A Systematic Literature Review for Evidence of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae Toxigenicity in Recreational Waters and Toxicity of Dietary Supplements: 2000⁻2017

Toxins (Basel). 2018 Jun 21;10(7):254. doi: 10.3390/toxins10070254.


Previous studies of recreational waters and blue-green algae supplements (BGAS) demonstrated co-occurrence of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA) and cyanotoxins, presenting exposure risk. The authors conducted a systematic literature review using a GRADE PRISMA-p 27-item checklist to assess the evidence for toxigenicity of AFA in both fresh waters and BGAS. Studies have shown AFA can produce significant levels of cylindrospermopsin and saxitoxin in fresh waters. Toxicity studies evaluating AFA-based BGAS found some products carried the mcyE gene and tested positive for microcystins at levels ≤ 1 μg microcystin (MC)-LR equivalents/g dry weight. Further analysis discovered BGAS samples had cyanotoxins levels exceeding tolerable daily intake values. There is evidence that Aphanizomenon spp. are toxin producers and AFA has toxigenic genes such as mcyE that could lead to the production of MC under the right environmental conditions. Regardless of this ability, AFA commonly co-occur with known MC producers, which may contaminate BGAS. Toxin production by cyanobacteria is a health concern for both recreational water users and BGAS consumers. Recommendations include: limit harvesting of AFA to months when toxicity is lowest, include AFA in cell counts during visible blooms, and properly identify cyanobacteria species using 16S rRNA methods when toxicity levels are higher than advisory levels.

Keywords: Aphanizomenon flos-aquae; blue-green algae supplements; cyanotoxins; cylindrospermopsin; microcystin; saxitoxin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aphanizomenon* / genetics
  • Bacterial Toxins* / analysis
  • Bacterial Toxins* / genetics
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis
  • Dietary Supplements / toxicity*
  • Genes, Bacterial
  • Water Pollutants / analysis
  • Water Pollutants / toxicity*


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Water Pollutants