BLOGS
The Amazing Benefits of Spirulina
Dr. John Lewis Ph. D.
09 October 2017
Spirulina is one of the most nutritionally-dense foods known to mankind.  It is a nutrient packed freshwater algae native to Central America and Africa with a powerful blend of vitamins (A, B1, B2, B6, B12, D, E, and K), minerals, protein, and phytochemicals that boosts energy, removes toxins, and can even protect us from serious health problems like cancer and diabetes due to its antidiabetic and anti-inflammatory properties (Sadek et al., 2017).  When spirulina is dried properly, the resulting powder retains the vast majority of these important nutrients, unlike most produce, which starts losing vitamins and minerals as soon as they are picked from the tree or land.

What makes spirulina such a great super food?  Well, let us start with protein.  You probably are aware of the importance of protein, but unfortunately many people eat too much protein of the wrong type, i.e., from animal sources.  Thus, these same people should be eating more protein from plants.  Gram for gram, spirulina provides almost three times more protein than a flank steak with 100% less risk to your heart.  Spirulina is over 65% protein by volume, making it the densest source of protein in any known food (compared to 34% in soy and 27% in meat).  It also contains all eight essential acids, which are the ones that we need to get from our diet, as our body is not able to synthesize them.  In fact, one study compared different protein sources and showed that the digestibility of protein from soy, whey, and fish in typical nutraceutical formulations was inferior to that from the protein from microalgae that had been enzymatically hydrolyzed (Kose et al., 2017).  Hydrolysis is a process using water to create usable by-products, in this case protein.  Thus, spirulina is a high-quality source of protein that is more easily utilized by our body compared to other foods.

How does spirulina boost energy?  Spirulina contains lots of iron, which helps your body use the oxygen you breathe in to support every bodily function.  If you are anemic, then spirulina would make an excellent addition to your diet to help you overcome this condition.  In fact, you might not be completely anemic, but you might be getting too much of your iron from animal sources, which may be inferior to the iron from spirulina.  Spirulina is also an excellent source of vitamins B1 and B2, both of which play an important role in how your body metabolizes energy from carbohydrates.  In addition, these B vitamins will help you feel better and more energetic by keeping your blood sugar levels stable.

As far as detoxification, spirulina is packed with chlorophyll, which clears your blood of impurities and increases your body’s oxygen levels.  Chlorophyll is biochemically very similarly to our hemoglobin.  We use hemoglobin to transport oxygen in our cells.  Replace the iron in hemoglobin with the magnesium in chlorophyll and you have the same molecule, which is one of the reasons why our body loves it!  Thus, our body is very efficient in using chlorophyll in all green foods, and it is particularly concentrated in spirulina.

In terms of antidiabetic and weight loss effects, spirulina has been to improve insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, and total antioxidant status in obese adults.  In addition, it caused a decrease body mass body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.  Spirulina also had a significant lowering effect on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (Szulinska et al., 2017).  If your BMI, which is your weight relative to your height, is too high (over 25 kg/m2) and your waist circumference is too large (for men, greater than 40 inches and for women greater than 35 inches), then you are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.  Thus, consider adding spirulina to help control your weight, keep your cholesterol in check, and maintain stable insulin levels.

In addition to these impressive effects, scientists have found other amazing benefits of spirulina.  For example, although the findings are preliminary, some research indicates that spirulina spurs the creation of antibodies, or proteins, that fight infection.  Antibodies help to ward off illness and disease.  In another study, spirulina stopped the growth of oral cancer cells.  Other studies have shown spirulina reduces high glucose-induced oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage in human cells (Jadaun et al., 2017).  Oxidative stress is considered one of the most important aspects of aging and is also a hallmark of most common chronic diseases.  All of our cells have mitochondria, which are like the engines that are used to spend the fuel to make our cells operate.  When the mitochondria become damaged, we become weaker, frailer, and more susceptible to diseases of all types.  Thus, counteracting oxidative stress and keeping our mitochondria healthy mean a much healthier you, too.  Yet another study showed that spirulina can enhance the bacteria (microbiota) in our gut and can improve overall immune system function (Neyrinck et al., 2017).  Another study showed that spirulina may impact the way the immune system functions based on your genotype or genetic structure (Park & Lee, 2017).  The different types of saccharides or sugars in spirulina have been shown to have very high antioxidant capacity as well (Wu et al., 2017), which is very important to counteract the effects of daily stress and aging.

In summary, the amount of published research showing the beneficial effects of spirulina is impressive and growing.  Spirulina is a phenomenal source of many different micronutrients, and it is an amazing food for providing all of the essential amino acids and protein; far better than any other food by volume known to science!  The positives of eating spirulina every day are numerous, and to my knowledge it has no downside.  It does not cause allergic or other reactions common in so many foods today.  On the contrary, with its phenomenal nutritional profile, it will only help you meet your daily recommendations for many different compounds.  Like with any other food or dietary supplement we take, it is important to obtain spirulina from a high-quality, consciously-produced source that is free of toxins, contaminants, and synthetic additives.  Enjoy your spirulina by the spoonful, in your smoothie, or added to any dish of your preference and experience a remarkable boost in your overall health status!

References

Jadaun, P., Yadav, D., & Bisen, P.S. (2017). Spirulina platensis prevents high glucose-induced oxidative stress mitochondrial damage mediated apoptosis in cardiomyoblasts. Cytotechnology. Jul 12. doi: 10.1007/s10616-017-0121-4.

Kose, A., Ozen, M.O., Elibol, M., & Oncel, S.S. (2017).  Investigation of in vitro digestibility of dietary microalga Chlorella vulgaris and cyanobacterium Spirulina platensis as a nutritional supplement.  3 Biotech, 7(3), 170. doi: 10.1007/s13205-017-0832-4.

Neyrinck, A.M., Taminiau, B., Walgrave, H., Daube, G., Cani, P.D., Bindels, L.B., & Delzenne, N.M. (2017). Spirulina protects against hepatic inflammation in aging: An effect related to the modulation of the gut microbiota? Nutrients, 9(6), pii: E633. doi: 10.3390/nu9060633.

Park, H.J. & Lee, H.S. (2017). Monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 polymorphism interaction with spirulina immunomodulatory effects in healthy Korean elderly: A 16 week, double-blind randomized clinical trial. Nutr Res Pract, 11(4), 290-299. doi: 10.4162/nrp.2017.11.4.290.

Sadek, K.M., Lebda, M.A., Nasr, S.M., & Shoukry, M.  (2017). Spirulina platensis prevents hyperglycemia in rats by modulating gluconeogenesis and apoptosis via modification of oxidative stress and MAPK-pathways.  Biomed Pharmacother, 92, 1085-1094. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2017.06.023.

Szulinska, M., Gibas-Dorna, M., Miller-Kasprzak, E., Suliburska, J., Miczke, A., Walczak-Gałezewska, M., Stelmach-Mardas, M., Walkowiak, J., & Bogdanski, P. (2017). Spirulina maxima improves insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, and total antioxidant status in obese patients with well-treated hypertension: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study.  Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 21(10), 2473-2481.

Wu, X., Li, R., Zhao, Y., & Liu, Y. (2017). Separation of polysaccharides from Spirulina platensis by HSCCC with ethanol-ammonium sulfate ATPS and their antioxidant activities. Carbohydr Polym, 173, 465-472. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2017.06.023.

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