Top 5 benefits of spirulina
A circular network of blues and greens, Spirulina is a microscopic algae that was originally used by NASA astronauts as a dietary supplement. It’s name comes from the spiral shape, and is a photosynthetic bacterium found in marine and fresh waters. Spirulina exhibits amazing anti-inflammatory properties and some randomized controlled trials even suggest that this algae may also have anticancer, anti-allergenic and anti-viral properties. (1) The top 5 benefits of Spirulina will surprise you, as this is truly a superfood.
Where was Spirulina discovered?
Largely made up of essential amino acids and protein, it is a natural algae, and when harvested from clean water sources, is one of the most potent nutrient sources available. The Aztecs, living in the Valley of Mexico, used Spirulina as a food source until the 16th century. Fishermen collected blue-colored “techuitlatl” and made blue-green cakes out of it.
It was found by French researchers in the 1940s, but then wasn’t used as a food after the 16th century due to draining of lakes for urban development and agriculture. (2) This same algae was found in several lakes in the Rift Valley of East Africa, and was the main source of food for the flamingos living there at the time.
Around 1965, Jean Leonard, a botanist on a Trans-Saharan expedition, reported green, edible cakes being sold in native markets in Chad. Locals told him that the cakes came from Lake Chad, and Leonard recognized the connection between the dried cakes and the algae blooms in the lake.
Subsequent to that, it was discovered that Spirulina contains very high amounts of protein, and high quality essential amino acids. It is now being produced in specialized Spirulina farms, in more than 22 countries and is being used for nutritional supplements, cosmetics and water purification. (3)
What’s in it?
This superfood has been safely consumed for hundreds of years, with very therapeutic health benefits. Hundreds of scientific studies over the past 30 years have not shown any toxicity, and one of the major advantages is that it is safe for human consumption. It is very easy to harvest and is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein and carotenoids.
This whole food powerhouse is a complete plant protein, and just a tablespoon of Spirulina can replace a whole salad! Spirulina contains B-complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and selenium. Spirulina has no cellular wall around its cells, so the entire plant is digestible.
The best part — Spirulina has TWICE as much protein as meat, and the rest is all vitamins and minerals, but in a much more concentrated form. (4) There are over 1,700 peer-reviewed scientific articles (5) evaluating the health benefits of Spirulina, and here are the top 5:
High in Nutrients
Spirulina is probably the most nutrient-dense food on Earth, and this is why I believe that taking spirulina supplements in powder or tablet form is essential.
Just one ounce contains:
- 81 calories
- 39 grams of protein
- 1 gram of dietary fiber
- 230 milligrams Omega-3 fatty acids
- 351 milligrams Omega-6 fatty acids
- 3 percent total fat
- 85% copper, 44% iron, 27% manganese, 14% magnesium, 11% potassium, 3% calcium, 3% selenium
- 60% Riboflavin, 44% Thiamin, 18% Niacin, 9% Vitamin K, 7% Vitamin E, 7% Folate, and 5% Vitamin B6 and C.
The National Center of Biotechnology Information writes about a study that was done in 1988, whereby 15 volunteers were given 4.2 grams of spirulina every day, and after 8 weeks of treatment, there was a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol. (6).
The Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology fed rabbits a high cholesterol diet for 4 weeks, and then added either 1% or 5% spirulina for an additional 8 weeks. After the trial was complete, LDL levels decreased by 26% in the group eating 1% spirulina, and 41% in the group eating 5%, suggesting, obviously, the more we eat, the better the benefit!
Heavy Metal Detox
No, not a detox from the band, but from arsenic that is naturally present at high levels in the soil, mostly in the U.S. But, it’s even a bigger problem in India, Taiwan and Bangladesh. Millions of people are consuming very high amounts in their drinking water and thousands of them have developed chronic arsenic poisoning.
There’s no specific treatment for arsenic poisoning, so researchers looked at alternatives like blue-green algae. They found that patients who took spirulina extract (250 mgs) plus 2 mgs of zinc experienced a 47% decrease of arsenic. (7) That’s enough to convince me to scoop a scoop into my smoothie every day.
Spirulina has been the subject of many studies having to do with cancer of the mouth. One study in particular, looked at the effects of spirulina on 87 people from India with precancerous lesions in their mouths. After using 1 gram a day for a year, almost half the group had a complete regression of the lesions in their mouths. When they stopped taking the spirulina, half the responders developed the lesions again. (8)
Need some energy? Freeze one teaspoon of spirulina powder with 12 ounces of lime juice in ice cube trays. Add to water for an abundance of energy you never thought possible. Dr. Mehmet Oz suggests that spirulina and lime enhance energy levels because they unlock sugar from our cells, and the ice boosts our metabolism, giving us a good wake-up call.
There are no clinical studies to support this, but over and over again, people are reporting how much more energy they have after starting a daily dose of spirulina.
Spirulina vs. Chlorella
I always get confused when I’m in Whole Foods, staring at the bottles of spirulina and chlorella, not knowing what the difference are or which one to buy. They are both similar algae species, but grow very differently. Spirulina grows in fresh water lakes and ponds, requiring lots of sunshine, whereas Chlorella grows in water along with other organisms, making it more challenging to harvest.
Chlorella is processed mechanically because of its hard, indigestible cellulose wall, whereas spirulina is completely digestible and can be immediately consumed and digested without an issue.
Both are considered superfoods, but spirulina comes out way ahead, containing more essential amino acids, iron, protein and vitamins.
Hawaiian Spirulina Pacifica
- 60% protein and an excellent source of vitamins;
- Phytonutrients such as GLA and carotenoids;
- 3900 % more iron than spinach;
- 2800% more beta-carotene than carrots;
- 600% more protein than tofu;
- 280% more antioxidants than blueberries.
How to use Spirulina
The options are endless, really, but my go-to is a scoop (about a teaspoon) into a smoothie, every day. It is a superfood strategy for me to start my day feeling healthy and energetic. Spirulina has a pretty strong green flavor, so start with small amounts.
You can also stir a teaspoon into your daily green juice for an extra kick-in-the-pants, or you can freeze it along with lime juice, as mentioned above, and add to some water for an energetic boost.
Another great way to get spirulina into your diet is to add a bit into muffins, crackers, smoothie bowls, soups, salad dressings and guacamole. It blends well, and is a great way to boost the nutrients of your recipes.
My favorite recipe is Spirulina Salt:
- 1/2 teaspoon of Spirulina
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- a pinch of cayenne pepper (or not)
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon salt — could be fine or coarse, your choice.
This delicious seasoning could be used over veggies, in soups and stews, and over popcorn.
So, hopefully you’ve learned about the 5 benefits of Spirulina, how its used and where its from. Have you ever used it before? I’d be interested to know if it made a difference to your health and if you had more energy. Share your comments below!
(1) P. D. Karkos, S. C. Leong, C. D. Karkos, N. Sivaji, and D. A. Assimakopoulos, (19 October 2010), Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications, Retrieved from National Institutes of Health (05 August 2018)
(2) Wikipedia, (05 August 2018) Spirulina (dietary supplement), Retrieved 05 August 2018.
(3) (4) Habib, M.A.B.; Parvin, M.; Huntington, T.C.; Hasan, M.R., (originally published 2008), Historical Background on the Use of Spirulina as Human Food and Animal Feed, and Safety of Spirulina, Retrieved 05 August 2018.
(5) Search results for Spirulina from National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 05 August 2018.
(6) P. D. Karkos, S. C. Leong, C. D. Karkos, N. Sivaji, and D. A. Assimakopoulos, (19 October 2010), Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications, National Institutes of Health Retrieved 05 August 2018.
(7) Hadi A, Parveen R. (December 2004), Arsenicosis in Bangladesh: Prevalence and Socio-economic correlates. Retrieved 09 August 2018.
(8) 1995, Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis, Retrieved 09 August 2018.