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What is a marine phytoplankton scam?

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A marine phytoplankton scam refers to claims by natural-health-product sellers that supplements made of phytoplankton can have numerous health benefits, including preventing and curing cancer. Scientific research and warnings from the Food and Drug Administration indicate that phytoplankton can actually have harmful effects, and no published research has substantiated claims about the plants’ healing properties.

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Phytoplankton, or microalgae, are microscopic marine plants that are food for many fish and sea animals, according to the National Ocean Service. The Food and Drug Administration and research published in the journal Marine Drug report that phytoplankton can cause natural toxins in the fish and shellfish that feed on them, leading to consumer illness. Additionally, research published in the journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety found that phytoplankton may potentially produce endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which the World Health Organization says cause cancer and reproductive issues.

Some online natural-health-product sellers, such as Pure Healing Foods and Zebra Organics, and natural-health blogs, such as Natural News, tout the health benefits of marine phytoplankton, claiming it contains nutrients that prevent and treat cancer, regulate blood sugar and the thyroid, and builds strong bones.

In 2014 the Iowa attorney general filed an injunction against a health-supplement company in that state for marketing phytoplankton supplements, according to Des Moines news station KETV. The attorney general said the company was making an unsubstantiated claim that the supplements could cure cancer along with more than 500 other health conditions.

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