DHEC surveys links between toxic algae and motor neuron disease

29 May 2011

In a first for South Africa, Dr Bill Harding from DH Environmental Consulting (DHEC) will conduct a research survey to test for links between cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and neurodegenerative diseases (Motor Neuron Disease, MND; Parkinsons Dementia Complex, PDC;  and Alzheimers).

Dr Bill Harding is an algologist (expert on algae) with an interest in the possible relationship between certain algae, called cyanobacteria, and the development of neurological diseases such as Motor Neuron Disease (MND), Parkinson’s disease (PD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). These algae are known to produce a substance, called BMAA, which is toxic to nerve cells.  Cyanobacterial blooms are common in South Africa and all species of cyanobacteria that occur in this country have been shown to produce BMAA.

A link between these algae and MND/PD/AD has been shown in some parts of the world, and research is still ongoing.  An increased incidence of sporadic MND has been shown in a community living close to a lake that has frequent algal blooms.  The evidence for the possible involvement of environmental triggers, such as algal toxins, has been bolstered by cases where married partners have been diagnosed with MND within a short space of time.

The initial study will be funded entirely by DH Environmental and undertaken with the cooperation of the Motor Neuron Disease Association of South Africa (MNDA), the Parkinson’s Association of South Africa (PASA) and the Alzheimers Association of SA.

Participation is entirely voluntary and involves filling out a confidential questionnaire, requiring no more than 45 minutes to complete.  Sufferers, or their care-givers, who are not members of the above Associations and who would like to participate in this research project or who would like more information, please contact Dr Bill Harding by email at info@dhec.co.za.  Alternatively you can call him on (office hours) 021-855-2528 or 072-026-7260.

4 Responses to DHEC surveys links between toxic algae and motor neuron disease

  1. Johan Badenhorst says:

    A good friend of mine, who suffered from MND, passed away (funeral tomorrow). He used Spirulina for a long time (last 10 years), started long before MND was diagnosed. I saw this link this morning when I was looking for a MND research body to make a small donation to in remembrance of my friend. However, enough of the history.
    We were completely dumbfounded when he was diagnosed with MND and when I saw this article this morning I could not help making the connection between his illness and Spirulina. Any possibility??

    • Bill Harding says:

      Maybe, but very few scientists are prepared to talk about this specific issue. I have personal knowledge of a husband and wife who, within weeks of each other, developed life-threatening auto-immune problems a few months after starting to take Spirulina capsules.

  2. Phyllis HAll says:

    My Mother in Law was diagnosed with Motor Neuron [Disease] in 1980, she passed away January 1981. Last year my husband (her son) was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease . Is there any connection between the two illnesses?
    Thank you

    • Bill Harding says:

      Dear Phyllis,

      Thank you for your query. As far as I am aware, although MND and Parkinsons are both neurodegenerative diseases, there is no further connection between the two. However, in the pivotal work undertaken at Guam, co-incidence features of both ailments led to the term “ALS-Parkinson-Dementia complex”.

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