Do you want to maintain control over your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure naturally? Are you lacking adequate protein in your diet? Looking for a superfood other than fruits and veggies? If you find yourself nodding ‘yes’ to the above, then look no further than Spirulina!
Spirulina is considered as an ancient life form and its origin on earth can be traced back to more than 3 billion years. History records suggest that it was consumed as food by people in 9th-century Chad and by Aztecs in 16th-century Mexico. Even today spirulina in a green-cake-like form is sold as ‘Dihe’ in markets around Lake Chad.
Spirulina has been on focus in recent years for various health benefits owing to its high nutritional content. So much so, that even NASA has used it as a part of a diet supplement for their astronauts while on space expeditions.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a known type of blue algae that is found to grow in fresh as well as saltwater. It is classified under the family of cyanobacteria which are photosynthetic organisms with deep colored pigments. Its name comes from the Latin word ‘Spiru’ meaning a ‘weeny-spiral’ that is indicative of the curly, spring-like features of spirulina.
Spirulina is fast gaining acceptance as a superfood and rightly so. One of the most nutrient-laden food sources, it contains everything from proteins to phytonutrients, that provides amazing benefits that make it fit for human consumption as also for animals and marine species such as fishes, turtles, etc.
Spirulina has a protein content of 60 – 70% of which 80 – 90% is digestible protein, meaning you have more amino acids made bio-available to your body. Considered a complete protein, spirulina contains 19 essential and non-essential amino acids.
It also has high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid, iron along with calcium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, chlorophyll and the unique pigment-protein complex, phycocyanin, found exclusively in blue-green algae. Consuming just a tablespoon or 7g of spirulina daily can provide all the nutrients you need.
12 Proven Health Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina, as you know now, is loaded with proteins, vitamins, minerals and other rich phytonutrients which makes it an indispensable addition to maintain overall well-being.
It has also been backed by tons of research on the various benefits it can provide making it a sought-after dietary supplement. Listed below are 12 of the proven health benefits that one can enjoy by using spirulina.
1. Spirulina Aids in Detoxification of Heavy Metals
Arsenic toxicity is a serious problem that affects people globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed countries such as U.S.A, India, Bangladesh, etc to have high levels of inorganic toxicity in drinking water. The problem is even more severe in Taiwan, Bangladesh, and India for which there is no known medicine.
To combat this problem, spirulina with its toxic-fighting abilities was explored as a natural, alternative solution. Studies suggest that spirulina, when combined with zinc, showed the capability to reduce toxicity in the human body
Summary: Spirulina with a combination of zinc can naturally lower arsenic poisoning in humans, arising due to the consumption of toxic drinking water.
2. Spirulina May Inhibit Candida Fungal Infections
Candida species is a common group of yeasts or fungus that require a living host to survive. It is usually found to co-exist in the human digestive tract. Sometimes when the body’s immunity mechanisms are lower, this fungus can cause an infection termed as candidiasis that can occur in mucosa or lining of the mouth, genital areas, and skin.
Lack of balance in gut flora due to intake of strong antibiotics, poor diet, consumption of high-sugar foods and hormonal imbalances can trigger yeast infections. Candidiasis is one of the primary causes of mycosis-induced mortality rate in the USA.
Scientific research suggests that spirulina may be able to help in the treatment of candidiasis. Spirulina with its antimicrobial properties acts on the fungus and helps to eliminate the infection caused by candida. Studies also show that spirulina extracts can have a positive effect on gut health by promoting good bacteria concentrations that may help inhibit candida proliferation.
Summary: Antimicrobial substances in spirulina may help inhibit the thriving of candida and help promote good bacteria which protects the body from fungal infections.
3. Spirulina for Treatment of HIV/AIDS
HIV/ AIDS are conditions caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that can wreak havoc on one’s immune system and if untreated can lead even to death. On a general scale, people living in Japan, Korea, and Chad were less prone to HIV/ AIDS cases. It is most prevalent in the African continent where malnutrition too plays a heavy role in increasing the magnitude of the disease.
Scientific studies back the fact the people who consumed algae regularly were less prone to HIV/AIDS. Spirulina can effectively help in lowering the progression of the disease. It is also capable of fighting malnutrition with its rich nutrients and beneficial enzymes. This is vital to increase the body’s natural defense against harmful viruses, especially HIV.
Research shows that spirulina supplementation can help enhance the immune system and protect the body from harmful microorganisms.
Summary: Spirulina supplementation is effective in the treatment of HIV/AIDS diseases and helps improve malnutrition to support a stronger immune system.
4. Spirulina Helps in Fighting Cancer
Cancer is a dangerous disease with abnormal cell growth, capable of spreading and destroying body tissue that can eventually result in death. Numerous research has been carried out on spirulina capability to fight and treat cancer.
Clinical studies suggest that spirulina may possess anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties that may have a chemopreventive effect on cancerous cells.
Summary: Consumption of spirulina can help improve anti-cancer effects and inhibit the proliferation of cancerous cells.
5. Spirulina Can Relieve Hypertension
Hypertension, a condition where blood pressure in the arteries remains elevated is a globally common condition. It can have serious implications on health if left untreated.
Continuous regular medication is required to control hypertension. Looking at food sources that may help lower blood pressure, spirulina scores high owing to the pigment, phycocyanin.
Studies have revealed that phycocyanin has antihypertensive properties that may be highly beneficial. Specific studies have also shown that spirulina can help in managing BMI, weight, lower blood pressure and prevent endothelial dysfunction in metabolic syndrome.
Summary: Phycocyanin in spirulina may help relieve hypertension and help restore normalcy to endothelial dysfunction.
6. Spirulina May Lower Bad Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a wax-like substance present in the blood that aids in the production of hormones, vitamin D and aids digestion. Excess cholesterol forms fatty layers on the arteries which acts as a risk factor for heart diseases. Positive results have been found on research for the effectiveness of spirulina on cholesterol.
Numerous studies and clinical trials have shown that spirulina can significantly lower lipid concentrations in the blood. It works by reducing levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol known as bad cholesterol and triglycerides and simultaneously increases HDL cholesterol which is good for heart health.
Summary: Spirulina can control bad cholesterol levels in the body and protect from atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.
7. Spirulina May Reduce Risk of Stroke
Stroke refers to a serious condition when brain cells are impaired due to a lack of proper blood flow to the brain. The oxygen-starved brain cells die which can result in fatal brain damage and severe disabilities or even death. Stroke is ranked as the 4th highest cause of death in the USA.
Researchers believe that spirulina with its cardio-protective, antioxidant capabilities may help minimize the chances of stroke. Studies show that the administration of spirulina can have a neuroprotective effect on the brain. The phycocyanin content in spirulina can inhibit platelet aggregation and treat arterial thromboembolism which may lead to stroke.
Spirulina has also shown to be effective in preventing inflammation of the brain and promote the concentration of stem cells.
Summary: Intake of spirulina can help minimize the chances of brain stroke, prevent inflammation and have a neuroprotective ability on the brain.
8. Spirulina Helps in Boosting Energy Levels
Energy for both mind and body is important for maintaining a healthy version of ourselves. Spirulina with its natural composition of nutrients can supplement your body with good energy and active metabolism.
Although one study shows that spirulina did not make a great difference in reducing chronic fatigue, researchers generally accept that spirulina’s content of polysaccharides and GLA are easily digestible and contribute to increased energy release. Plus, it promotes the growth of the good gut bacteria Lactobacillus which aids in vitamin B6 production that again releases enough energy.
Summary: The Polysaccharides and GLA content along with spirulina’s ability to promote the growth of Lactobacillus, aids in increased energy release to retain an active mind and body.
9. Spirulina Lower Allergic Response in Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic Rhinitis commonly referred to as Hay Fever arises due to an allergic response to allergens in the air such as pollen, dust, etc. and can affect people worldwide. Looking at alternative measures other than constant medication to combat this, spirulina has been studied for efficacy in the treatment of allergic rhinitis.
Various research and studies show that spirulina may be effective in reducing the severity of allergic rhinitis such as nasal congestion, discharge, and sneezing. Studies also support the fact that hydrolyzed peptides of spirulina can lower allergic responses and provide immense relief in such allergic diseases.
Summary: Supplementation of spirulina can improve allergic rhinitis and lower allergic responses in the human body.
10. Spirulina for Treating Neurodegenerative Disorders
Neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, etc. are incurable conditions where the nerve cells undergo progressive degeneration or death. Persons with such conditions are prescribed continuous medication to stem the progression of the disease. Spirulina has been at the forefront as a potential supplement to treat these disorders.
Spirulina-supplemented diet as research shows, can reduce neurotoxic effects and provide neuroprotection to the brain. Additional studies indicate that the polysaccharides with antioxidative properties can have positive and protective effects on dopaminergic neurons. Spirulina is also shown to prevent memory loss by lowering the accumulation of the Aβ protein and protect from oxidative stress.
Summary: Spirulina displays strong neuroprotective abilities that may help in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. It is also proven effective in preventing memory loss and oxidative stress, common in such debilitating diseases.
11. Spirulina Aids in Muscle Growth and Endurance
Physical fitness is a positive change that is catching on globally. Besides athletes and bodybuilders, men and women seeking an active lifestyle engage in workouts too. But, a poor diet may not support muscle fitness and can result in reduced stamina and exhaustion. Spirulina rich in proteins and amino acids has been studied for some time now to ascertain its effectiveness to promote muscle growth and endurance.
Clinical research and studies have shown that spirulina supplementation can promote better protein synthesis and aid in skeletal muscle growth. It can also aid in a significant increase in fat oxidation rate and GSH levels with enhanced performance. Some studies also affirm that spirulina can delay the fatigue setting and prevent damages to skeletal muscles during exercises.
Summary: Regular supplementation of spirulina with exercise can promote skeletal muscle growth, fat oxidation, and enhanced performance as well as decrease fatigue-setting time and muscle damage.
12. Spirulina Helps to Regulate Blood Sugar
Glucose, commonly referred to as blood sugar, refers to the sugar present in our blood that is used by the body cells as energy. Diabetes results when the sugar levels rise due to non-assimilation of glucose into cells and this can lead to serious complications. Researchers have long targeted spirulina to check its efficiency in regulating sugar levels.
Phycocyanin in spirulina has been experimented in studies and has shown to enhance insulin sensitivity and reduction in plasma glucose levels to combat diabetes. It can also have a significant effect on HbA1C, a marker for diabetes.
A reduction in HbA1C levels lowers the risk of diabetes complications. Besides phycocyanin, the trace minerals in spirulina can also help in the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes that reduce glucose levels in the body.
Summary: The phycocyanin and mineral content in spirulina algae can help lower plasma glucose and HbA1C levels to maintain blood sugar levels and reduce complications that may arise due to diabetes.
Recommended Dosage of Spirulina Supplements
Even though there is no standard dosage set for spirulina, clinical trials and research indicate that anything between 1 – 10 g is beneficial for health. As spirulina is an excellent detoxifier, starting with a big dose may affect your body’s metabolism.
Start slowly with 1 gram of spirulina powder and gradually work your way up to a dose where you are comfortable. For therapeutic use, your practitioner may recommend anything between 10g – 20 g depending on your condition.
Overdosing on spirulina is unlikely, but one can experience bloating, nausea or indigestion if you don’t give you body time to adjust to spirulina.
Spirulina is available in the form of capsules or tablets for convenient consumption. It is also available as powders that can be mixed with shakes, smoothies or food preparations as part of a nourishing diet. There is no set timing as to when spirulina should be taken so you can consume it with, before or after meals.
Risks and Side Effects of Spirulina
Spirulina, a naturally occurring food source, is generally accepted as safe even when consumed at high doses. But sometimes it can become dangerous or toxic due to various factors.
- Spirulina is grown and procured worldwide from a variety of places. If it is harvested from brackish waters or from sources where there are more pollutants, then it can be contaminated with microcystins, heavy metals, etc. that can make spirulina toxic and dangerous for consumption.
- Spirulina supplements manufacturers may use the process of irradiation. Irradiation is the use of ionizing radiation to food items to kill bacteria, germs and increase their shelf-life. While irradiation of food is not harmful, it can cause chemical changes or depletion of certain nutrients which makes the supplement less effective.
- Some people can be allergic to spirulina which can trigger a severe allergy. If you are prone to allergies or using any medications such as blood thinners or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs, you should consult your family physician before starting a spirulina supplement.
- Individuals with metabolic condition phenylketonuria, hemochromatosis where iron content in the body is excess and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis should avoid spirulina as it is rich in amino acids, iron and can stimulate the immune system.
- Consuming spirulina may result in certain metabolic changes that your body needs to adjust to. Some temporary side-effects you may experience include mild fever, rashes, restlessness or exhaustion, passing gas frequently, dark green stools.
- Pregnant women and children should consult a practitioner before commencing on spirulina or any other supplement.
Delicious Spirulina Recipes
Rather than mixing spirulina powder in water and drinking it, you can try various recipes to incorporate this nutritious ingredients. Once you start enjoying it, you are bound to take it more regularly. Adding it to fruit smoothies not only improves the taste, it also adds more nutrient value.
The Blue Green Smoothie Recipe
The combination of almond milk with banana and avocado makes this a rich and creamy drink. This spirulina drink is believed to help clear up acne. Have it regularly in the mornings for a nutritious start to your day. You just have to mix up the following ingredients in a blender. It’s best to drink it immediately after making it.
- Almond milk – 1 cup
- Spirulina powder- 2 to 3 tsp
- Ripe banana – 1
- Avocado -½
- Yogurt – ½ cup
- Cinnamon powder – a pinch
- Honey – 1 tsp (optional)
Make sure the yogurt and almond milk are cold. The banana should be frozen ahead of time. You can chop them up and put them in the freezer, a ziplock. Scoop the flesh from the avocado and add it to the chilled almond milk and yogurt, in a blender. Add the frozen chopped banana and beat to form a thick smoothie. The frozen fruit adds to the thickness. Now add the spirulina, cinnamon powder and honey.
Whip again till well blended. Pour into serving glasses. Add some crushed ice if you wish. Garnishing with a slice of cucumber and a sprig of mint gives an attractive look to this tasty drink.
Spirulina and Avocado Toast
An avocado toast tastes great even when you sneak in some spirulina powder into the recipe. This one is a simple and easy recipe where you just have to mash up all the ingredients.
- Spirulina powder – 2 tsp
- Avocado – ½ cup, diced
- Fresh pineapple – 1.2 cup, chopped
- Sweet onion – ⅓ cup, chopped
- Pepper – ¼ tsp
- Pink salt – ¼ tsp
- Lemon juice- 1 tbsp
- Chili powder – a pinch
The fresh pineapple adds a delicious sweet and sour flavor to it. Flavoring with chili powder, lemon juice, salt and pepper gives a balance to the sweetness of pineapple creating a burst of flavors on your tongue.
Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of this pineapple-avocado guacamole mixture on toasted bread. This is so tasty, you probably won’t even remember that it has spirulina. But the combination of ingredients make this snack a nutrient powerhouse. Eat while the toast is still warm and enjoy.
The Final Note
Spirulina, a blue-green alga is considered as nature’s oldest gift to humans. A nutrient-rich food source well-researched and documented by both science and history, it has the potential to provide numerous health benefits such as treating anemia, controlling lipid, sugar and blood pressure, fighting cancer, enhancing immunity, etc.
Owing to its popularity, many spirulina supplements make claims but they may not be of superior quality. Good research on the brand, origin of spirulina, third-party testing would help you choose a safe and high-quality product that can benefit your health immensely.
Though you can just mix spirulina powder in water, it may not taste so great, To ensure you use this supplement regularly, sneak it into our daily diet by adding it to smoothies, sandwich mixes and salad dressings. The combination of fruits or vegetables make your drinks and snacks even more nutritious.