Digestion | October 12, 2018 | Author: Naturopath
Spirulina is hailed as a superfood. It is very popular in the health food industry and its consumption has been growing worldwide. NASA has even used it as a dietary supplement for astronauts on space missions.
Spirulina is fresh water blue-green algae – also called cyanobacteria – that naturally grows in warm and alkaline water. It grows rapidly and is easy to harvest. Historically, native populations in Mexico and central Africa have been eating it for centuries, while in China it has been used as part of feed for fish, shrimp and poultry.
It is no wonder that spirulina is considered to be a superfood, when you look at its nutritional profile.
Spirulina is loaded with nutrients, including:
Protein: Spirulina contains exceptionally high amounts of protein, superior to all other plant foods. The protein is a complete protein, which means it contains all essential amino acids, ideal for vegetarians and vegans.
Essential fatty acids: Spirulina has a high amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids. In fact, spirulina is considered the vegetable source with the highest quantity of gamma-linolenic acid which is known for its anti inflammatory properties.
Vitamins: Spirulina contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 (folic acid), B12, vitamin C, vitamin D and vitamin E. It is important to note that vitamin B12 is usually contained only in animal origin foods; thus, it can be an ideal source of this vitamin for vegans.
Minerals: Spirulina is a rich source of potassium, and also contains calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc. Its calcium content is considered comparable to that of milk, making it a great calcium source for anyone who avoids dairy products in the diet.
Phytonutrients: Spirulina contains chlorophyll and beta-carotene; both are natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that are responsible for many health benefits for humans. Chlorophyll is what gives spirulina and green vegetables their green colour. Beta-carotene is important because it converts into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, growth and development, and immune systems.
Due to its high nutritional value, spirulina has been called ‘functional food’. Functional foods are foods that can help promote well-being and potentially reduce the risk of disease.
Studies of spirulina have suggested that it may offer health benefits for the following conditions:
Malnutrition. Around 45% of deaths among children under the age of 5 years are associated with undernutrition. These mostly occur in developing countries. Studies of undernourished children in Central and West Africa found that spirulina improved their nutritional status quickly and significantly.
Iron deficiency anaemia. Spirulina has been used for treatment of anaemia, as an alternative to iron supplements for individuals who suffer from iron deficiency. This is including children and the elderly, athletes, and people who suffer fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes.
Reduces blood pressure. In a study of Mexican population, spirulina was found to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Gut health. There has been a growing focus in recent years on the impact of the gut microbiome on human health and disease. Animal studies show that spirulina can modify the gut microbiome by influencing both its composition and diversity, therefore rendering it healthier.
Lowers cholesterol. Spirulina might be a valuable supplement for people with high cholesterol. Several studies demonstrate that taking spirulina supplements reduce levels of of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, while elevating those of HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol).
Fights cancer. Data suggest that spirulina has anti cancer potential due to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Regulates blood sugar. Spirulina may help lowering blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes.
Relieves symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Studies in patients with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) found that taking spirulina significantly improved symptoms such as nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion, and itching.
Detoxification. Spirulina has the ability to detoxify heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium and lead.
The US Food and Drug Administration placed spirulina under the category of ‘Generally Recognized as Safe’ and also approved it for use as natural blue food colouring.
While spirulina is considered safe for most people, it is best to avoid it if you are:
Or if you suffer from any of the following:
Spirulina is commercially available as a powder or tablets. Tablets are taken orally, like many other supplements. Powder is versatile and can be added to drinks and foods in different and creative ways, such as:
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Finamore, A. et al., 2017. Antioxidant, Immunomodulating, and Microbial-Modulating Activities of the Sustainable and Ecofriendly Spirulina. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, 2017, pp.1–14. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28182098
Gutiérrez-Salmeán, G. et al., 2015. Revisión Nutritional and toxicological aspects of Spirulina (Arthrospira). Nutr Hosp, 32(1), pp.34–40. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26262693
Habib, M.A.B., 2008. A review on culture, production, and use of Spirulina as food for humans and feeds for domestic animals and fish, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: http://www.fao.org
Karkos, P.D. et al., 2011. Spirulina in clinical practice: evidence-based human applications. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2011, p.531053. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18955364
Koníčková, R. et al., Anti-cancer effects of blue-green alga Spirulina platensis, a natural source of bilirubin-like tetrapyrrolic compounds. Annals of hepatology, 13(2), pp.273–83. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24552870
Matondo, F.K. et al., 2016. Spirulina Supplements Improved the Nutritional Status of Undernourished Children Quickly and Significantly: Experience from Kisantu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. International journal of pediatrics, 2016, p.1296414. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27777589
Parikh, P., Mani, U. & Iyer, U., 2001. Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Journal of Medicinal Food, 4(4), pp.193–199. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12639401
Sayin, I. et al., 2013. Complementary therapies in allergic rhinitis. ISRN allergy, 2013, p.938751. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24324897
Serban, M.-C. et al., 2016. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of Spirulina supplementation on plasma lipid concentrations. Clinical Nutrition, 35(4), pp.842–851. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26433766
Simpore, J. et al., 2006. Nutrition rehabilitation of undernourished children utilizing Spiruline and Misola. Nutrition Journal, 5(1), p.3. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16430775
Torres-Duran, P. V, Ferreira-Hermosillo, A. & Juarez-Oropeza, M.A., 2007. Antihyperlipemic and antihypertensive effects of Spirulina maxima in an open sample of Mexican population: a preliminary report. Lipids in health and disease, 6, p.33. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18039384