What Is Spirulina?
- Often referred to as blue-green algae, spirulina has been shown to prevent as well as reverse a great number of health problems.
- Spirulina grows in freshwater environments like rivers, lakes and ponds in many warm climates around the world. It was a staple food of Mexicans that lived 400 years ago and has been gaining popularity in recent years as studies continually prove its worth as a super food.
The name blue-green algae that spirulina often goes by is actually an incorrect term as cyanobacteria are prokaryotes and algae refer to eukaryotes.
- This vitamin-rich cyanobacteria has a concentrated, slightly sulfuric seaweed-like flavor. Spirulina is definitely not the most appealing of health foods in terms of looks and taste (a few tips on how to add it to your diet are included in this article).
Taking spirulina daily could dramatically improve your health and here are 17 impressive reasons why:
1. Detoxes Heavy Metals
- Spirulina is effective in detoxifying the liver of heavy metals such as arsenic. Arsenic poisoning may not be a health issue that concerns most people day to day but it is a worldwide problem. Millions of adults and children suffer from arsenic poisoning in the Far East, consuming it through contaminated drinking water and according to the WHO (World Health Organization), the United States is affected by inorganic arsenic. Inorganic arsenic is highly toxic and exposure can be caused by a number of possibilities such as using contaminated water in food preparation and irrigation of food crops, industrial processes, eating contaminated food and smoking tobacco. (1)
2. Lowers Risk of Cancer
- Phycocyanin, a plant pigment contained in spirulina, is the key fighter in this battle, it is strongly anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, two properties that have been shown to combat cancer.
- In a study published in the Journal of Cancer (2) , a test tube super cocktail comprised of phytochemicals from spirulina and other natural substances (curcumin, resveratrol, genistein, indole-3-carbinol and quercetin) was shown to be completely effective against breast cancer cells. The cancer cells stopped growing and in effect committed suicide. Also particularly promising is the fact that the natural compounds targeted and destroyed only the cancer cells and did not destroy healthy cells.
3. Gets Rid of Candida
- Spirulina has been shown to promote the growth of good bacteria in the intestines thus inhibiting candida from thriving and its immune system strengthening properties will help the body fight the fungus.
4. Improves HIV Condition
- Research conducted on HIV patients supplementing spirulina has shown very promising results including a reduction in the events associated with the disease such as liver and kidney conditions, reduced chance of infection and weight gain. In addition these individuals showed an increase in antioxidant levels and a decrease in blood creatinine levels. Also promising that spirulina has not shown to cause a reaction to existing HIV drugs (3)
5. Alleviates Allergies
- Studies in both animals and humans have shown that spirulina consumption improves the symptoms of allergies such as sneezing, nasal itching, congestion and discharge and stops the release of histamine. (5, 6)
6. Boosts Immune System
- Include spirulina in your diet regularly to boost your overall health and immunity. The nutrient polysaccharide found in spirulina is immune boosting while another, phycocyanin, increases your white blood cell count. Studies have shown spirulina to improve immune system function and prevent the development of viral infections. (7)
7. Helps Lower Cholesterol
- Tackle the triglycerides and cholesterol with a daily intake of spirulina. A study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture observed a significant decrease in cholesterol in patients consuming 1g of spirulina per day for 12 weeks. The sample group had all recently been diagnosed with dyslipidemia (high cholesterol or high triglycerides/low HDL) and at the end of the study the subjects’ total cholesterol, average triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, and ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol were markedly reduced. (8)
- Wrinkles and sagging skin is an obsession for many. The cause of these unwanted lines and bagginess is due to oxidation caused by free radicals, exacerbated by poor diets lacking in fresh vegetables and over-exposing skin to the Sun. To slow down the aging process foods charged with anti-oxidants are essential and spirulina happens to be extremely rich in a number of these including carotenoids and zeaxanthin, both powerful anti-oxidants.
9. Mood Enhancer
- Many have reported a significant improvement in mood after taking spirulina, currently there isn’t any official evidence to support this although that doesn’t mean the apparent boost is bogus.
10. Helps with Weight Loss
- A daily dose of spirulina has been proven to aid with weight loss. A study conducted in Poland specifically looking at body weight, blood pressure and endothelial function demonstrated that after three months all three areas showed improvement in overweight patients. Spirulina is not an appetite suppressant, but if you take it about an hour before a meal you may find you are satisfied on less. Adults can aim to take about 6 – 10 grams per day for weight loss purposes.(9)
11. Reduces Radiation Sickness
- The benefits of spirulina in treating radiation sickness became apparent after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Children who were both suffering from the sickness and exposed to ongoing exposure from contaminated food and drink showed positive results without any adverse side effects. (10) The following was observed:
- Bone marrow, spinal fluid, blood cell and liver regeneration.
- In just 20 days, dangerously low white blood cell counts of approximately 1,000 (typical of leukemia) increased to 3,000.
- Levels of radioactivity in urine decreased by 50 percent also in 20 days.
12. Keeps Eyes Healthy
- Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of blindness today. It typically occurs in later life and is the result of deterioration of the macula, the region that controls acute vision. Special carotenoid pigments found in your eyes protect your eyes from damage by slowing down ultraviolet-induced oxidation of lipid membranes; these are lutein and zeaxanthin and are present if included in your diet. One 5 g dose of spirulina per day will ensure you are not lacking in these necessary pigments.
- Spirulina has also been shown to halt the progression of geriatric cataracts.
13. Improves Bone Density
- After the age of 40, bone density decreases at the rate of approximately 1% per year. It is common knowledge that calcium is a necessity for good bone health but perhaps calcium from a plant source wouldn’t immediately spring to mind. As well as being a rich source of calcium, spirulina also contains magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2 which are all necessary for calcium absorption.
14. Alleviates Symptoms of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome
- Experts suggest taking spirulina to ease the symptoms associated with menstruation, namely cramps, bloating, tiredness and mood swings.
15. Improves Memory
- Take spirulina to improve your memory as well as protect it. A 2g daily dose of spirulina given to 549 children over a 2 month period showed a marked improvement in academic performance. Its antioxidant properties act as protection against memory loss by reducing oxidative damage. (11)
16. Improves Endurance and Muscle Strength
- If it’s gym stamina and bulging biceps you want then spirulina could give you the boost you’re looking for. It is rich in proteins and amino acids, the building blocks for muscle tissue and growth and one study showed that runners supplemented with spirulina managed an extra 30% longer so spirulina really can be the fuel to keep you going that extra mile. (12)
17. Naturally Regulates Blood Sugar
- Studies have shown that subjects with type 2 diabetes who consumed 2g of spirulina per day over a 2 month period showed lowering of fasting blood glucose and postprandial blood glucose levels and a significant reduction in the HbA1c level was also observed, indicating improved long-term glucose regulation. Other beneficial effects included a reduction in systemic inflammation, decreasing blood pressure and improving lipid profile by reducing serum triglycerides and increasing HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or “good cholesterol”). (13)
- A September 2016 study conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo showed 10g a day of spirulina quickly improved the nutrition of undernourished children. (4)
- Be choosy about your spirulina selection. Not all spirulina is equal and if the water it grows in contains pollutants then these will end up inadvertently being ingested by the end consumer. Read the labels to glean as much information as possible to ensure the spirulina powder has been grown in clean, mineral rich water. The more openness about the origin of the spirulina and detailed information there is on the label the better!
- Spirulina and milk: I add spirulina, turmeric and cinnamon powder to a small quantity of milk, microwave for about 20 seconds and gulp it down. Turmeric is also a wonder food worth taking daily.
- Spirulina in Coffee: A small amount (1/3 of a teaspoon) added to a cup of coffee is an easy way to top up on spirulina each day.
- Spirulina Smoothie: Add a little spirulina (teaspoon or less) to your morning smoothie or juice. It shouldn't be too noticeable in flavor when whirled together with fruit but it will turn any drink green. The smoothie pictured contains one banana, a handful or ice cubes, a dash of milk, one small scoop of ice-cream, some turmeric and cinnamon powder, a bit of grated nutmeg and a teaspoon of spirulina. I like to think of it as a mint, choc chip without of course having either of those ingredients! Adding mint could also be a winner as it would help to mask the spirulina flavor.
- Mixed into water: If you can bear it mixed solely with water then well done! The flavor could be worse but imagine mixing very dark green flour in water and that’s the consistency of spirulina stirred into H20! It more resembles something you would be likely to concoct for Halloween than a super food packed full of goodness.
- Spirulina and Avocado shake: Go for green with these two vitamin stuffed ingredients and add whatever else takes your fancy.
- Spirulina Energy Ball: If you want to attempt something a bit more involved then try mixing up a few balls of goodness, consisting off ingredients such as pureed dates, nuts, coconut, spirulina and whatever else you fancy.
- Chocolate Brownies or Chocolate and Beetroot Brownies Plus Spirulina: The rich flavor should disguise the green algae well.
- Straight Spirulina: Don't do it! Attempting to eat a spoonful of powder on its own may put you off for life!
A Video on Growing Your Own Spirulina
Here is an overview of the vitamins, amino acids and minerals that are found in spirulina and how they benefit the mind and body.
Spirulina Nutrition: Vitamins
B6 or Pyridoxine
Breakdown and assimilation of proteins. Protection to the heart. Reduces oedema.
Helps keep nerve and and blood cells healthy. Helps prevent megaloblastic anemia (causes tiredness).
Needed for production of cortisone.
Red blood cell production.
Liver health and maintains blood holesterol level.
B3 or Niacin
Helps convert carbohydrates into glucose. Helps lower cholesterol.
B1 or Thiamine
Maintains blood glucose levels.
B2 or Riboflavin
Converts food to glucose and helps body metabolize fat. Helps prevent eye problems and eczema.
E or Tocopherol
Antioxidant protecting cells from free radical damage. Anti-aging.
Spirulina Nutrition: Complete Amino Acids
Growth, intelligence development.
Increases muscular energy levels and stimulates brains function.
Cell growth, antibodies production, circulatory system.
Liver health, calms nerves.
Used by thyroid to control metabolic rate.
Improves nerve fibers aiding mood stability.
Helps coordinate muscular system.
- Spirulina is also comprised of 10 nonessential amino acids (that is amino acids that are not normally present in foods). These are: alanine, arginine, aspartic acid, cystine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, proline, serine, tyrosine and chlorophyll.
- Chlorophyll or 'green gold' as it is sometimes called, is the most recognizable from the list above. Chlorophyll in plants is the sunshine it absorbs and spirulina is very high in this, containing 3 times more on average than other highly developed plants.
- Our bodies use chlorophyll in metabolism and cell communication.
Spirulina Nutrition: Minerals
Healthy bones/teeth. Absorbs acid.
Assists with assimilation of vitamins B and C.
Helps stabilize blood sugars.
Mental health, healing, skin tone.
- It might only be composed of a single cell, as simple as it gets in terms of nature’s constructions but spirulina is one of the most nutritionally complete of all nutraceutical supplements.
- Its impressive nutritional profile boasts high levels of orange carotene and yellow xanthophyll.
- Spirulina is rich in an array health boosting vitamins and minerals and other amino acids, proteins, complex carbohydrates, fatty acids and lipids.
- Backed up by many scientific studies, it is plain to see that spirulina should be an essential part of all healthy diets.
- 1 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs372/en/
- 2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24312140
- 3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4508814
- 4 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5061973
- 5 http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/15871200
- 6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18343939
- 7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11962722
- 8 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.6261/abstract
- 9 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26813468
- 11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21697639
- 12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20010119
- 13 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12639401
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Stella Aligizaki from Greece on November 23, 2017:
I use spirulina for 20 years. It makes me feel strong. Your article is very interesting.