve made little gains and suffered numerous setbacks, and spent a king’s ransom on natural foods and remedies.
About a year ago I took a supplement, however, that really did make a tangible difference to the condition: marine phytoplankton powder. It worked where others simply hadn’t. I won’t say it’s cured me but it has certainly offered by far the largest gains of any single supplement.
In this piece, I want to explore a little just what this product is, and what the possible science is behind its efficacy. I should point out I’m not a scientist, but I have been a journalist all my adult life and I’ve endeavoured to chase down the facts.
What is marine phytoplankton?
Single celled plants, phytoplankton are amongst the smallest known plants on our earth, and are also responsible for creating energy from the sun. This extraordinary power makes them highly nutritious, and incidentally responsible for creating most of the oxygen that causes planet earth to be habitable. They are small but their power is mighty, and larger creatures like whales love to eat as much of them as possible – sometimes in the region of several thousand kg per day. These whales, I should point out, do pretty well on this diet. Bowhead whales can live to 2 centuries in age, reproducing right until the end of their lives and affected by few known diseases (1).
What are marine phytoplankton supplements?
Phytoplankton is relatively new to the human food chain, probably appearing only in the last decade. With its fast growth cycle and high natural lipid content, it was originally the biofuel industry who pioneered the cultivation of the plant in large indoor greenhouses known as ‘bioreactors.’ When this fuel proved largely too expensive to be viable, the health industry took over most of the production facilities. By crushing the algae into oil, or drying it into a green supplement, an immensely nutritious substance can be produced. I took just one teaspoon of this before I noticed powerful difference in my energy levels.
What’s so great about this stuff anyway?
Like many of the microalgae, phytoplankton’s nutritional profile is impressive. It’s laden with vitamins, trace minerals and antioxidants. It also offers a vegan source of long chain EPA oil, which is, in itself, an exciting discovery. As the oceans become more and more polluted over the next century, we should expect to see most of the omega 3 supplements we buy coming from algal oil.
All of this makes it worth ingesting but it doesn’t make it especially unique. The one thing, however, which makes it unique is its tiny cell size and it is this, I believe, which gives it its power for CFS sufferers.
Chronic Fatigue Suffers Exhibit Diminished Mitochondrial Function
Although CFS and related conditions like fibromyalgia remain conditions about which little is known, we do know that CFS sufferers exhibit diminished mitochondrial function (2). The bodies of CFS sufferers appear to have a very poor recycling of ATP, the basis energy currency that allows us to function. It stands to reason, then, that any supplement which boosts ATP, or allows the body to more effectively recycle ATP, is going to increase overall energy.
The Power of Marine Phytoplankton in Chronic Fatigue
I should point out that these conclusions are largely hypothesis, albeit backed up by David Wolfe’s book Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future. As the theory goes, however, phytoplankton works for CFS sufferers because:
- It’s tiny cell size means it bypasses the body’s mitochondrial system and can be absorbed directly into the blood
- Phytoplankton contains ATP, so can therefore offer a direct source of this in a way which CFS sufferers can absorb.
If the condition of CFS is largely one of ATP starvation, it seems a reasonably conclusion to suggest that if this can be supplied, there will be an immediate and noticeable difference.
It’s been extremely heartening to find a supplement that can real make a difference to my core energy levels. Now I take around 3-5g of phytoplankton per day, in two separate doses, and it enables me to function at a fairly high level. Since I’ve been researching the plant I have been staggered to find how many other health conditions it helps, which tells me this really may be one of the most significant supplements in a crowded market. My hope is that many people find it and benefit from it as I have.
Piers Moore-Ede is an award-winning travel writer and journalist, most recently the author of Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi (Bloomsbury Press) He writes about marine phytoplankton on his website Plankton for Health.