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Spirulina is a blue-green microalga which grows in oceans and lakes in subtropical conditions. It is not just a commanding superfood but is also a precious gift from the sea. This macrophyte has engrossed generations due to its high nutritional advantage and health benefits.

According to FAO, the Aztecs first harvested spirulina from Lake Texcoco in central Mexico, and it is still being harvested from Lake Chad in West Africa where it is used in the form of shrivelled cakes.

It was once considered to be a plant due to its rich plant pigments and its ability to perform photosynthesis.

Spirulina grows in extremely microscopic helixes, which tend to adhere together, making it easy to gather and grow. It has an intense burst of blue-green colour but does not have an intense taste.

But what is so special about an alga?

You might be amazed to know that spirulina is substantial in nutrients, some of which aren't found in your everyday foods. The FDA states that spirulina consists of considerable proportions of calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron. But, its most important nutrient component is protein.  As a matter of fact, protein makes up about 60 to 70 percent of the weight of spirulina and it is widely used as a protein supplement.

Apart from supplements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) grant the manufacturers to use spirulina as a colour additive in gum, candies and other packaged foods.

Some basic facts about Spirulina:

  • Scientific Name: Arthrospira platensis, Spirulina
  • Family: Oscillatoriaceae
  • Common Name: Spirulina, dihe, tecuitlatl
  • Geographical Distribution: Africa is the main area where spirulina is grown in plenty, especially Kenya.  It is spread over east African saline lakes. However, it is also commercially produced in Japan, Bangladesh, Australia, Spain, Portugal and Brazil. Japanese are the ones producing and consuming the maximum spirulina.
  1. Spirulina nutrition facts
  2. Spirulina health benefits
  3. Spirulina side effects
  4. Takeaway

As per the USDA Nutrient Database, 100 grams of spirulina (dried spirulina) contains the following values:

Nutrient Value per 100 g
Water 4.68 g
Energy 290 g
Protein 57.47 g
Fats 7.72 g
Carbohydrates 23.90 g
Fibre 3.6 g
Sugar 3.10 g
Minerals Value per 100 g
Calcium 120 mg
Iron 28.50 mg
Magnesium 195 mg
Phosphorus 118 mg
Potassium 1363 mg
Sodium 1048 mg
Zinc 2.00 mg
Vitamins Value per 100 g
Vitamin C 10.1 mg
Vitamin B1 2.380 mg
Vitamin B2 3.670 mg
Vitamin B3 12.820 mg
Vitamin B6 0.364 mg
Vitamin B9 94 µg
Vitamin A 29 µg
Vitamin E 5.00 mg
Vitamin K 25.5  µg
Fats/ Fatty acids Value per 100 g
Saturated 2.650 g
Monounsaturated 0.675 g
Polyunsaturated 2.808 g

Spirulina crammed with nutrients that can have substantial health benefits for body. Here are some scientifically proven health advantages of spirulina: 

Spirulina for malnutrition

According to WHO, malnutrition isn’t just the deficiency of certain nutrients, but it also refers to an excess or an imbalance in them. It remains one of the biggest cause of mortality in the world, especially among children under five years of age. Poverty has a major role in the prevalence of undernourishment in developing countries. Being a host to several nutrients, spirulina is produced on large scale to be used as a nutritional supplement. In fact, it has been suggested that the protein content of spirulina is comparable to that of eggs.

A study was conducted on undernourished children in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa to assess the nutritional effect of Spirulina. In this pilot study, a significant and quick improvement was seen in the nutritional status of these children when they were administered a dose of 10g per day of Spirulina.

In another study, 550 undernourished children were given a combination of spirulina and millets for a period of 8 weeks. The study concluded that this combination is much more effective in improving nutritional status than spirulina proteins alone.

Spirulina for athletic performance

The main reason underlying exercise-induced muscle fatigue is the development of oxidative stress. A healthy and balanced diet is usually recommended to maintain performance and health. However, there are particular plant foods that have antioxidant properties and can help athletic and physically active people to minimize this damage.

The phycocyanin pigment present in spirulina is shown to exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which reduce muscle soreness.

In another research, spirulina was found to increase endurance along with reducing skeletal muscle damage.

Some studies also claim that spirulina inhibits exercise-induced lipid peroxidation along with increasing exercise performance.

Spirulina helps deal with anaemia

Anaemia is one of the most common mineral deficiency in the world. Not only does it cause weakness and malaise but anaemia in pregnant women may lead to premature births and birth defects. The most common type of anaemia is caused by iron deficiency and is said to reduce haemoglobin or red blood cells. Studies indicate that spirulina supplements improve haemoglobin levels in young anaemic females. Being rich in several nutrients, spirulina is an excellent addition to the pregnancy diet. It not only reduces anaemia but also it provides essential nutrients to pregnant women.

Apart from young and pregnant women, anaemia is also known to be found in elderly people leading to protracted symptoms of depression and fatigue. In a clinical study, 40 elderly persons with a history of anaemia were asked to consume spirulina supplements for 12 weeks. A significant increase in haemoglobin consistency was observed in all the subjects. The immunity function had also improved.

Spirulina benefits for diabetics

Chronic hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar level) is often difficult to handle. Diabetic people rely on a combination of drugs and healthy lifestyle habits to keep blood glucose under control. However, some foods can also aid in this. Several studies have been on the hypoglycemic (reduces blood sugar) properties of spirulina. Preclinical studies indicate that spirulina has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant which increases insulin sensitivity thereby improving glucose metabolism

There is also proof that Spirulina can work well with humans. In a study done on 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina led to a considerable improvement in the blood sugar levels of the patients.

In a recent study on type 1 diabetes, spirulina consumption was found to reduce inflammation and improve the function of pancreatic beta cells. These cells are responsible for insulin secretion.

Interestingly, spirulina not just improves diabetes, but it also helps reduce the risk of certain diabetic complications. According to animal-based studies, regular consumption of spirulina improves haematological parameters like white blood cells and haemoglobin while also balancing cholesterol levels in diabetics.

Clinical studies also report similar effects, concluding on the fact that spirulina has a strong potential in diabetes management and anti-diabetes therapies.

Spirulina for allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is a term used to denote inflammation and swelling of the nasal cavity due to exposure to an allergen. pollens, dust and, animal hair are some of the common allergens. Spirulina is considered an excellent anti-inflammatory agent and is specially studied for its use in the treatment of allergic rhinitis. In one particular research including 127 individuals with allergic rhinitis, a daily dose of 2 grams reduced reactions like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion, itching and skin reactions.

In another study, spirulina consumption was found to increase Ig A antibodies, which is known to possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. It has further been suggested that spirulina supplements, at a dosage of 2000 mg per day, significantly inhibits the production of inflammatory cytokines thereby reducing inflammation.

Spirulina for cancer

There is a particular set of studies that claim that Spirulina has anti-cancer properties. Animal studies indicate that spirulina can inhibit cell cycle in cancer cells thereby preventing its growth and spread. It has also been found to selectively kill tumour cells.

In vivo (animal-based) studies also suggest the antiproliferative effects of spirulina in pancreatic cancer.

Phycocyanobilin and chlorophyllin have been reported to be the active anticancer agents present in this microalgae.

(Read more: Cancer treatment)

Spirulina has antioxidant properties

Oxidative stress refers to an imbalance between reactive oxygen species (free radicals) and natural antioxidants. Accumulation of free radicals can have a negative impact on the body tissues. It has also been linked to DNA damage. All of these, in turn, increase the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and arthritis.

Studies indicate that spirulina is a wonderful resource of natural antioxidants, which can shield our body against oxidative harm. Polyphenols, phycocyanins are the primary antioxidant compounds present in spirulina.  

Interestingly, phycocyanin is the pigment which gives spirulina its extraordinary blue-green colour. It can fight against radicals and inhibits the production of inflammatory signal molecules, leading to substantial antioxidant and anti-swelling effects.

(Read more: Antioxidant rich foods)

Spirulina for heart health

Heart diseases are one of the biggest cause of hospitalization and death in the world. Some of the common risk factors of heart diseases include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and inflammation. It turns out that spirulina has shown many considerable effects on these risk factors. It can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing HDL, which is good cholesterol.

In a study including individuals with high cholesterol, 1 gram of Spirulina daily had shown a decrease in triglycerides by 16.3% and LDL by 10.1%.

Another research reportes\ favourable results with intake of Spirulina; up to about 4.5 grams per day, for a period of 6 weeks. Additionally, spirulina has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that have been found to be highly beneficial in preventing cardiovascular diseases.

Spirulina prevents atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is a condition characterized by narrowing of arteries due to the deposition of fats on the inside of arterial walls. This is mainly caused due to an excess of LDL (bad) cholesterol and problems like diabetes and high blood pressure. However, lipid peroxidation is the chief driver of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases.

As a hypolipidemic, spirulina makes sure that your body doesn’t accumulate excess LDL cholesterol and as an antioxidant it scavenges free radicals, thereby reducing the risk of atherosclerosis.

Spirulina for arsenic poisoning

Arsenic poisoning is a global concern and millions are getting affected by this problem due to contaminated drinking water.. Symptoms of acute arsenic poisoning include nausea, diarrhoea and abdominal pain while in chronic conditions it can harm multiple body systems. Additionally, it is a well-documented carcinogen.

No particular treatment is available currently for arsenic poisoning.

In a clinical study done in Bangladesh, 41 people suffering from chronic arsenic poisoning were given 250 mg of spirulina along with 2 mg Zinc two times a day, for a period of 16 weeks. At the end of 16 weeks, marked reduction in melanosis (skin hyperpigmentation) and keratosis (skin keratinisation) was noticed in all the test subjects. These are two of the most common diagnostic features of arsenicosis. The study concluded that spirulina and zinc may have a therapeutic potential in the treatment of arsenic poisoning.

  • Spirulina can cause interference with drugs, especially immunosuppressants. So, if you are on prescribed medication, it is best to refer to a doctor before taking spirulina.
  • Although spirulina has been found to be effective in treating arsenic poisoning, when grown in certain water sources, it may be contaminated with heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and lead.  Long-term consumption of such spirulina would then be quite harmful to the body. It is always advisable that you buy good quality product from a trusted brand.
  • Our body produces a considerable proportion of urea as it metabolizes the proteins present in Spirulina. Excessive amount of urea degrades kidney function and increases the risk of kidney stones and renal failure.
  • Not much research is available on the possible effects of Spirulina on pregnant and nursing women. Therefore, it is advised that pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid the intake of Spirulina or remain under strong medical supervision while taking it.

Spirulina is a blue-green alga which is proven to be advantageous and favourable to our body in numerous ways. It is an excellent source of dietary protein and an efficient anti-inflammatory agent. Spirulina consumption is healthy for the heart and it it has been widely used as a nutritional supplement. But it is always important to take it in the correct dosage and proportions. Spirulina supplements should always be bought from a trusted supplier it may be contaminated with harmful substances.

 


Medicines / Products that contain Spirulina

References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 11667, Seaweed, spirulina, dried. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  2. Parikh P, Mani U, Iyer U. Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. J Med Food. 2001 Winter;4(4):193-199. PMID: 12639401
  3. Jiyeong Lee et al. Spirulina Extract Enhanced a Protective Effect in Type 1 Diabetes by Anti-Apoptosis and Anti-ROS Production . Nutrients. 2017 Dec; 9(12): 1363. PMID: 29244751
  4. Fariba Nasirian et al. The effects of oral supplementation of spirulina platensis microalgae on hematological parameters in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats . Am J Transl Res. 2017; 9(12): 5238–5244. PMID: 29312479
  5. Fariba Nasirian et al. Effects of Spirulina platensis microalgae on antioxidant and anti-inflammatory factors in diabetic rats. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2018; 11: 375–380. PMID: 30104892
  6. Lee EH et al. A randomized study to establish the effects of spirulina in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. Nutr Res Pract. 2008 Winter;2(4):295-300. PMID: 20016733
  7. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Malnutrition.
  8. Mark L. Wells. Algae as nutritional and functional food sources: revisiting our understanding . J Appl Phycol. 2017; 29(2): 949–982. PMID: 28458464
  9. Féfé Khuabi Matondo et al. Spirulina Supplements Improved the Nutritional Status of Undernourished Children Quickly and Significantly: Experience from Kisantu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo . Int J Pediatr. 2016; 2016: 1296414. PMID: 27777589
  10. Jacques Simpore et al. Nutrition rehabilitation of undernourished children utilizing Spiruline and Misola . Nutr J. 2006; 5: 3. PMID: 16430775
  11. Wataru Aoi et al. Exercise and functional foods . Nutr J. 2006; 5: 15. PMID: 16749944
  12. Lu HK et al. Preventive effects of Spirulina platensis on skeletal muscle damage under exercise-induced oxidative stress. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2006 Sep;98(2):220-6. Epub 2006 Aug 30. PMID: 16944194
  13. Kalafati M et al. Ergogenic and antioxidant effects of spirulina supplementation in humans. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jan;42(1):142-51. PMID: 20010119
  14. Selmi C et al. The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens. Cell Mol Immunol. 2011 May;8(3):248-54. PMID: 21278762
  15. Cingi C, Conk-Dalay M, Cakli H, Bal C. The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2008 Oct;265(10):1219-23. PMID: 18343939
  16. Mao TK et al. Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients. J Med Food. 2005 Spring;8(1):27-30. PMID: 15857205
  17. Akao Y et al. Enhancement of antitumor natural killer cell activation by orally administered Spirulina extract in mice. Cancer Sci. 2009 Aug;100(8):1494-501. PMID: 19432881
  18. Bhavana Sujana Mulk et al. Spirulina and Pentoxyfilline – A Novel Approach for Treatment of Oral Submucous Fibrosis . J Clin Diagn Res. 2013 Dec; 7(12): 3048–3050. PMID: 24551724
  19. Ruitang Deng, Te-Jin Chow. Hypolipidemic, Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Activities of Microalgae Spirulina . Cardiovasc Ther. 2010 Aug; 28(4): e33–e45. PMID: 20633020
  20. Saha KC . Diagnosis of arsenicosis. J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng. 2003 Jan;38(1):255-72. PMID: 12635831
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