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Çelekli, A.; Özbal, B.; Bozkurt, H. Incorporation of Some Microalgae in Functional Food Products. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 16 April 2024).
Çelekli A, Özbal B, Bozkurt H. Incorporation of Some Microalgae in Functional Food Products. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed April 16, 2024.
Çelekli, Abuzer, Buket Özbal, Hüseyin Bozkurt. "Incorporation of Some Microalgae in Functional Food Products" Encyclopedia, (accessed April 16, 2024).
Çelekli, A., Özbal, B., & Bozkurt, H. (2024, March 06). Incorporation of Some Microalgae in Functional Food Products. In Encyclopedia.
Çelekli, Abuzer, et al. "Incorporation of Some Microalgae in Functional Food Products." Encyclopedia. Web. 06 March, 2024.
Incorporation of Some Microalgae in Functional Food Products

Much attention has been given to the use of microalgae to produce functional foods that have valuable bioactive chemicals, including essential amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, carotenoids, fiber, and minerals. Microalgal biomasses are increasingly being used to improve the nutritional values of foods because of their unique nutrient compositions that are beneficial to human health. Their protein content and amino acid composition are the most important components. The microalgal biomass used in the therapeutic supplement industry is dominated by bio-compounds like astaxanthin, β-carotene, polyunsaturated fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, and polysaccharides such as β-glucan. The popularity of microalgal supplements is growing because of the health benefits of their bioactive substances. 

bioactive chemicals functional food microalgae nutrition

1. Introduction

1.1. Functional Food

Diet and health are two of the most important aspects of people’s lives, and they merge in the study of functional foods. It is widely acknowledged that the relationship between diet and disease is the cornerstone of preventative nutrition. “Functional foods” are frequently recognized as a newly developing area. However, this concept was originally detailed in ancient Indian Vedic literature and in traditional Chinese medicine. One of the most important ideas in eastern philosophy is that “medicine and food come from the same source”. This idea is reflected in the desire to make functional foods [1].
The functional food market is a mostly global market that is not recognized by legislation everywhere. The term “functional food” can be defined in a variety of ways. Foods are “identical in appearance for conventional foods, ingested as part of a normal diet, with demonstrated physiological advantages and/or to minimize the risk of chronic illness beyond fundamental nutritional functions” [2]. The International Food Information Council defines functional foods as “foods or dietary components that may deliver health advantages beyond basic nutrition” [3]. A food is deemed functional “if it is demonstrated to affect beneficially one or more target functions in the body, beyond adequate nutritional effects, in a manner that is relevant to improve the state of health and well-being and/or a reduction in disease risk”, according to the European Commission’s Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe [4].
There are multiple ways in which foods can be considered functional: (i) as a natural food, (ii) as a food to which a component has been added or removed, (iii) as a food with one or more components that have been modified, (iv) as a food whose bioavailability has been altered, or (v) as some combination of these. 
The desire for nutritious and useful foods has prompted the exploration of new food categories to supplement the typical diet and the discovery of more holistic approaches to disease prevention and treatment [5][6]. Microalgae have received remarkable attention for the use of their biomass to develop multifunctional food products that are beneficial to human health.

1.2. Microalgae and Their Valuable Metabolites

Microalgae are unicellular photosynthetic microorganisms capable of converting solar energy into biochemical energy [7] and biomass containing a variety of useful substances for health, food and feed additives, cosmetics, and energy generation [8][9]. Nutrients and other health benefits can be gained from consuming microalgal biomass as a dietary supplement. Microalgae contain nutrient-rich bioactive compounds such as protein, essential amino acids, sulfated polysaccharides, enzymes, fibers, lipids, carotenoids, and vitamins [8][9][10][11].
Microalgae include an abundance of vitamins (e.g., A, C, niacin, B1, B2, B6, etc.) and minerals (e.g., magnesium, potassium, iodine, iron, and calcium). Due to their high amounts of essential nutrients, microalgal biomasses are an important food source, especially in Asian countries such as China, Japan, and Republic of Korea [12]. Asian nations have utilized green microalgae as a dietary supplement or food source for hundreds of years. They are currently consumed worldwide for their rich nutritional content [8][9][13]
A few green microalgae (e.g., Dunaliella salina, Chlorella vulgaris, and Haematococcus pluvialis) and some cyanobacteria (e.g., Arthrospira platensis, synonym of Spirulina platensis) are biotechnologically important. They can be used as nutritional supplements for human food and additives for animal feed [11]. This is why they are commercialized. Arthrospira platensis and Chlorella vulgaris have been highlighted as natural sources of protein, whereas Dunaliella salina and Haematococcus pluvialis are considered natural sources of pigment (especially because of their content of β-carotene and astaxanthin, respectively) [8][9][11].
Arthrospira platensis is a species of planktonic photosynthetic cyanobacteria that thrives in large areas of biomass inside tropical and subtropical aquatic environments characterized by elevated levels of carbonate and bicarbonate salts, as well as an alkaline pH of 9 [14]. As an eco-friendly process, Arthrospira platensis can be cultivated on animal effluent (a low-cost medium) [15]. Arthrospira production in effluents from animal dung has many benefits, such as large cost savings and the resolution of waste disposal issues. Conditions such as temperature, nutrient levels, and salinity cause the composition of algal biomass to change [16][17][18]. Nutrient starvation closely changes the composition of biomass; nitrogen starvation leads to an increase in lipid accumulation [17], and phosphorus deficiency results in increased fat and carbohydrate levels [17].
Arthrospira platensis (synonym of Spirulina platensis) is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, and its use as a dietary supplement is increasing. It is gaining popularity as a nutritional supplement around the globe. It is rich in proteins, essential amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, pigments, vitamins, and phenolics [13][19][20]. Arthrospira platensis has protein content ranging from 55 to 70% of its dry weight (dw), which is greater than that of egg (approximately 10% of its weight [21] and 17.0% in the yolk [22]) and meat (17–20% [23]) [13][24]. Proteins in milk and egg have a high digestibility rate of about 97% [25]. Secondly, meat, fish, and poultry have a high digestibility rate. Cyanobacteria such as Arthrospira also have a high digestibility rate of approximately 86% [26][27]. Knowing the definitions of some terms, such as digestibility, bioavailability, and bioaccessibility, helps us to understand the metabolism of nutrients. Digestibility refers to the amount of nutrients absorbed by an individual, and it is usually calculated by subtracting the amount of nutrients in the feces from the amount of food ingested [28].
Arthrospira, which also contains antioxidants, phytonutrients, probiotics, and nutraceuticals, is the most nutrient-dense, concentrated bacterium known in the diets of humans [9][13][29]. This cyanobacterium is not only recognized as one of the most valuable sources of protein, but also contains highly valuable fatty acids [linoleic (19–26%), gamma-linolenic (16–25%), oleic (3–8%), and palmitic (34–42%)]; vitamins (provitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, etc.); phenolic compounds; minerals such as iron, calcium, chromium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc; and pigments (chlorophyll-a, phycocyanin, etc.) [13][29][30][31]. Arthrospira is also rich in the PUFAs—polyunsaturated fatty acids—as PUFAs account for 42–45% of total fatty acids [11]. These are crucial parts of a well-rounded diet that aid in nervous system development and help prevent or alleviate various diseases [9]. In Western diets, carotenoids play a vital role, accounting for roughly 30% of daily vitamin A consumption [13]. Zeaxanthin and β-carotene are all examples of carotenoids found in Arthrospira [32].
Chlorella vulgaris is a green microalga that might be exploited as a food source [8][9]. Aside from being offered in health food stores and as fish feed, Chlorella has become a popular supplement. Chlorella was considered a commercial microalga for use as a protein source (50–60% dw) [8][33]. The amino acid profile of a protein determines its nutritional quality. The essential amino acids produced by C. vulgaris biomass compare favorably and even exceed the conventional human nutrition profile recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) [10][34]. C. vulgaris, under optimal growth conditions, can reach a lipid content of 5–40% dw consisting of glycolipid waxes, phospholipids, and trace amounts of free fatty acids [10]. Diverse growth circumstances lead to changes in the composition of fatty acids (e.g., palmitic acid, stearic acid, palmitoleic acid, and oleic acid) that are suitable for different uses [34]. The β 1–3 glucan found in C. vulgaris is an essential polysaccharide with numerous beneficial effects on human health [34].
Dunaliella salina is a green halophilic microalga that is cultivated as a source of beta-carotene (up to 14% of its dry weight), glycerol, and photosynthetic pigment [35][36]. The orange pigment, β–carotene, is also used as a vitamin A supplement. Large-scale D. salina production may be found in both Australia and Israel; the commercial cultivation of this alga as a source of β-carotene dates back to the 1980s [35]. With a combined pond area of almost 900 hectares, the two Australian facilities are the world’s largest commercial microalgae production facility. For the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries, these plants generate “natural” β-carotene in the form of oil suspensions, beadlets, and water-soluble powder. 
To increase β-carotene production from D. salina, the nutritional and environmental conditions in which the algae thrive can be changed [37]. Conditions such as salinity, irradiance, and nutrients alter the composition of D. salina biomass [37][38]. High salinity and irradiance stimulate β-carotene production in the halophilic microalga, which appears orange-red in masking due to increased β-carotene. Due to its provitamin and antioxidant activities, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified Dunaliella as a food source that is Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS), and it is primarily utilized for human and animal nutrition, food coloring, and cosmetics [9].
The microalga Haematococcus pluvialis is known for its capacity to collect high levels of astaxanthin. The annual biomass yield of H. pluvialis can reach over 300 tons [39], making it a popular choice in the biotechnology sector for the production of astaxanthin. The economic value of astaxanthin exceeds USD 240 million per year [40], with a market price of around USD 2000 per kilogram. Astaxanthin is a highly sought-after carotenoid [41]. In addition to neutralizing singlet oxygen, astaxanthin is an excellent scavenger of harmful free radicals [41][42]. The life cycle of H. pluvialis contains two distinct stages: the green motile stage and the red non-motile stage [43][44]. Unfavorable culture conditions like poor nutrients cause the vegetative motile green cells (macrozooids) to turn into red, non-motile hematocyst cells (aplanospores) [44].

1.3. Functional Food Products with Incorporation of Microalgae

Microalgae have been studied as a potential food source, especially a protein source for humans, since as early as the 1950s. The commercial cultivation of Chlorella and Arthrospira for protein supply began in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively [8][45]. The cultivation of Dunaliella and Haematococcus (especially β-carotene and astaxanthin) for food coloring was developed in the 1980s [8]. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, scientists started mass-producing polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3. Due to their simple cultivation with high protein content and nutritional value, Chlorella and Arthrospira platensis are at the forefront of the microalgal market [46][47].
Due to their valuable chemical composition, microalgae have several commercial applications today, including (i) increasing the nutritional value of food and animal feed, (ii) playing an essential role in aquaculture, and (iii) the manufacturing of cosmetics [8][48][49].
Microalgae can be an extremely intriguing natural source of novel chemicals with biological activity that might be enable them to be exploited as functional components [8][13][50][51]. A variety of secondary (biologically active) metabolites are produced by some microalgal species that live in habitats subjected to heavy stress (such as changes in salt concentration and temperature, nutrient availability, or UV-V irradiation). As a result of their rapid adaptation to changing environmental conditions, these microalgal species have developed a wide range of unique secondary (biologically active) metabolites. 
There are many different types of microalgae, but only a few are safe for human consumption. The FDA in the US awards the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) classification to newly approved foods only after rigorous scientific testing has shown their safety. Several microalgae, such as Arthrospira platensis, Chlorella vulgaris, and Dunaliella bardawil, are examples of GRAS-approved microalgae [8][9][52]
Arthrospira is the most healthy product known to humankind, according to the WHO. Moreover, Arthrospira is the most suitable food for the future, according to UNESCO. It is one of the main foods that can be grown on long-term space missions, according to NASA and the European Space Agency. The long history of Arthrospira’s use means that it can be commercialized in the European Union (EU) without having to comply with new food regulations [53]
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in microalgae have been shown to be effective in the prevention and treatment of a wide range of diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease [9][54][55]. PUFAs, particularly n-3 PUFAs such as α-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3n-3), EPA (C20:5n-3), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA, C22:5n-3), and DHA (C22:6n-6), have been reported to be useful in preventing or treating numerous disorders (such as cancer, arthritis, cardiovascular diseases, asthma, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disorders, depression, and kidney and skin diseases) [8][9][56][57]
Cell wall polysaccharides differ among microalgal species [9][58]. Polysaccharides produced from marine microalgae are promising in many ways. This is because they are antioxidant, antiviral, and anticoagulant [59]. They are also much less toxic. Red microalgae such as Porphyridium sp. contain sulfated polysaccharides with anti-inflammatory properties [59]. Sulfated polysaccharides are the most thoroughly researched category of algal polysaccharides [9][60]. Sulfated polysaccharides obtained from Arthrospira also have an antiviral property [61][62]
Bioactive chemicals, such as β-carotene (D. salina), astaxanthin (H. pluvialis), EPA, and DHA (Chrypthecodinium cohnii) [63], can be used in goods or taken as supplements [16]. As nutritional supplements, algal biomasses are supplied as pills, capsules, and liquids.
As biopeptides (protein hydrolysates) are more easily absorbed than proteins and amino acids, they are advantageous protein sources for humans [64]. High digestibility (83–90 percent) and all necessary amino acids (50–70 percent dry weight) are found in the biomass of Arthrospira [65]. It has been shown that biomass from microalgae is better for people in terms of nutrition and safety than traditional protein sources [10].
Microalgae are considered excellent sources of vitamins and antioxidants. Water-soluble vitamins and lipids are found in these organisms and can be used in food or as supplements. Folic acid, biotin, and vitamins are all present in microalgae [66]. Vitamin B12 and β-carotene (provitamin A) are found in Arthrospira [10]. Arthrospira consumption has been linked to an increase in gut Lactobacillus and improved dietary absorption of B1 and other vitamins [67].

2. Microalgae Food Application

Fortified or enhanced foods have been produced since the turn of the 20th century, and they are foods whose natural composition has been modified by the addition of necessary nutrients. Micronutrient absorption and their use by the body are prerequisites for the fortification of foods to have a beneficial effect on nutritional status (bioavailability). Bioavailability is affected by nutritional status; the presence of substances in food that aid or hinder absorption; and interactions between micronutrients, diseases, and the chemical properties of the molecule used for fortification [68]. Iron deficiency anemia among children under the age of five has been significantly reduced in nations like Chile, Venezuela, and Mexico [69]. The salt iodization initiative has also demonstrated its efficacy in less than a decade [69]. Other programs have added zinc, vitamin A, and folic acid to diets because these nutrients are low in many populations, especially in newborns and children.
Microalgal biotechnology has evolved and diversified tremendously during the past 30 years [70]. Arthrospira, for example, has been consumed by indigenous populations in Mexico and Africa for centuries. It was used to make tecuitlatl, a cake made with Arthrospira gathered from Lake Texcoco in Mexico [13]. Arthrospira from the alkaline Lake Kossorom was gathered in Chad and used to make a cake known as dihe [71]. Biomass has been used in many nutrient products to improve nutritional quality and to have a therapeutic effect on chronic diseases, so Arthrospira can also be used as a functional ingredient [72][73].
Consumers’ concerns about the health and safety of eating processed foods have grown in recent years. As a result of an increased risk of cancer or allergic reactions, the FDA and other national agencies have limited the use of synthetic dyes. As a result, natural additives will be increasingly popular in the food sector [74], and microalgae might play a role in this development. Chlorella, Dunaliella, and Arthrospira are only a handful of the many microalgae genera that are commercially accessible for human nutrition [46].
Microalgae have not only been used in pill capsule, tablet, and powder form, but also added to foods (pasta, snack foods, and beverages) either as dietary supplements or as natural food dyes [47][75]. They has been produced as a functional food oil, abundant in fatty acids and antioxidants, and tinted with carotenoids derived from microalgae. In addition, heat application (like cooking) did not cause any loss in micronutrients in cooked foods, such as pasta, bread, and cookies enriched with microalgae [76][77]. On the contrary, lower cooking loss and a higher swelling index were obtained in cooked microalgae-containing foods compared with control samples [76]
Chlorella vulgaris is sold as a food supplement, an additive [78][79], a food color, and an emulsion for food products [80]. The textural features of the biscuits were improved, and the color and texture were stable for three months, as previously reported for Chlorella biscuits [81].
Arthrospira platensis has been utilized to develop functional food products because it contains proteins, unsaturated fats, the B vitamin group, several minerals, and phycocyanin [8][13][82]. In more recent investigations, the incorporation of microalgal biomass into food items has been explored to increase their nutritional characteristics. Using Chlorella vulgaris and Arthrospira maxima microalgal biomass, Fradique et al. [79] created products with improved chemical content without compromising baking quality (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Pasta incorporated with (1) Arthrospira maxima, (2) Chlorella vulgaris, and (3) Chlorella vulgaris orange [79].
Malnourished persons can be supported with Arthrospira-containing functional foods such as chocolate, biscuits, and others [83]. The physical, chemical, and sensory features of the chocolate cookies enriched with A. platensis were investigated, as well as the digestibility of the product. The protein level of the diet with the addition of 5% algal biomass exhibited a protein content greater than the control. Biscuits enriched with Arthrospira platensis were 86% more digestible than other cookies containing microalgae and more popular with the judges compared with other cookies incorporating the microalgae [83]
The effect of adding Arthrospira platensis (0–1% concentrations) on the growth of microflora and the physicochemical properties of ayran before and after fermentation and on the 7th, 14th, and 21st days of storage was evaluated [84]. A. platensis at 1% had the highest total solid and protein content. Arthrospira platensis has the potential for boosting the growth of probiotic bacteria and the nutritional value of ayran [84]. Arthrospira platensis biomass, whey protein hydrolysates, and probiotics were used to develop functional ayran [85]
Products using A. platensis and rice flour (a substitute for wheat flour) to provide gluten-free bread to people with celiac syndrome are given in Figure 2 [86]. Greater protein content was detected in gluten-free loaves made from rice flour with the addition of 2% to 5% A. platensis [86]. The results indicated that the protein content increased by 39.04% in the bread when the microalgal biomass was increased to 5.0%. Microalgae also improved the amino acid composition, with substantial increases in 11 amino acids (four of which are important, such as threonine, methionine, isoleucine, and leucine), when compared to the control group without microalgae. Gluten-free breads with 5.0 percent microalgae biomass added had the same preference as those with 3.0 percent. Adding A. platensis at various concentrations can increase protein, total fat, and mineral content in foods [87]. At the same time, the results of the sensory tests of these formulated cakes were reported to be positive.
Figure 2. Gluten-free bread produced using rice flour: (a) control and with addition of (b) 2%, (c) 3%, (d) 4%, and (e) 5% Arthrospira platensis [86].

3.1. Challenges for Sensory Qualities of Food in Food Products with Microalgae

One of the major problems that has adversely affected the microalgae sector is the undesirable sensory properties of microalgae [16]. Products such as powders, tablets, and beverages from dried Arthrospira had a smell or fishy taste [10]. When fresh Arthrospira is added to food or drink, it barely alters the smell and flavor. The integration of microalgae that has not undergone component extraction imparts an unpleasant flavor above a certain concentration, rendering the food undesirable to the majority of customers, especially those who have never consumed algal-based goods. Upon the addition of A. platensis and C. vulgaris into yogurt, the results of a sensory evaluation indicated a more unpleasant flavor of A. platensis compared with C. vulgaris [88]. This inappropriate flavor is caused by the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids and other compounds from microalgae.
When the addition of microalgae to food products is lowered to decrease the disagreeable taste and odor, this leads to a decrease in protein content and other bioactive substances in food products. In terms of food type, it is easier to include microalgae in baked items such as bread, cookies, and pasta than other dietary items, such as yogurt [8][9]
Various sources of proteins (e.g., Spirulina, Chlorella, pea, lentil, and broad bean) were added into turkey Burgers to evaluate the physicochemical characteristics, textural attributes, and nutritional value of meat products [89]. The maximum values of amino acids correspond to turkey burgers formed with Spirulina and broad bean proteins. Glutamic acid was the predominant one, obtaining a value of 2.13 g/100 g in the case of broad Spirulina protein [90].
One of the primary obstacles preventing the widespread use of microalgal dry biomass in the food industry is the intense color created by microalgae. As a result of the presence of microalgae, the color of food can be altered, which may not be acceptable to most people, and the quality of commonly consumed foods like bread and dairy products is affected. Nonetheless, it serves a useful purpose for a few other items, such as pasta, since people eat it in a wide variety of colors.
There are also new ways to handle the bright color of microalgae. The European Food Safety Authority recently approved two pale-colored Chlorella powder products with low chlorophyll content as food raw materials and food supplements [91]. These newest items are more aesthetically neutral and consumer-acceptable than conventional dark green products.
Despite the fact that cultural influences and future opportunities to mainly investigate customers’ views for adopting new eating habits that involve more novel food items may lead perceptions and attitudes towards food to differ, the results described here might be generalized to other European countries.
Consumers’ ability to tolerate the taste of microalgae-based foods is one such factor [8][9]. Key factors in the development of the microalgae-based foods market will include the type of microalgae used, the method used to prepare the microalgal biomass (i.e., as a dried powder or by processing), the combination of ingredients, and the shape of the final product.

3.2. Food Safety and Potential Risks

There are three factors that affect the safety of algae foods in relation to the algae. These may be physical and chemical pollutions and microbiological contaminations [92]. These factors endanger food safety. Therefore, new technologies are needed to detect these contaminants or pollutants quickly. There are now many new developments in the monitoring of heavy metals, algal toxins, and other contaminants. In the future, not only will there be cheap, fast, and safe detection methods for assessing algal food contamination, but these methods will also be linked to new technologies that work with artificial intelligence, biosensors, and molecular biology.
Foods enriched with either microalgal biomass, microalgal supplements, or biochemical compounds extracted from microalgae are subject to the same regulations that apply to all foods. These products must comply with food regulations, such as the requirement for food to be free from contamination or solvent residues.

3.3. Challenge in Ensuring the Stability of the Nutritional Content of Microalgae

The biochemical content of microalgae is affected by light, humidity, pH, and high temperature, i.e., they are quite unstable [93]. They have a high tendency to deteriorate. It is important to ensure the stability of the biochemical component of microalgae. The important thing is to determine how we can take these ingredients at the highest rate for bioavailability.
To deal with the poor physicochemical stability of microalgae bioactive extracts, especially carotenoid, astaxanthin, and free fatty acids, numerous studies have suggested the coating of these bioactive compounds with biopolymer layer. This can significantly increase the stability of bioactive compounds under different conditions [94]. Encapsulation can ensure bioavailability and stability. Encapsulation generally refers to the process of incorporating a specific ingredient into a matrix, while an “encapsulation system” generally refers to a system designed to encapsulate, protect, and release the target active compounds [95].

3. Conclusions

Microalgae have great potential to serve as a valuable source of useful bioactive compounds for functional food supplements, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals. It is widely acknowledged that the relationship between diet and disease is the cornerstone on preventive nutrition. Also, microalgae have received remarkable attention for the development of multifunctional food products that possess the potential to enhance human health. The production of functional foods containing bioactive components from microalgae enhances long-term possibilities for sustainable development. Microalgae such as Arthrospira platensis and Chlorella vulgaris have been highlighted as natural sources of protein, whereas Dunaliella salina and Haematococcus pluvialis are considered sources of pigment (especially because of their content of β-carotene and astaxanthin, respectively). Microalgae are a very biodiverse group with a broad range of biochemical characteristics; as a result, they generate a variety of bioactive chemicals and unique lipids, proteins (essential amino acids), and carbohydrates. Chemicals like β-carotene (D. salina), astaxanthin (H. pluvialis), EPA, and DHA (Chrypthecodinium cohnii), and others, can be obtained from various microalgae species and have been shown to be used as supplements in products or as dietary additions.


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