An organism that grows in fresh or salt water, spirulina contains such an assortment of beneficial substances; it may well be the most nutritious food on the planet.
Also known as blue-green algae, spirulina may seem an unlikely superfood since it’s technically a type of bacteria, but in the same manner as plants, it uses the process of photosynthesis to manufacture energy.
Aztecs knew the power of spirulina, and it has recently become the focus of attention as a potential source of nutrition for astronauts since it can be grown in space. (1)
It can be purchased in both powder and tablet form, and usual dosages range from 1 to 3 grams, but as much as 10 grams daily has been proven effective in studies exploring spirulina’s health effects.
One tablespoon of dried spirulina delivers 4 grams of protein with only 20 calories; it also provides respectable amounts of many vital nutrients. (2)
Here’s what you can expect from supplementing 7 grams of spirulina daily:
- 21% RDA for copper
- 15% RDA for vitamin B2
- 11% RDA for both iron and vitamin B1
- 4% RDA for vitamin B3
- Smaller amounts of potassium, manganese and magnesium, as well as other nutrients necessary for maintaining the human body
The protein in spirulina is considered comparable to that found in eggs, containing all the essential amino acids; the low amounts of fat will provide some omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of 1.5 to 1.
Let’s look at the range of health benefits you may realize if you include spirulina in your diet.
Improvements in Vital Blood Markers
Nearly 800,000 Americans died of heart disease in 2011, and it ranks as the number one cause of death worldwide. (5)
Several blood markers associated with heart disease can improve dramatically with the supplementation of spirulina.
Both LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and blood triglyceride counts drop when spirulina is added to the diet, and HDL cholesterol levels go up, effectively reducing the chances of developing heart disease.
A study of test participants with high cholesterol who took a gram of spirulina daily found LDL cholesterol levels fell by just over 10%, while blood triglycerides decreased by more than 16%. (6)
Lipid peroxidation, which is an indication of oxidative damage to the body’s fatty structures, can raise the risk of developing serious diseases, and spirulina has been proven to decrease the oxidization of blood LDL lipoproteins in animals and humans. (9, 10, 11)
A small study with 37 patients suffering from type 2 diabetes noted lower levels of oxidative damage as well as higher levels of antioxidants in the blood from the addition of 8 grams of spirulina daily. (12)
Another risk factor for heart disease is hypertension (high blood pressure); and spirulina may be useful in decreasing blood pressure through bumping up production of nitric oxide. This molecule acts in the signaling process that allows blood vessels to dilate and relax. (13)
While lower dosages aren’t effective, 4.5 grams of spirulina daily lowered readings in people who had normal blood pressure. (14)
Preventive Capacities of Spirulina
Besides dropping the risk of developing heart disease, the use of spirulina may also help prevent other serious health issues, including cancer. (15)
The generous amounts of antioxidants found in spirulina can reduce the damage done by free radicals in the body; inflammatory responses are also positively impacted, which has beneficial effects on risk factors for chronic diseases. (16)
Phycocyannin is the main active ingredient in spirulina that acts as an antioxidant; it also imparts the distinctive blue-green color to the substance. (17)
Animal studies indicate spirulina can cut the chances of developing cancerous tumors, as well as inhibiting growth. (18)
More human studies have been done with oral cancer than other types. When researchers tracked the response of patients with precancerous lesions in the mouth, results were impressive.
Nearly half the subjects taking a gram of spirulina daily for a year experienced complete regressions, while the control group rate (no treatment) was significantly lower at 7%. (19)
When spirulina treatment stopped, nearly 50% of the participants whose lesions had disappeared began to develop them again.
In another study, researchers compared the effects of spirulina with the pharmaceutical drug pentosyfillene in treating oral lesions such as those described above; a gram of spirulina a day resulted in greater improvements than using the drug. (20)
Other Health Benefits
Spirulina has been tested for its effectiveness in several other areas, including the treatment of allergic rhinitis, or the inflammation of nasal passages.
This condition can be triggered by environmental conditions such as exposure to animal hair, pollens, or substances that can differ between individuals.
One study with more than a hundred subjects suffering from allergic rhinitis found taking 2 grams of spirulina daily eased symptoms, including nasal congestion and discharge, as well as itching and sneezing. (21)
Anemia may be improved by spirulina supplements. There are several different types of anemia, one of the most common types often affects elderly patients.
The lower level of red blood cells in the body characteristic of anemia can lead to general fatigue and overall weakness. (22)
When anemic patients supplemented with spirulina, red blood cell counts rose; their immune systems also grew stronger. (23)
Athletes may find taking spirulina improves performance through reducing oxidative damage in muscle tissue.
Another study conducted with college athletes showed that muscle strength was significantly enhanced by adding spirulina, but endurance wasn’t affected. (26)
Spirulina also shows promise as a detoxification strategy for patients suffering from high concentrations of heavy metal in the body. When subjects with arsenic poisoning were give spirulina supplements, levels of arsenic dropped dramatically.
In one small human trial following 25 patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, results appeared promising; on a two-gram daily dose of spirulina, subjects experienced substantial drops in blood sugar. (29)
The Bottom Line
We hear a lot about “superfoods” and how they can make positive contributions to health; while many contenders may not deserve the status, spirulina is truly a nutritional star.
It’s readily available and reasonably priced, making it simple and easy to add to your health program.
Summary: Spirulina is a water plant loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals; it is effective in lowering cholesterol, preventing oxidative damage, discouraging the growth of cancerous lesions, and may prove to be helpful in managing a range of other health conditions.