Spirulina is a blue-green one cell organism, one of the oldest organisms on the planet.
Spirulina grows naturally in mineral-rich alkaline lakes which can be found on every continent, often near volcanoes. Its deep blue-green color is what gives the water its greenish hue. The most valuable natural habitats of spirulina today can be found at Lake Texcoco in Mexico, around Lake Chad in Central Africa and along the Great Rift Valley in east Africa.
There are documents that describe the use of “cakes” made of spirulina by the Aztecs five centuries ago. African tribes near lake Chad traditionally harvest spirulina and dry it into dihe, which is used to make broth.
Since its re-discovery in the 1960s, spirulina has been exhaustively and extensively tested by scientists around the world, and is found to be the most powerful and well-balanced source of nutrition available on the planet.
Because spirulina easily absorbs nutrients from water, if the water contains pollution or heavy metals, these will be highly concentrated in the spirulina cell.
Spirulina composition is listed in table 1, published by The National Agricultural Library.
Table 1. Composition of 100 g dried spirulina.
|Nutrient||Value per 100 g|
|Total lipid (fat)||7.72 g|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||23.90 g|
|Fiber, total dietary||3.6 g|
|Sugars, total||3.10 g|
|Calcium, Ca||120 mg|
|Iron, Fe||28.50 mg|
|Magnesium, Mg||195 mg|
|Phosphorus, P||118 mg|
|Potassium, K||1363 mg|
|Sodium, Na||1048 mg|
|Zinc, Zn||2.00 mg|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||10.1 mg|
|Vitamin B-6||364 mg|
|Folate, DFE||94 µg|
|Vitamin B-12||0.00 µg|
|Vitamin A, RAE||29 µg|
|Vitamin A, IU||570 IU|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||5.00 mg|
|Vitamin D (D2 + D3)||0.0|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||25.5 µg|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||2650 g|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||675 g|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||2080 g|
|Fatty acids, total trans||0|
Spirulina is rich in proteins, more than meat and soybeans. Unlike some producer claims, spirulina does not contain vitamin B12 but a B12 analogue, which is biologically inactive in humans.
The benefits of taking spirulina supplements
There is no significant scientific data that supports all the uses of spirulina, but it is widely recognized as a healthy nutrient. The World Health Organization describes it as an interesting food, rich in iron and protein. And Unated Nations established Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition in 2003.
The NASA and ISA have identified spirulina as a nutritionally complete and balanced super food meeting many nutritional, mineral and vitamin requirements including a rich source of protein. Spirulina is cultivated as one of primary foods during long space travels, because of its beneficial composition and ability to sustain bad surviving conditions.
Regulation of lipid and glucose metabolism
Human evidence suggests that spirulina can improve lipid and glucose metabolism, lowering serum triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). The gamma linolenic acid content of spirulina may have played a role in the mechanism of action.
Food for youth
A clinical trial in elderly patients showed positive effects on anemia and immunosenescence (age-associated decline in immune function) after 6 and 12 weeks of supplementation. The immunostimulatory effects appear to be largely mediated by spirulina polysaccharides.
Against heavy metal pollutants
Spirulina has shown preventive due to metal toxicity. In a small, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, spirulina plus zinc increased urinary excretion of arsenic and decreased arsenic hair-content in people with long-term exposure to arsenic.
Against free radicals and radiation
C-phycocyanin from spirulina reduced oxidative stress in hamsters. Other studies suggest spirulina as an antioxidant, but clinical importance has not been demonstrated. Spirulina also has been reported to protect mouse and human bone marrow cells against gamma radiation.
Which doses of spirulina are safe?
Generally doses from 1-10 g/day have been investigated. Daily recommended dose for humans is 1-5 g.
Very often spirulina is collected in open lakes and it can be contaminated with pollutants and non spirulina algae which can produce toxins. Due to spirulina ability to absorb metals it can be contaminated in mercury, lead, arsenic. More studies are needed to investigate the containment of toxins like mycrocistins that harm the liver and BMAA (beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine) which appears to be toxic to the nervous system.
Before buying a spirulina product be well informed if the spirulina is collected in open lakes or in controlled surroundings like pools. See if it had been tested for mercury and metal contaminants. And do not use while breastfeeding or pregnant. Babies are hypersensitive to even undetectable amounts of harmful substances.
- National Agricultural Library, US department of Agriculture https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3353
- http://www.drugs.com (https://www.drugs.com/npp/spirulina.html)
- University of Maryland Medical Center (http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/spirulina)
- National Center for biotehnology information (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3107672/)
- World Health Organisation http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/media/en/gsfao_cmo_109.pdf