Trying to maneuver the world of supplements can be hard for anybody – especially now. Social media allows us the chance to learn about a new supplement or superfood everyday, but sometimes that makes it harder to decide which ones would actually be most beneficial for us.
I’ve always thought that the best place to start is getting informed. Spirulina is a superfood that’s been gaining a lot of popularity recently, and for good reason. It’s been used by humans for centuries, dating back to the Aztecs (1) and was dubbed as a food for the future by the World Food Conference in 1974 (2), and by researchers as a nutrient packed food for space travel by NASA in 1988. (3). That being said, what is it?
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is actually considered to be a bacteria. Yes, it’s the same algae that you’ll find in most fresh bodies of water, such as ponds, rivers or lakes. It also happens to have the most protein by weight of any food (up to 70% of it’s dry weight! ), contains all 8 essential amino acids, and has a vast nutritional profile that makes it’s list of uses extensive. Here are 5 that you need to know.
5 Proven Benefits of Consuming Spirulina
- It helps to keep your heart working its best.
A number of studies have been done on the effects of spirulina on cholesterol levels. Most recently there was one done in 2013 that demonstrated that 1 gram of spirulina a day for 3 months helped to balance the ratio of “bad” cholesterol to “good” cholesterol (5).
More evidence has been found that it aids in the reduction of “bad” or LDL cholesterol, while some indicate it also has the potential to increase “good” or HDL cholesterol. Overall this balancing has the potential to decrease blood pressure and reduce some of the strain on our beating hearts.
- It’s an automatic energy booster.
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There’s been a lot of talk about spirulina being a great source of vitamin B12. Despite recent studies disproving this (6), it still provides a natural energy boost. While it may be lacking the B12 our bodies can actually use, spirulina has a high concentration of vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and folate, all of which help our cells produce more energy.
Spirulina also helps us achieve that ‘get up and go’ feeling because of the iron levels. Iron helps our red blood cells transport oxygen to the rest of our bodies and plays an integral role in our bodies’ ability to absorb nutrients from food.
- It stabilizes and reduces blood sugar levels.
Spirulina’s wonderful blue-green colour is the result of phycocyanin. The same component of this superfood that we can thank for it’s pigment also helps improve the body’s sensitivity to glucose and improve insulin resistance in mice (7).
It has also demonstrated that it may help delay the destruction of β-cell in type 1 diabetes and reducing blood glucose levels (8). Another study demonstrated that 2 grams of spirulina everyday for 2 months resulted in lower blood sugar levels in humans with type 2 diabetes (9).
- It’s great for reducing inflammation
While turmeric, specifically curcumin, gets the most spotlight when it comes to inflammation spirulina contains a balance of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids of 1.6 to 1. We all know that omega fatty acids are important (hello, fish oil!), but what most people don’t know is that an excess of omega-6 fatty acids actually cause more inflammation.
By incorporating spirulina into our daily routine, we can help balance out the otherwise skewed ratio and reduce inflammation overall. Not only that but spirulina is also high in something called gamma-linolenic acid or GLA. GLA is known to reduce the body’s production of pro-inflammatory messengers and help to prevent the inflammation before it’s there, or lessen it if it is. (10)
- It’s a natural detoxifier.
Spirulina is a great heavy metal detoxification agent. It helps to stimulate the kidneys to remove the heavy metals that it binds to. The high levels of chlorophyll are especially effective in reducing the amount of mercury in our systems, which is an issue that’s becoming more and more prevalent as we consume more seafood and rely on silver fillings to fix our cavities.
Spirulina, when combined with zinc has also been proven to help with arsenic poisoning (11), and effective against lead toxicity due to the high levels of antioxidants (12).
The Full Picture: Heavy Metals In Spirulina?
It’s important to note that there has been some investigation into the amount of heavy metals that spirulina absorbs from the water that it grows in (13). The result of this study was that while there may be some heavy metals in spirulina, as long as we’re doing our due diligence in choosing a provider that is responsibly sourced, it’s safe for human consumption and has been for many years.
Many companies test their own spirulina before putting it on the market (for example Organic Burst tests their spirulina for toxicity levels at every stage of production, even the water that they source it from! ).
There are so many more great reasons to incorporate spirulina into our routines. They’re antioxidant powerhouses and help reduce cell damage, and can improve the body’s immune function (15) plus some studies have shown that they improve allergic responses (16).
However, because of the detoxification properties of spirulina it’s important to start with a small amount (usually 1 gram) and increase little by little in order to negate negative reactions. While near no side effects have been recorded with this natural food, people who have phenylketonuria, a rare condition that prevents the metabolism of phenylalanine, should avoid it as well as those with autoimmune conditions.
Spirulina is the truest definition of a superfood, especially in this fast paced world. Luckily, we can add convenience to it’s list of specialties. It comes in either a powder or a tablet form to take, meaning it can be incorporated into on-the-run smoothies (like this delicious recipe by AlDente Gourmet), mixed into soups, baked into desserts, or my personal favourite – as an addition to salad dressings! (Check out one of my favorites from TheWellWoman.)
Ciferri O, Tiboni O. The Biochemistry and Industrial Potential of Spirulina. Annu Rev Microbiol. 1985;39(1):503-526. doi:10.1146/annurev.mi.39.100185.002443.
- Zeik A. Micro-Algae Spirulina: The Solution to Malnutrition. Hunger-Undernutrition Blog. 2018. Available at: http://www.hunger-undernutrition.org/blog/2011/03/micro-algae-spirulina-the-solution-to-malnutrition.html. Accessed April 17, 2018.
- Karkos P, Leong S, Karkos C, Sivaji N, Assimakopoulos D. Spirulinain Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2011;2011:1-4. doi:10.1093/ecam/nen058.
- Balch P, Balch J. Prescription For Nutritional Healing. 5th ed. New York: Avery; 2000:94.
- Mazokopakis E, Starakis I, Papadomanolaki M, Mavroeidi N, Ganotakis E. The hypolipidaemic effects of Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) supplementation in a Cretan population: a prospective study. J Sci Food Agric. 2013;94(3):432-437. doi:10.1002/jsfa.6261.
- Watanabe F, Katsura H, Takenaka S et al. Pseudovitamin B12Is the Predominant Cobamide of an Algal Health Food, Spirulina Tablets. J Agric Food Chem. 1999;47(11):4736-4741. doi:10.1021/jf990541b.
- Ou Y, Lin L, Yang X, Pan Q, Cheng X. Antidiabetic potential of phycocyanin: Effects on KKAy mice. Pharm Biol. 2013;51(5):539-544. doi:10.3109/13880209.2012.747545.
- Lee J, Park A, Kim M, Lim H, Rha Y, Kang H. Spirulina Extract Enhanced a Protective Effect in Type 1 Diabetes by Anti-Apoptosis and Anti-ROS Production. Nutrients. 2017;9(12):1363. doi:10.3390/nu9121363.
- 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;4(4):193-199. doi:10.1089/10966200152744463.
- GLA: A Safe & Effective Anti-Inflammatory Omega-6 Fatty Acid. Sciencebasedhealth.com. 2018. Available at: http://www.sciencebasedhealth.com/GLA-A-Safe-Effective-Anti-Inflammatory-Omega-6-Fatty-Acid-W57.aspx. Accessed April 17, 2018.
- Misbahuddin M, Maidul Islam A, Khandker S, Islam N. Efficacy of Spirulina Extract Plus Zinc in Patients of Chronic Arsenic Poisoning: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study. Clin Toxicol. 2006;44(2):135-141. doi:10.1080/15563650500514400.
- Ponce-Canchihuamán J, Pérez-Méndez O, Hernández-Muñoz R, Torres-Durán P, Juárez-Oropeza M. Protective effects of Spirulina maxima on hyperlipidemia and oxidative-stress induced by lead acetate in the liver and kidney. Lipids Health Dis. 2010;9(1):35. doi:10.1186/1476-511x-9-35.
- Al-Dhabi N. Heavy metal analysis in commercial Spirulina products for human consumption. Saudi J Biol Sci. 2013;20(4):383-388. doi:10.1016/j.sjbs.2013.04.006.
- Spirulina. Organic Burst. 2018. Available at: https://www.organicburst.com/products/spirulina. Accessed April 20, 2018.
- Selmi C, Leung P, Fischer L et al. The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens. Cell Mol Immunol. 2011;8(3):248-254. doi:10.1038/cmi.2010.76.
- Kim H, Lee E, Cho H, Moon Y. Inhibitory Effect of Mast Cell-Mediated Immediate-Type Allergic Reactions in Rats by Spirulina. Biochem Pharmacol. 1998;55(7):1071-1076. doi:10.1016/s0006-2952(97)00678-3
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