Popular health supplements contaminated with faecal bacteria

Faecal bacteria have been discovered in a range of popular health supplements by a team of researchers at an Irish university.

A study of eight samples of algae-based ‘superfoods’ Spirulina, Chlorella and Super Greens also found that some of the faecal organisms were resistant to certain types of antibiotics.

The research was carried out by seven experts from the departments of medicine and microbiology at NUI Galway, and the findings were published in this month’s issue of the Irish Medical Journal.

Spirulina, Chlorella and Super Greens are three types of algae-based health supplements, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. They contain protein, vitamins and minerals; and are marketed as having a range of health benefits.

The research team was prompted to study the products after a batch of Chlorella was found to be contaminated with salmonella in Ireland in 2015, resulting in affected batches being recalled from consumers.

They bought five samples of Chlorella, two samples of Spirulina, and one sample of Super Greens from an Irish retail outlet and tested them for the presence of faecal bacteria and antibiotic resistance in the bacteria found. All eight samples were found to contain faecal organisms, including enterococci, enterobacteriaceae, and clostridium species.

Evidence of resistance to antibiotics was also detected, leading the researchers to recommend that clinicians caring for vulnerable patients should be aware of the potential risk of exposure to antimicrobial-resistant bacteria associated with the products.

“This project indicates that these algae-based products… are frequently contaminated with faecal-type bacteria, which in some instances carry antimicrobial resistance determinants of significant public health concern,” they added.

The study had been confined to a small number of products, but felt there was “sufficient basis” for clinicians with vulnerable patients to be aware of the associated risks.

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