Spirulina – should you supplement?

Spirulina is considered a complete food since it contains all of the amino acids and essential fats that we need. You really want to incorporate into yours and your children’s diet regularly to add nutrient density to their menu. Being so nutrient dense, it is great for personal health, and it is also ecologically sound, making it an excellent option for ensuring food security in developing countries in the near future. What’s more, it is relatively mild in taste.

In this article, I will cover some of the major benefits of consuming spirulina on a regular basis and how best to supplement with this amazing food source while avoiding some possible negative consequences.

But firstly, what is Spirulina?

Spirulina often lists among the many superfoods such as kale and blueberries, but spirulina is, in fact, a cyanobacteria – a group of bacteria that obtain their energy via photosynthesis and do not need an organic carbon source to thrive. This means that they do not need to obtain food to survive. Spirulina grows in water with a temperature of around 30 °C (86 °F) and a pH of about 8.5 and above, making it an excellent food to grow in third world countries that have hot weather such as Africa, India, etc.

Spirulina has been available as a food source for humans for millennia and is now being recognized as an important well of health. In fact, when considering the amount of nutrients it holds per gram, it is regarded as the most nutritious food on Earth.

The Benefits of Spirulina

There are many health benefits and an outstanding amount of nutritional content in spirulina. Spirulina contains protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C, B-6, A, K and iron where it helps prevent anemia. 

These are just the most prominent nutrients; there are many more nutrients contained in this superfood. 

Spirulina has significant antioxidant, anti-inflammation, as well as immunomodulatory properties. [1] It is also very alkaline in nature helping reduce acidity typical in diets rich in animal products.

Another important fact is that spirulina has the highest amount of chlorophyll of any known food source. Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives plants their green color like spinach and kale. Chlorophyl is helpful for skin conditions, has anti-aging properties, reduces body odor, helps heal wounds, has immune stimulating properties, and fights certain types of cancer. [2] Recent studies are looking at the effect of spirulina on viral infections and swelling due to the high levels of chlorophyll. Chlorophyl is also well known for its detoxification properties helping remove heavy metals and other pollutants from the body by acting as a chelator.

With such a sizeable nutritional value concentrated in a small amount of food, spirulina is highly beneficial for all populations, and especially for malnourished populations, even those living in the modern world but have poor dietary habits, and for vegans. Spirulina is extremely rich in protein. In fact, when dried, protein forms about 60 – 70 percent of Spirulina’s weight. 

With regard to vitamin B12 in spirulina, the evidence is still inconclusive as to whether spirulina consumption offers sufficient active B12 for vegans.

Spirulina is also highly beneficial in for helping many health conditions:

Diabetes & Heart Disease

There’s a premise that spirulina can help manage some of the symptoms of diabetes as it was shown to normalize blood glucose levels, making spirulina supplements beneficial for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. [3] [4] [5]

It’s important to note that spirulina’s known antioxidant properties are also responsible for keeping the blood vessels in good health supporting both the symptoms of diabetes and atherosclerosis.

The next benefit lies in spirulina’s ability to lower cholesterol levels and thus lower a person’s risk of heart disease. More specifically, spirulina reduces LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and increases HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol. The role in preventing heart disease is from spirulina’s anti-inflammatory, wound healing and antioxidant properties. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Weight Loss

A small study has shown that ingesting spirulina boosts metabolism. In the study, several people who took spirulina ended up with an improved metabolism that caused them to lose weight and improve their overall quality of life. [8]

Allergies

Spirulina also seems to affect some widespread allergies including pollen, animal dander, and house dust mite allergies. Spirulina reduces part of the allergic symptoms including a runny nose and sneezing. [11] [12]

Other conditions:

Many other conditions that are unexplained by modern medicine can benefit from the detoxifying properties of spirulina which may reduce many symptoms.

Spirulina Supplements

You can get spirulina supplements in powder or tablet form. Each type of supplement has its own benefits. In powder form, most manufacturers use less or no fillers than used in tablets. Powders are also easily added to salads and soups.

Tablets, on the other hand, are more conveniently stored and transported than powder is and have a longer shelf life of about 3 years.

Warnings:

The dosage is crucial, and special care should be taken if taking certain medications:

Spirulina may weaken the effect of immunosuppressant drugs.

Spirulina may also interfere with blood clotting drugs, including warfarin since spirulina itself is a blood thinner and may increase a person’s risk of bleeding.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory may also heighten spirulina’s blood thinning effects.

People who have the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU) are recommended to avoid Spirulina.

Since spirulina contains iodine, you will want to take supplements with caution if you suffer from an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or Hashimoto’s disease.

Dosage:

If you do not suffer from the conditions mentioned in the warnings above and do not take the medications mentioned above, you can safely take one teaspoon of powder or one to two 500 mg tablets five times a week. You may slightly wish to increase dosage at times when you are under more stress, or for women, during menstruation.

And since spirulina has been found to increase alertness, I advise taking spirulina supplements in the mornings or latest at lunchtime.

Children over four years old can consume half of the adult amounts.

And athletes during competition periods can double the adult dose.

Most importantly, it is crucial to buy spirulina from a trusted brand because it may be grown in contaminated water containing high levels of heavy metals that may be passed on to the spirulina. Other toxic substances may also be present in the water. I recommend the Nutrex brand from Hawaii. You can buy it here on Amazon.

In the end, with all the known positive effects of spirulina, you are highly advised to include it in yours and your childrens diet if you wish to lead a healthier lifestyle.

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Galit Goldfarb

References:

  • [1] Wu Q, Liu L, Miron A, Klímová B, Wan D, Ku?a K. The antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory activities of Spirulina: an overview. Arch Toxicol. 2016 Aug;90(8):1817-40. doi: 10.1007/s00204-016-1744-5.
  • [2] Mathew B, Sankaranarayanan R, Nair PP, Varghese C, Somanathan T, Amma BP, Amma NS, Nair MK. Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis. Nutr Cancer. 1995;24(2):197-202.
  • [3] Huang H, Liao D, Pu R, Cui Y. Quantifying the effects of spirulina supplementation on plasma lipid and glucose concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2018;11:729–742. Published 2018 Nov 14. doi:10.2147/DMSO.S185672
  • [4] Stratton IM, Adler AI, Neil HA, Matthews DR, Manley SE, Cull CA, Hadden D, Turner RC, Holman RR. Association of glycaemia with macrovascular and microvascular complications of type 2 diabetes (UKPDS 35): prospective observational study. BMJ. 2000 Aug 12;321(7258):405-12.
  • [5] 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.
  • [6] Serban MC, Sahebkar A, Dragan S, Stoichescu-Hogea G, Ursoniu S, Andrica F, Banach M. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of Spirulina supplementation on plasma lipid concentrations. Clin Nutr. 2016 Aug;35(4):842-51. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2015.09.007. 
  • [7] Health Benefits of Blue-Green Algae: Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Chai Siah Ku, Yue Yang, Youngki Park, and Jiyoung Lee. J Med Food. 2013 Feb; 16(2): 103–111. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2012.2468
  • [8] Mazokopakis EE, Starakis IK, Papadomanolaki MG, Mavroeidi NG, Ganotakis ES. The hypolipidaemic effects of Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) supplementation in a Cretan population: a prospective study. J Sci Food Agric. 2014 Feb;94(3):432-7. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6261.
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  • [10] Ismail M, Hossain MF, Tanu AR, Shekhar HU. Effect of spirulina intervention on oxidative stress, antioxidant status, and lipid profile in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:486120. doi:10.1155/2015/486120
  • [11] Sayin I, Cingi C, Oghan F, Baykal B, Ulusoy S. Complementary therapies in allergic rhinitis. ISRN Allergy. 2013 Nov 13;2013:938751. doi: 10.1155/2013/938751.
  • [12] 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. doi: 10.1007/s00405-008-0642-8.