What it spirulina?
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae which is also known as cyanobacteria, because of their colour. The blue-green algae are often green and different species can also be white, brown, yellow-brown or red.
Historically, spirulina has been used as a food in many countries since the ancient times. It is now commonly sold as a nutraceutical and found in many health food supplements and powders, and is listed as ‘Generally Considered as Safe’ (GRAS) by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Spirulina is said to be a rich source of protein and vitamins, in particular vitamin B12, provitamin A (beta-carotene) and contains zeaxanthin, gamma-linolenic acid and various minerals.(Yakoot & Salem, 2012)(Park et al, 2008)(Yu et al, 2012)
- Studies suggest that zeaxanthin and lutein are crucial for maintaining good eye health and adequate levels of intake are associated with a decreased risk in cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. (Yu et al, 2012)
- According to Yu et al “spirulina can serve as a rich source of dietary zeaxanthin in humans. (2012)
Antioxidant and Cholesterol Lowering
- Spirulina is rich in vitamins many of which are antioxidants such as vitamin A.
- Spirulina is a good source of B12, which is great for people following a vegan or vegetarian diet as it can be hard for them to get adequate levels of B12 in their diet.
- A small study in Korea showed favourable effects of spirulina supplementation in the lipid profiles and antioxidant capacity in healthy elderly subjects.(Park et al, 2008)
- Yakoot & Salem note that “Spirulina and many other Cyanobacteria had been found to exhibit many immune-stimulating and antiviral activities, not only in-vitro but also in animals and human volunteers. It had been found to activate macrophages, NK cells, T cells, B cells, and to stimulate the production of antibodies and cytokines. It enhances Interferon gamma(IFN-g) production in an interleukin 12, 18.”(2012) This simply means that it helps to boost your immune system response.
Spirulina As A Protein Source
- Spirulina often gets touted as an excellent source of protein and while amino acids (building blocks of protein) do make up 62% of spirulina, you would need to take very large amounts to see any effect, according to the University of Maryland.
Healthy Metals and Toxins
- Spirulina like all blue-green algae can be contaminated with microcystins, which produce toxins, so only use brands that have been appropriately tested and are free of microcystins.
- Spirulina can also absorb heavy metals from the water where it has grown and is actually used commercially to remove unwanted materials such as heavy metals from waste waters. (Deniz et al, 2011) So it is always worth knowing where the blue-green algae was grown and under what conditions. Most commercially produced brands in a laboratory will come with appropriate certification.
Autoimmune Disease and PKU
- Because spirulina may stimulate your immune system, it is advised for people with autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus to avoid spirulina.
- Spirulina is rich in amino acids including phenylalanine and people with phenylketonuria (PKU) should also avoid taking spirulina as they cannot metabolize this amino acid.
Pregnancy and Children
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is advised that you talk to your health care professional before taking spirulina.
- The University of Maryland states that “Although spirulina has been used in children, researchers don’t know the safe and effective dose for those under 18. Don’t give spirulina to a child without talking to your doctor first.”
Where to get it
Supplement form: You should always buy spirulina from a reputable brand that has had the appropriate safety testing. It is usually found in a powder form either as an isolate or combined with other powders. As always, we do not recommend you start any new supplement without consulting your primary health care professional first. You can find spirulina powder in the health food aisle of a supermarket, in your local health food store or pharmacy, or online.
How to use it
You can add spirulina powder to your favourite smoothies or juices, or sprinkle it on your yoghurt and even add it to your baking. You can even mix it into a face mask.
Supplement form: Here at Rejuvenate for Life we strongly believe in food as medicine and the power of real food. Because of this, we prefer to get the ‘good stuff’ in its whole form, when possible. Real food contains all the magic already packaged up with the synergistic nutrients required – something that no supplement can ever compete with.
Deniz, F, Saygideger, S, Karaman, S, Response to Copper and Sodium Chloride Excess in Spirulina(Cyanobacteria), 2011, Bull Environ Contam Toxicol (2011) 87:11–15
Park, H, Lee, Y, Ryu, H, Kim, M, Chung, H, Kim, W, A Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study to Establish the Effects of Spirulina in Elderly Koreans, 2007, Ann Nutr Metab 2008;52:322–328
Yakoot, M, Salem, A, Spirulina platensis versus silymarin in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus infection. A pilot randomized, comparative clinical trial, 2012, BMC Gastroenterology, 12:32
Yu, B, Wang, J, Suter, P, Russell, R, Grusak, M, Wang, Y, Wang, Z, Yin, S, Tang, G, Spirulina is an effective dietary source of zeaxanthin to humans, 2012, British Journal of Nutrition, 108, 611–619
University of Maryland, Medical Centre, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide – http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/spirulina
Australian Government, Department of the Environment – http://www.environment.gov.au/water/quality/publications/factsheet-blue-green-algae-cyanobacteria-and-water-quality