Spirulina is thought to have been one of the staple foods for the Aztecs of Mexico. It was known as "Tecuitatl" (stone mud in Nahuatl language) and Lake Texcoco in the Valley of Teotihucacán, where Mexico City stands today, is still an abundant source of this superfood up until these days.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green planktonic microalgae that can grow in both fresh and salt water and is consumed by both humans and some animals. There are two species of spirulina: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima. Both species are cultivated worldwide and are used as a dietary supplement (in tablet, flake, and powder form), including as a complete feed for livestock and fish.
There are numerous reviews of spirulina that claim these amazing algae have benefits ranging from boosting metabolism to stabilising blood sugar and preventing heart disease. But spirulina may also help detoxify your body, boost energy levels, and even improve brain function.
On average, 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of spirulina contains approximately
4 grams of protein
1.7 grams of carbohydrates
Copper: 0.4 mg
Iron: 2 mg
Manganese: 0,1 mg
Magnesium 13,7 mg
Sodium 73,4 mg
Potassium: 95,4 mg
Riboflavin: 0,3 mg
Thiamine: 0,2 mg
Niacin: 0,9 mg
Health Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina is linked to many health benefits, from heart health and blood pressure to weight loss. Can it really do all those wonderful things it's claimed to do? Possibly, but in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.
Potential health benefits of spirulina Note:
Potential benefits refers to the fact that, although studies have been done, medical authorities need a larger number of studies to confirm such benefits.
Spirulina supplements may help to significantly reduce levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. A 2018 study published in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, indicated that participants consumed 1 to 19 grams of spirulina per day for two to 48 weeks before researchers concluded that spirulina has a "favourable effect" on these cardiac measures .
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
According to the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, studies have shown that spirulina can modulate both cellular and humoral immune responses. In terms of cellular immune responses, several reports indicate that spirulina exerts a specific action on monocytes and natural killer (NK) cells, components of the innate immune system.
In chickens and humans, the phagocytic response of macrophages was enhanced, and NK cell activity increased in response to spirulina administration. These experiments have also benefited the immune health of cats and dogs.
In addition to its immunostimulatory effects, spirulina is rich in β-carotene and tocopherols, nutrients with proven antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Spirulina has been shown to reduce oxidation in brain, plasma, and liver samples. Phycocyanin extracted from Spirulina platensis may act as a free radical scavenger, iron chelator and protects antioxidant enzyme activity. Other in vitro studies showed that spirulina could alleviate oxidative damage associated with the anti-cancer drug Fluorouracil as evidenced by reduced oxidative production of malondialdehyde.
Oxidation and inflammation play a key role in many diseases, including degenerative diseases. In vivo, spirulina can reduce markers of oxidative brain damage and reverse age-related increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines. In a mouse model of Parkinson's disease, a spirulina-enriched diet was neuroprotective. These antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects appear to translate to the clinical setting, as human studies found that oral administration of spirulina helped relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis, such as nasal congestion and itching.
Spirulina can Help Maintain a Healthy Gut Microbiome
Given its immunostimulant, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, it is not surprising that evidence is emerging that spirulina can modulate the gastrointestinal microbiota.
The gut is made up of many different types of bacteria, some 'good' and some 'bad'. Gut problems can arise when the types of bacteria are out of balance or there are too many bad bacteria of foreign origin living in your gut biome. Spirulina has prebiotic properties and the good bacteria in your gut feed on that.
Spirulina Can Balance Cholesterol Levels
A study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture revealed that adults with high cholesterol who consumed spirulina for three months experienced improvements in their triglyceride, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. By supplementing with 1 gram of spirulina per day for 12 weeks,participants reduced their triglycerides by 16% and LDL by 10% .
Other research indicates that spirulina supplementation can have a significant effect on reducing plasma levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol .
Spirulina may Support Weight Loss
Spirulina can help promote significant reductions in body fat percentage and waist circumference.
A study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition noted that after 3 months of supplementation (along with individualised dietary management), the study groups (control and experimental groups) showed a decrease in body weight, fat mass and abdominal circumference; however, no statistical differences were found between the groups.
The same phenomenon was observed for biochemical metabolic markers; however, there was a clear trend in favour of spirulina/turmeric supplementation.
Finally, both groups significantly increased their serum antioxidant status, although the supplemented groups showed a two-fold increase compared to the placebo group.
Spirulina Could Promote Muscle Strengthening
In terms of exercise and fitness benefits, spirulina may help improve muscle strength, endurance, and performance. In one study, maximum strength, average strength, and fatigue index of the dominant quadriceps muscle were measured before and after 8 weeks of supplementation. Values were compared within and between groups.
The results showed that Spirulina supplementation is effective over time in increasing maximal strength (p<0.01), mean strength (p<0.01) and decreasing fatigue index (p<0.01) in the paired t-test.
In conclusion, Spirulina supplementation for 8 weeks would be effective in increasing isometric muscle strength and isometric muscle endurance. Spirulina supplementation with training was found to be better than spirulina alone and training alone in increasing muscle strength, but neither group was found to be better in increasing muscle endurance.
It Could Help Tackle Anaemia
Anaemia - or a lack of healthy red blood cells - causes extreme fatigue. It has been shown that spirulina can help counteract anaemia in certain cases. In one study focusing on older people with anaemia, for example, spirulina supplements were found to increase the haemoglobin content of red blood cells, specifically benefiting older women .
Similarly, people following a strict vegan and vegetarian diet may benefit from spirulina supplementation as it contains some iron and copper (the latter of which promotes iron absorption in the body), minerals that are difficult to absorb when animal protein is not consumed.
Blood Sugar Control
Spirulina has also been shown to have benefits in the prevention and control of diabetes. A 2018 meta-analysis indicated that spirulina supplementation significantly reduced fasting blood glucose levels in people in the experiment whose intake range was between 1-19 grams per day between 2 and 48 weeks.
The results showed a significant reduction in several conditions, including blood sugar (fasting blood glucose (WMD = -5.01 mg/dL; 95% CI: -9.78 to -0.24; P=0.04), and DBP (WMD = -7.17 mmHg; 95% CI: -8.57 to -5.78; P=0.001). .
The results are quite encouraging, but it is not a matter of replacing sugar medication with spirulina. Any changes you wish to make, please consult with your doctor, and work out together what protocol would work best for you.
Good quality spirulina contains about 4 grams of protein per tablespoon, which supports blood sugar balance and diabetes control.
One of the advantages of spirulina is that it has a kind of alkalinising effect and provides special protection against allergic reactions, as it can help stop the release of histamines, which cause allergy symptoms.
One study found that people with allergic rhinitis who consumed 2 grams of spirulina a day experienced significant improvement in symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, and itching .
Spirulina may also contribute to mental health and may even play a role in the treatment of mood disorders.
Numerous in vivo trials have supported spirulina's potential for brain health, highlighting antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective mechanisms. Preliminary clinical studies have also suggested that spirulina may help reduce mental fatigue, protect the vascular wall of cerebral vessels from endothelial damage and regulate internal pressure, thus helping to prevent and/or mitigate cerebrovascular conditions. (7)
In addition, this superfood has been found to contain tryptophan - an amino acid that increases the amount of serotonin in the brain - and may be a useful supplement for preventing and managing some mental disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, eating and anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, among others . (8)
Although it is Full of Benefits, Consuming Spirulina Comes with Some rRsks - Know and Avoid Them!
During the algae's growth cycle in marine environments, it can accumulate heavy metals, harmful bacteria or microcystins, which can be harmful to the liver. Spirulina also has anticoagulant (or blood-thinning) effects, which means that people with clotting disorders or taking blood-thinning medications should consume it with caution.
Furthermore, spirulina contains phenylalanine, an amino acid that is harmful to people with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU). People with autoimmune disorders may also experience adverse reactions to algae.
Therefore, when you decide to buy a supplement, especially spirulina, it is important to check that it has been tested in a laboratory, ensuring safe consumption.