What is Spirulina? Its Benefits and Side Effects

March 23, 2021 6 min read

spirulina powder in a bowl

What exactly is spirulina powder? What are its health advantages and possible side effects? Is it healthy for everyone?

Spirulina is a blue-green alga that is commonly eaten as a substitute or in powder form. Spirulina is popular all over the world. It's full of nutrients and antioxidants that aid the body and mind. It's a nutrient-dense food rich in vitamins A, C, E, and B, as well as minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and selenium.

Vitamin C and selenium, in particular, are antioxidants that help protect our cells and tissues from harm.

History                    

Spirulina was a food source for the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans until the 16th century, according to one of Cortés' soldiers, who described the harvest from Lake Texcoco in Mexico and subsequent sale as cakes. Tecuitlatl was the Aztec name for it.

Spirulina was discovered in abundance at Lake Texcoco by French researchers in the 1960s. But no mention of it being used as a daily food supply by the Aztecs was made after the 16th century, owing to the drainage of the nearby lakes for irrigation and urban growth.

 

spirulina powder on a spoon

 

In 1964 and 1965, Jean Leonard, a botanist, reported that dihe is composed of spirulina. He later researched algal bloom in a sodium hydroxide processing plant.

As a result, the first systematic and detailed study of spirulina growth requirements and physiology was conducted in the 1970s as a foundation for establishing large-scale production.


Spirulina, also known as Arthrospira, is a blue-green alga that rose to prominence after NASA used it as a nutritional aid for astronauts on space missions. It can modulate immune processes and has anti-inflammatory effects because it inhibits mast cells from releasing histamine.


Several experiments have been conducted to determine the effectiveness and possible therapeutic uses of spirulina in the treatment of various diseases, and a few randomized controlled trials and systematic reviews indicate that this alga may reduce a variety of symptoms and may also have anti-cancer, antiviral, and anti-allergic properties.

This analysis addresses current and future therapeutic applications, safety concerns, symptoms, side effects, and evidence standards.

When used at prescribed doses, spirulina has been linked to few side effects. However, since this kind of algae can produce the amino acid phenylalanine, people with phenylketonuria (PKU), a metabolic condition in which the body is unable to metabolize phenylalanine, should avoid it. If you use spirulina, inform your doctor since it can interfere with other medications.

As a result, for those who fail to eat enough protein every day, adding spirulina to foods and beverages can be a fast and straightforward way to increase daily protein intake.

Since spirulina has a bitter taste, it is sometimes mixed into yogurts, juices, and smoothies to improve its flavor. Spirulina is a supplement that is widely sold in natural food markets.

Nutrition

One tablespoon of spirulina contains: 

Calories: 20

Protein: 4 g

Fat: 1 g

Carbohydrates: 2 g

Fiber: 0 g

Sugar: 0 g

 

Spirulina is a good source of:

Thiamine (vitamin B1)

Riboflavin (vitamin B2)

Niacin (vitamin B3)

Copper

Iron

Spirulina contains magnesium as well. This mineral aids in regular everyday activities such as muscle usage and heartbeat.

It's also responsible for protein synthesis and energy production, but most people don't get enough of it in their diet.

Health Benefits

Spirulina is a high-nutritional-content food. It contains phycocyanin, a potent plant-based protein. According to research, this has antioxidant, pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory, and brain-protective effects.

Researchers have used it to treat a variety of health problems, including nausea, elevated cholesterol, high triglycerides, and viral infections.

Weight loss, an increased vitality, and immune system activation are all claimed spirulina effects.

Anti-Cancer Properties

Many of the antioxidants found in spirulina have anti-inflammatory properties in the body. Cancer and other illnesses are aggravated by chronic inflammation.

Phycocyanin, a plant pigment that gives spirulina its blue-green color, has been shown to suppress inflammation in the body and inhibit tumor growth and destroy cancer cells. The immune-boosting protein is being investigated for its possible use in cancer therapy.

 

making spirulina

Immune System Support

Spirulina contains several vitamins and minerals that are important for sustaining a robust immune system, such as vitamins E, C, and B6. According to a study, spirulina also increases the development of white blood cells and antibodies. It helps the body battle viruses and bacteria.

Spirulina has been shown in laboratory trials to be effective against herpes, influenza, and HIV; however, even further research is required to test these results in humans.

May Reduce Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for several medical conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, and chronic kidney disease.

Although 1 g of spirulina is ineffective, 4.5 g a day has been found to be effective in lowering blood pressure in people with average levels. This decrease is believed to be caused by an increase in nitric oxide intake- a signaling molecule that makes the blood vessels relax and dilate 

Heart Health

According to a study, the protein in spirulina will reduce the body's absorption of cholesterol, thereby lowering cholesterol levels. This leaves the arteries healthy, reducing the pressure on the heart, which can lead to heart disease and stroke-causing blood clots.

Its protein also helps to lower triglyceride levels. There are blood fats that may lead to artery hardening, raising the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis.

Spirulina also enhances nitric oxide production in the body, which assists in blood vessel relaxation.

Few clinical trials have been performed to date on the health effects of spirulina. However, preliminary evidence indicates that spirulina could be helpful for the following conditions:

I. High Cholesterol

According to a report conducted in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, spirulina holds some potential for lipid disorders such as elevated cholesterol or high triglycerides. In the sample, stable older adults were given either spirulina or a placebo. Spirulina was linked to substantial decreases in cholesterol after four months.

II. Allergies

According to a 2009 study, spirulina retains some interest in the treatment of allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies). Indeed, a previous study of people with allergic rhinitis discovered several benefits of spirulina consumption, including relief from symptoms such as nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion, and itching.

III. Diabetes

In a 2008 trial affecting 37 individuals with type 2 diabetes, researchers discovered that those who received 12 weeks of spirulina supplementation experienced a substantial decrease in blood fat levels. Spirulina effects include a reduction in inflammation and, in some cases, a reduction in blood pressure and cholesterol.

IV. Oral Cancer

According to a small study of tobacco chewers with oral precancerous lesions, spirulina may provide some protection against oral cancer. Participants received either a single dose of spirulina or a placebo for a period of 12 months. By the conclusion of the trial, the lesions had healed up in 20 of the 44 participants who had ingested spirulina.

V. Auto-Immune Diseases

Spirulina has been shown in experiments to boost the functions of the immune system. Still, it may intensify symptoms in people with auto-immune disorders such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, or arthritis. If you have an auto-immune disease, consult a doctor before adding spirulina to your diet.

VI. Bleeding Disorders

Since spirulina aids in blood clotting, it can increase the risk of swelling and bleeding in people with bleeding conditions.

VII. B12 deficiency

While it is commonly believed that spirulina contains high levels of vitamin B12, its content is poorly absorbed by the human body. If you have a B12 deficiency, typical in people who eat a plant-based diet, you should substitute it for another source.

Side Effects

Although there are few side effects associated with the consumption of spirulina, they can induce headaches, allergic reactions, muscle discomfort, sweating, and insomnia in certain people.

People who are allergic to fish, seaweed, or other marine vegetables should stop or avoid spirulina intake.

Spirulina will not be suitable if you have thyroid disease, an auto-immune disorder, gout, kidney stones, phenylketonuria, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Toxins from water, such as microcystins (known to cause severe liver damage), pesticides, and heavy metals, can be absorbed by spirulina grown in the wild. The vast majority of spirulina marketed in the United States is produced in laboratories.

Conclusion

  1. Spirulina is a form of cyanobacteria - also known as blue-green algae - that is highly safe.
  2. It can increase your blood lipid levels, reduce oxidation, lower your blood pressure and blood sugar.

III. Though more research is needed before making any strong statements, spirulina could be one of the few superfoods deserving a lot of praise. 

Note: Before consuming spirulina, as with any supplement, contact a health care provider to determine whether it is safe for you and whether it should be taken in conjunction with any drugs or nutrients you might be taking.

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