Spirulina - This blue - green alga is a freshwater plant that is now one of the most researched, and alongside its cousin chlorella, most talked about superfoods today. Grown around the world from India to Mexico to Africa to even Hawaii, spirulina is renowned for its intense flavor and even more powerful nutrition profile!
While you may have only seen it as an ingredient in your green superfood beverages, energy bars and natural supplements, Spirulina benefits are so amazing that taken on a daily basis they could restore and revitalize your health! To date, there are nearly 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific articles evaluating its health benefits.
Spirulina is incredibly good for you. It is loaded with nutrients that can have powerful effects on your body and brain. Here are the evidence-based health benefits of spirulina.
1. Spirulina is Extremely High in Many Nutrients: Spirulina is an organism that grows in both fresh and salt water. It is a type of bacteria called cyanobacterium, which is often referred to as blue-green algae. Just like plants, cyanobacteria can produce energy out of sunlight, via the process called photosynthesis. Spirulina was consumed by the Aztecs back in the day, but became popular again when NASA proposed that it could be grown in space and used by astronauts. A standard daily dose of spirulina is 1-3 grams, but doses of up to 10 grams per day have been used effectively.
This is coming with only 20 calories, and 1.7 grams of digestible carbohydrate. Gram for gram, this means that spirulina may literally be the single most nutritious food on the planet. A tablespoon of spirulina contains a small amount of fat (around 1 gram), including both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in about a 1.5:1 ratio. The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent, comparable to eggs. It contains all the essential amino acids that we need. It is often claimed that spirulina contains vitamin B12, but this is false. It contains pseudo vitamin B12, which has not been shown to be effective in humans. It is actually quite amazing how nutritious it is.
A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains: Protein: 4 grams. Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): 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 also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium and manganese, and small amounts of almost every other nutrient that we need.
2. Spirulina Has Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Properties: Oxidative damage can harm our DNA and cells. This damage can drive chronic inflammation, which contributes to cancer and other diseases. Spirulina is a fantastic source of antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative damage. The main active component is called phycocyanin. This antioxidant substance also gives spirulina its unique blue-green color. Phycocyanin can fight free radicals and inhibit production of inflammatory signaling molecules, providing impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Phocyanin is the main active compound in spirulina. It has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Spirulina Can Lower LDL and Triglyceride Levels: Heart disease is currently the world’s biggest killer. It is known that many measurable factors, termed risk factors, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. As it turns out, spirulina has been shown to have beneficial effects on many of them. For example, it can lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. In a study of 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams per day of spirulina significantly improved these markers. Another study in people with high cholesterol found that 1 gram of spirulina per day lowered triglycerides by 16.3% and LDL by 10.1%. Several other studies have shown favorable effects, but with higher doses of 4.5-8 grams of spirulina per day. Studies have shown that spirulina can lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and sometimes may raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol.
4. Spirulina Protects LDL Cholesterol from Becoming Oxidized: Fatty structures in the body are susceptible to oxidative damage. This is known as lipid peroxidation, which is known to be a key driver of many serious diseases. For example, one of the key steps in the pathway towards heart disease is LDL lipoproteins in the blood becoming oxidized. Interestingly, the antioxidants in spirulina appear to be particularly effective at reducing lipid peroxidation. This has been shown numerous times, in both human and animal studies. In a study of 37 individuals with type 2 diabetes, 8 grams of spirulina per day significantly reduced markers of oxidative damage. It also increased levels of antioxidant enzymes in the blood. Fatty structures in the body can become oxidized, which drives the progression of many diseases. The antioxidants in spirulina can help prevent this from happening.
5. Spirulina Appears to Have Anti-Cancer Properties, Especially against Oral Cancer: Some evidence suggests that spirulina can have anti-cancer properties. For example, some research in test animals shows that it can reduce cancer occurrence and tumor size. Spirulina has been particularly well studied with regard to oral cancer, which is cancer of the mouth. One study looked at the effects of spirulina on 87 people from India with precancerous lesions called OSMF in the mouth. After using 1 gram per day for 1 year, 45% of the spirulina group had a complete regression of lesions in the mouth, compared to only 7% in the control group. When they stopped taking the spirulina, almost half of the responders developed these lesions again the following year. In another study of 40 subjects with OSMF precancerous lesions, 1 gram of spirulina per day led to greater improvement in symptoms than the drug Pentoxyfilline. Spirulina may have some anti-cancer properties, especially against a type of precancerous lesion called OSMF (oral submucous fibrosis).
6. Studies Show that it May Reduce Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is an important driver of many killer diseases. This includes heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. While 1 gram of spirulina is ineffective, a dose of 4.5 grams per day has been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with normal blood pressure levels. This is thought to be driven by an increased production of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that helps the blood vessels relax and dilate. In one study, a higher dose of spirulina has been shown to lead to lower blood pressure levels, a major risk factor for many diseases.
7. Spirulina Improves Symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis: Allergic rhinitis is characterized by inflammation in the nasal airways. It is triggered by environmental allergens, such as pollen, animal hair or even wheat dust. Spirulina is a popular alternative treatment for symptoms of allergic rhinitis, and there is evidence that it can be effective. In one study of 127 people with allergic rhinitis, 2 grams per day dramatically reduced symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching. Spirulina supplements have been shown to be very effective against allergic rhinitis, helping to reduce various symptoms.
8. Spirulina May be Effective against Anemia: There are many different forms of anemia. The most common one is characterized by a reduction in hemoglobin or red blood cells in the blood. Anemia is fairly common in the elderly, leading to prolonged feelings of weakness and fatigue. In a study of 40 older people with a history of anemia, spirulina supplementation increased the hemoglobin content of red blood cells. Immune function also improved. However, this is just one study, and more research is needed before any recommendations can be made. One study shows that spirulina may be effective against anemia in the elderly. More research is needed.
9. Muscle Strength and Endurance May Improve: Exercise-induced oxidative damage is a major contributor to muscle fatigue. Certain plant foods have antioxidant properties that can help athletes and physically active individuals minimize this damage. Spirulina appears to be beneficial, with some studies showing improved muscle strength and endurance. In two studies, spirulina was shown to enhance endurance; significantly increasing the time it took for people to become fatigued. Another study in college athletes found that spirulina supplementation increased muscle strength, but did not have any effect on endurance. Some studies have shown that spirulina supplementation can enhance endurance, and one study shows that it can increase muscle strength.
10. Spirulina May Help With Blood Sugar Control: Animal studies have shown that spirulina can significantly lower blood sugar levels. In some cases, it has outperformed popular diabetes drugs, including Metformin. There is also some evidence that spirulina can be effective in humans. In a study of 25 patients with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina led to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels. HbA1c, a marker for long-term blood sugar levels, decreased from 9% to 8%, which is substantial. Studies estimate that a 1% reduction in this marker can lower the risk of diabetes-related death by 21%. However, this study was small and only lasted for 2 months, so take this with a grain of salt.
11. Eliminates Candida: According to researchers, “Candida species belong to the normal microbiota of an individual’s mucosal oral cavity, gastrointestinal tract and vagina.” What does that mean?! Well, without a healthy microflora balance in our body, we are simply much more susceptible to sickness and disease. In fact, leaky gut syndrome and improper digestion are directly connected to micro floral imbalance. Not only is invasive candidiasis the leading cause of mycosis-related death in the United States, candida overgrowth has become the hallmark sign for most autoimmune diseases today. Because of our shift toward a diet rich in sugar and unnatural ingredients, antimicrobial resistance and ineffective antifungal drugs, we have seen a significant rise in yeast infections since the 1980s. Thankfully, spirulina can help. Several animal studies have shown that it’s an effective anti-microbial agent, particularly for candida. Specifically, spirulina benefits have been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacterial flora in the intestines, which in turn inhibits Candida from thriving. Additionally, the immune-strengthening properties of spirulina will help the body eliminate Candida cells.
12. Improves HIV/AIDS: Up until recently, epidemiologists have been puzzled trying to understand why people in Japan, Korea and Chad have relatively low HIV/AIDS rates. One possible explanation, revealed in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Phycology, may be the amount of algae people in these areas regularly consume! When researchers took 11 HIV patients who have never taken antiretroviral, they split the participants into three groups: one that was assigned to eat 5 g of brown seaweed every day, one that was to eat 5 g of spirulina, and one that ate a combination of both. After the three-month trial period was complete, two key findings were discovered:
(a) Absolutely no adverse effects were experienced from both seaweed varieties and the combination.
(b) CD4 cells (T-helper white blood cells that fight infection and are used to stage HIV) and HIV-1 viral load (another HIV biomarker) remained stable.
The results were so promising that one participant volunteered to continue the study for an additional 10 months, and this participant actually benefited from “clinically significant improvement in CD4 and decreased HIV viral load”!
13. Speeds up Weight Loss: Diets high in nutrient-dense protein-rich foods like spirulina promote weight loss and low-fat stores through a variety of mechanisms. Because it takes more energy to metabolize, for example, eating protein helps maintain lean tissue and contributes to fat burning. It can also curb hunger and overweight people seem to benefit the most. To maximize this benefit, try eating your high protein spirulina in the morning or during midday instead of at night.
Spirulina may also have other beneficial effects, such as helping to “detoxify” the heavy metal arsenic from the body. At the end of the day, spirulina is incredibly healthy. It is one of the few “superfoods” that are actually worthy of that term.