Citing from the Handbook of Marine Microalgae Biotechnology Advance, Spirulina is a wonderful future food source. Being highly regarded as the next superfood – Spirulina has a complete list of proteins, vitamins, essential minerals and omega-3. The Aztecs, who lived in lake Chad, were said to consume Spirulina to meet their nutrition needs. It helped them surviving the famine.
Spirulina was once classified as a plant because of “its richness in plant pigments as well as its ability of photosynthesis,” according to a study published in the journal Cardiovascular Therapeutics. New understanding of its genetics, physiology and biochemical properties caused scientists to move it to the bacteria kingdom, in the genus Arthrospira at first, and later into the genus Spirulina. There are several species, but three — Spirulina platensis, Spirulina maxima and Spirulina fusiformis — are studied extensively because of their high nutritional as well as potential therapeutic values, according to the study’s authors.
Spirulina grows in microscopic spirals, which tend to stick together, making it easy to harvest. It has an intense blue-green color, but a relatively mild taste. Aside from supplements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows manufacturers to use Spirulina as a color additive in gum, candy and other packaged foods.
Supporting good health, Spirulina consumption can result in the excellent immune system. It is also a powerful antioxidant against free radicals due to its active phycocyanin – a property found in blueberries. A research study on Spirulina supplementation found that the compound lowered down the subjects’ blood glucose levels who received 2 grams of Spirulina per day for two months.
Spirulina is incredibly good for you. It is loaded with nutrients that can have powerful effects on your body and brain.
Here’s 10 evidence-based health benefits of spirulina.
1. Spirulina is Extremely High in Many Nutrients
Spirulina is an organism that grows in both fresh and salt water.
It is a type of bacteria called cyanobacterium, which is often referred to as blue-green algae.
Just like plants, cyanobacteria can produce energy out of sunlight, via the process called photosynthesis.
Spirulina was consumed by the Aztecs back in the day, but became popular again when NASA proposed that it could be grown in space and used by astronauts (1).
A standard daily dose of spirulina is 1-3 grams, but doses of up to 10 grams per day have been used effectively.
It is actually quite amazing how nutritious it is.
A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains (2):
- Protein: 4 grams.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 11% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 15% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin): 4% of the RDA.
- Copper: 21% of the RDA.
- Iron: 11% of the RDA.
- It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium and manganese, and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that we need.
Gram for gram, this means that spirulina may literally be the single most nutritious food on the planet.
A tablespoon of spirulina contains a small amount of fat (around 1 gram), including both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in about a 1.5:1 ratio.
The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent, comparable to eggs. It contains all the essential amino acids that we need.
It is often claimed that spirulina contains vitamin B12, but this is false. It contains pseudovitamin B12, which has not been shown to be effective in humans.
2. Spirulina Has Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Properties
Oxidative damage can harm our DNA and cells.
This damage can drive chronic inflammation, which contributes to cancer and other diseases.
Spirulina is a fantastic source of antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative damage.
The main active component is called phycocyanin. This antioxidant substance also gives spirulina its unique blue-green color.
Phycocyanin can fight free radicals and inhibit production of inflammatory signalling molecules, providing impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
3. Spirulina Can Lower LDL and Triglyceride Levels
Heart disease is currently the world’s biggest killer.
It is known that many measurable factors, termed risk factors, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
As it turns out, spirulina has been shown to have beneficial effects on many of them.
For example, it can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.
In a study of 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams per day of spirulina significantly improved these markers.
Another study in people with high cholesterol found that 1 gram of spirulina per day lowered triglycerides by 16.3% and LDL by 10.1%.
Several other studies have shown favorable effects, but with higher doses of 4.5-8 grams of spirulina per day.
4. Spirulina Protects LDL Cholesterol From Becoming Oxidized
Fatty structures in the body are susceptible to oxidative damage.
This is known as lipid peroxidation, which is known to be a key driver of many serious diseases.
For example, one of the key steps in the pathway towards heart disease is LDL lipoproteins in the blood becoming oxidized.
Interestingly, the antioxidants in spirulina appear to be particularly effective at reducing lipid peroxidation. This has been shown numerous times, in both human and animal studies.
In a study of 37 individuals with type 2 diabetes, 8 grams of spirulina per day significantly reduced markers of oxidative damage. It also increased levels of antioxidant enzymes in the blood.
5. Spirulina Appears to Have Anti-Cancer Properties, Especially Against Oral Cancer
Some evidence suggests that spirulina can have anti-cancer properties.
For example, some research in test animals shows that it can reduce cancer occurrence and tumor size.
Spirulina has been particularly well studied with regard to oral cancer, which is cancer of the mouth.
One study looked at the effects of spirulina on 87 people from India with precancerous lesions called OSMF in the mouth.
After using 1 gram per day for 1 year, 45% of the spirulina group had a complete regression of lesions in the mouth, compared to only 7% in the control group.
When they stopped taking the spirulina, almost half of the responders developed these lesions again the following year.
In another study of 40 subjects with OSMF precancerous lesions, 1 gram of spirulina per day led to greater improvement in symptoms than the drug Pentoxyfilline.
6. Studies Show That it May Reduce Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is an important driver of many killer diseases.
This includes heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease.
While 1 gram of spirulina is ineffective, a dose of 4.5 grams per day has been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with normal blood pressure levels.
This is thought to be driven by an increased production of nitric oxide, a signalling molecule that helps the blood vessels relax and dilate.
7. Spirulina Improves Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is characterized by inflammation in the nasal airways.
It is triggered by environmental allergens, such as pollen, animal hair or even wheat dust.
Spirulina is a popular alternative treatment for symptoms of allergic rhinitis, and there is evidence that it can be effective.
In one study of 127 people with allergic rhinitis, 2 grams per day dramatically reduced symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.
8. Spirulina May be Effective Against Anemia
There are many different forms of anemia.
The most common one is characterized by a reduction in hemoglobin or red blood cells in the blood.
Anemia is fairly common in the elderly, leading to prolonged feelings of weakness and fatigue.
In a study of 40 older people with a history of anemia, spirulina supplementation increased the hemoglobin content of red blood cells. Immune function also improved.
However, this is just one study, and more research is needed before any recommendations can be made.
9. Muscle Strength and Endurance May Improve
Exercise-induced oxidative damage is a major contributor to muscle fatigue.
Certain plant foods have antioxidant properties that can help athletes and physically active individuals minimize this damage.
Spirulina appears to be beneficial, with some studies showing improved muscle strength and endurance.
In two studies, spirulina was shown to enhance endurance, significantly increasing the time it took for people to become fatigued.
Another study in college athletes found that spirulina supplementation increased muscle strength, but did not have any effect on endurance
10. Spirulina May Help With Blood Sugar Control
Animal studies have shown that spirulina can significantly lower blood sugar levels.
In some cases, it has outperformed popular diabetes drugs, including Metformin.
There is also some evidence that spirulina can be effective in humans.
In a study of 25 patients with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina led to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels (9).
HbA1c, a marker for long-term blood sugar levels, decreased from 9% to 8%, which is substantial. Studies estimate that a 1% reduction in this marker can lower the risk of diabetes-related death by 21%.
11. Anything Else?
Spirulina may also have other beneficial effects, such as helping to “detoxify” the heavy metal arsenic from the body.
At the end of the day, spirulina is incredibly healthy. It is one of the few “superfoods” that are actually worthy of that term.