Spirulina is one of the most popular dietary supplements in the world and is believed to be one of the oldest life forms on Earth.
Spirulina was first used by the Aztecs as an endurance booster. It’s regarded by many as a superfood – a single source of vitamins and minerals with protein levels comparable to eggs.
It is loaded with various nutrients and antioxidants that may benefit your body and brain and is touted as being a detoxifier, a reliable source of protein for vegans and vegetarians and a source of B12.
How much of this is true? In this article we will examine these claims and get to the bottom of it all in order to figure out, “Can spirulina or blue spirulina have any role in a healthy diet and health promotion?”
What is Blue Spirulina And How Is It Different From Regular Spirulina?
Blue Spirulina is derived from a blue-green algae known as Arthrospira platensis (more commonly known as spirulina) that thrives in ponds, lakes, and alkaline waterways. So where does the blue color come from? The word phycocyanin comes from the Greek phyco (algae), and cyanin (blue-green) and is a blue pigment derived from spirulina which gives the algae its dark blue pigment. Blue spirulina is made by extracting the water-soluble antioxidant phycocyanin from spirulina and then is sold as a blue powder. In other words, blue spirulina is nothing more than regular spirulina that’s had its distinctive deep blue pigment phycocyanin extracted and isolated.
Phycocyanin is exclusive to spirulina and other blue-green algae species, making it one of the key distinctions between spirulina and other green foods like chlorella, wheat grass, and barley grass.
The good news about Blue Spirulina is that it does not have a fishy flavor to it, unlike green spirulina. It’s high in protein, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, and antioxidants and besides just providing a beautiful blue color, phycocyanin is a powerful antioxidant.
Is Spirulina The Most Nutritious Food (Practically)?
Although what you’ll discover on the internet may lead you to believe otherwise, spirulina IS NOT one of the most nutritious foods on earth. You’ll come across claims like “gram for gram, spirulina may be the single most nutritious food on the planet,” and that it’s high in protein and has a good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. That isn’t the case. Take a look at the nutrient breakdown and you’ll see that it’s not true.
Many people will talk about the nutritional value of spirulina on a 100 g basis (e.g., “100 g of spirulina powder contains 50 g of protein”). However, no one is eating this amount of spirulina. 100 g (3.5 ounces) is 14 Tbsp or almost one cup. Yes, on a gram for gram basis it does appear to be impressive, but when you consider the typical, safe serving size of 1 tsp, it isn’t nearly as much as advertised.
Also, It has long been claimed that spirulina contains vitamin B12, but this is not true. It contains pseudo vitamin B12, inactive corrinoids that have a chemical structure similar to vitamin B12 but which have not been proved to be beneficial in people. In a nutshell, even though corrinoids appear to be B12, they have no biological function and can’t be utilized or regarded as a substitute for B12.
This is a significant public health concern that has the potential to impact many individuals as forums, blogs, self-stylized health ‘coaches’ and vegan and vegetarian websites promote spirulina as a source of B12 for vegetarians and vegans who, already have a tough time finding plant-based food sources of vitamin B12. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia, psychiatric disorders and neurological problems
Health Benefits of Spirulina
1. Spirulina Is Extremely High in Many Nutrients
Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, a family of single-cell microorganisms often known as blue-green algae, that grows in both fresh and salt water.
Cyanobacteria, like plants, may harvest energy from the sun via a process known as photosynthesis.
A typical daily dose of spirulina is 1–3 grams, however, doses as high as 10 grams have been effective.
This little alga is high in nutrients. A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dry spirulina powder contains
- Protein: 4 grams
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 11% of the RDA
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 15% of the RDA
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 4% of the RDA
- Copper: 21% of the RDA
- Iron: 11% of the RDA
- It has a respectable amount of magnesium, potassium, and manganese, as well as moderate amounts of almost every other essential mineral.
In addition, it contains only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbs.
A tablespoon (7 grams) of spirulina has 1 gram of fat, which is mostly composed of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of about 1.5–1.0.
2. Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Oxidative damage can affect your DNA and cells. This harm may induce chronic inflammation, one of the factors that lead to cancer and other illnesses.
Spirulina is a fantastic source of antioxidants, which can help to fight oxidative damage.
Phycocyanin is the main active component of spirulina. This antioxidant element also gives spirulina its distinctive blue-green hue.
Phycocyanin can combat free radicals and inhibit production of inflammatory signaling chemicals, offering great antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
3. Can Lower “Bad” LDL and Triglyceride Levels
Heart disease is the world’s leading cause of death and there are many risk factors linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Spirulina has a beneficial influence on most of these variables. It can lower total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides while raising “good” HDL cholesterol.
2 grams of spirulina per day, in a study of 25 persons with type 2 diabetes, significantly improved these indicators.
1 gram of spirulina per day reduced triglycerides by 16.3 percent and “bad” LDL by 10.1 percent in people with high cholesterol, according to one research.
Several other studies have found favorable effects — though with higher doses of 4.5–8 grams per day.
4. Protects “Bad” LDL Cholesterol From Oxidation
Oxidative damage, or oxidation, is a form of cellular damage that can affect all types of fatty tissue and is known as lipid peroxidation, a key driver of many serious diseases.
Oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol is one of the key stages in the development of heart disease.
The antioxidants in spirulina, surprisingly, seem to be especially effective at reducing lipid peroxidation in both people and animals.
In a study of 37 people with type 2 diabetes, 8 grams of spirulina daily reduced oxidative damage markers in the blood. It also increased plasma antioxidant enzymes levels.
5. May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Spirulina may have anti-cancer properties, according to some studies.
It has been shown in laboratory animals to decrease the incidence and size of tumors. Spirulina’s effects on oral cancer have been particularly well studied.
A study of 87 people from India with precancerous tissue in their mouths, known as oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF), was conducted. 45 percent of those who took 1 gram of spirulina per day for one year had their skin lesions vanish, compared to only 7% in the control group.
When these folks stopped consuming spirulina, more than half of them developed new lesions the next year.
6. May Reduce Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a major cause of many serious illnesses, including heart attacks, chronic renal disease, and strokes.
A single dosage of 1 gram of spirulina per day has been found to have no effect, yet a dose of 4.5 grams per day was shown to lower blood pressure in individuals with healthy levels.
This change is attributed to an increase in nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that helps your blood vessels relax and expand.
7. Improves Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal passageways that is brought on by environmental allergens like pollen, animal hair, or even wheat dust.
There is some evidence that spirulina can be helpful for allergic rhinitis symptoms.
In one study of 127 people with allergic rhinitis, 2 grams per day was found to significantly alleviate symptoms including nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal blockage, and itching.
8. May Be Effective Against Anemia
There are many different types of anemia, the most prevalent of which is a decrease in hemoglobin or red blood cells in your circulation.
Anemia is a condition that affects many older people, causing feelings of fatigue and weakness.
In a research of 40 older people with anemia, spirulina supplements improved hemoglobin content of red blood cells and immune function.
Keep in mind that this is just one study, and more research is needed before any recommendations may be made.
9. May Increase Muscle Strength and Endurance
Exertion-induced oxidative damage is a major cause of muscular tiredness. There are antioxidant properties in certain plant foods that may assist athletes and people who engage in intense physical exercise.
Some studies have shown that spirulina may be helpful, with evidence of improved muscular strength and endurance.
In two studies, spirulina increased endurance and delayed physical tiring to a significant extent, allowing individuals to work longer before becoming exhausted.
10. May Aid Blood Sugar Control
Animal studies link spirulina to significantly lower blood sugar levels and in some cases, it has outperformed popular diabetes drugs, including Metformin.
There is some evidence that shows spirulina can be effective in humans.
In a two-month study of 25 persons with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina per day resulted in significantly reduced blood sugar levels.
HbA1c, a biomarker for long-term blood sugar levels, dropped from 9% to 8%, which is significant. A 1% drop in this marker can reduce the chance of death from diabetes by 21%, according to studies.
However, this research was limited in size and duration. More research is needed.
Spirulina is a type of cyanobacteria, often referred to as blue-green algae that is incredibly healthy.
It may improve your levels of blood lipids, suppress oxidation, reduce blood pressure and lower blood sugar.
While further study is needed before any strong assertions may be made, spirulina might be one of the few superfoods that are worthy of the title.
Go for certified organic, non-genetically modified (non-GMO) algae as it will guarantee that the source has not been treated with pesticides or herbicides.
Avoid supplements that include “fillers.” Choose 100 percent pure spirulina instead of a larger quantity to get the same benefits as a more pure form. Keep an eye out for spirulina in a gel capsule, as the vast majority of these containers are made of fish oil.
Adding nutrients to your diet with powdered spirulina is a simple process. Add a serving to your morning smoothie or add it to any salad or soup for a delicious twist.