Spirulina health benefits: 10 Reasons to use this superfood
This primitive multicellular alga is one of the oldest plants in the world, with a history stretching back some three thousand million years. It was so well adapted to life in the alkaline water that it has remained virtually without evolutionary change since long before insects, fish or mammals appeared on the surface of the earth, as fossils found in Transvaal prove.
- These blue-green algae are a mixture of single-celled organisms that have biochemical and cellular similarities to both plant and animal species. They have the ability to perform photosynthesis; like animal species, they form many complex glycoproteins.
- Spirulina blue-green algae consist of approximately 65% crude protein, high concentrations of B vitamins, zeaxanthin, phenylalanine, iron and other minerals.
Imagine a plant without roots, leaves, seeds, flowers or fruit, that grows by the hundreds in a single drop of water, barely big enough to be seen with the naked eye, yet it contains over 100 synergistic nutrients. It is an almost microscopic freshwater plant. An aquatic micro-vegetable organism composed of transparent bubble-thin cells stacked end-to-end forming a helical spiral filament. This blue-green alga grows in the world’s oceans and in freshwater lakes and is very light sensitive, having the highest photosynthesis record of any known land or sea plant.
Spirulina is one of nature’s richest sources of phenylalanine – a natural appetite suppressant. Normal weight could potentially be restored with spirulina, as it has been shown to promote satiety if taken before meals. Spirulina on its own has very few calories so does not add up to the daily calories. Spirulina capsules taken before bed can also prevent this feeling of starvation that often happens before sleeping. More research is needed in this field.
Exercise and training.
2-3g before training, in athletes, stops the constant feeling of hunger of e.g. runners and gives the energy needed to perform. It improves endurance and can prevent cramps. Spirulina can also be used after cessation of training in older athletes, to prevent sudden weight gain.
It can reduce lipid peroxidation and increase superoxide dismutase activity, which might help protect skeletal muscle from damage during strenuous exercise.
It is also one of the richest sources of arginine- an amino acid that promotes the release of growth hormone (GH). GH stimulates the body’s own regeneration processes to build muscle.
Spirulina is also rich in Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) – about 3 times richer than the oils of evening primrose. GLA is a strong anti-inflammatory oil with antioxidant properties, used with success in arthritis, eczema and other skin disorders, as well as Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) symptoms.
The nutrient status of spirulina is identical with that of chlorella (rich in analogs of B12, iron and protein etc). However, spirulina is a more primitive organism than chlorella and lacks a true nucleus. The result is a higher quality of DNA and RNA in chlorella.
Spirulina’s B12 content, however, is insignificant for humans and while it can ameliorate anemia, it should not be used as a reliable B12 source for vegans and vegetarians.
Iron, in contrast, has been found to be highly bioavailable in human. As much as 1.5-2 mg of iron can be absorbed from a dose of 10 grams of blue-green algae.
Vegetarian source of protein.
Spirulina has been found in analysis to be the richest natural source of protein, proportionally. Not all protein is available, however, for the body to use (around 50% of the 70% used).
Rich in chlorophyll.
Spirulina contains a large selection of colouring matters, some of which are being exploited commercially. The green pigment from chlorophyll tends to fade in natural light leaving the product rather blue in colour. Safe natural blue colours from spirulina are often used for food colouring purposes. The pigments include many of the complexes of chlorophyll, the carotenes and the xanthophylls. Chlorophyll pigment has multiple human benefits, including liver detoxification, improving digestion, fighting cancer and speeding up wound healing.
Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
A constituent in spirulina called C-phycocyanin may have anti-inflammatory actions and antioxidant effects. Preliminary evidence suggests that the antioxidant effects may decrease the toxicity of heavy metals, mainly lead.
Evidence suggests that spirulina blue-green algae might reduce serum lipids, liver triglycerides, and gastric secretions.
Spirulina might also protect against the effects of gamma radiation, enhance the regression of oral carcinoma, and have antiviral effects.
Spirulina may increase the concentration of immune globulin A (IgA) in the gastrointestinal tract, without increasing concentrations of IgG or IgE. This effect may decrease the risk of food allergies.
Spirulina might also inhibit mast cell-mediated allergic reactions.
It can also reduce production of interleukin-4 (IL-4) by the peripheral blood mononuclear cells of people with allergic rhinitis; (IL-4 promotes IgE production which enhances allergen binding to mast cells).
It also appears to increase immune function by increasing the activity of macrophages, increased phagocytosis.
Side effects and contraindications.
Spirulina is very safe, as long as non-contaminated products are used. Not only has it been used as a human food for centuries but also many hundreds of tonnes have been imported from Mexico into the USA and it has therefore been allowed to enter by the strict food and drug control in that country. The quantities of heavy metals present are very small because of the environmentally clean places in which it is grown and harvested.
Because it is a very concentrated food, a few cases are reported from people who find that taking it in large quantities gives them a slightly queasy feeling in the tummy, including diarrhoea, bloating, upset stomach, flatulence, and oedema.
Caution should be taken by people who have autoimmunity or are allergic to spirulina. More than 28g are not considered safe for anyone.
Hosseini SM, e. (2017). Nutritional and medical applications of spirulina microalgae. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23544470 [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].
Lupatini AL, e. (2017). Potential application of microalga Spirulina platensis as a protein source. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27507218 [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].
Mama, K. (2017). Spirulina Benefits: 7 Reasons to Try It (& 1 Major Caution) Wellness Mama. [online] Wellness Mama®. Available at: https://wellnessmama.com/4738/spirulina-benefits/ [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017].
Stephen L. (2011). The Naturopathy Workbook. London, UK, 3rd edition.
Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.
About Olianna Gourli
Olianna Gourli is a qualified naturopath and nutritional therapist, with a background in science and research (BSc Hons., PhD.c., mBANT, rCNHC). She has great expertise in gastrointestinal issues, such as IBS, hormonal imbalances and women's health, stress and chronic fatigue. She sees clients in her clinics in London, Athens and through Skype.