Spirulina is a natural “algae” (cyanbacteria) powder that is incredibly high in protein and a good source of antioxidants, B-vitamins and other nutrients. When harvested correctly from non-contaminated ponds and bodies of water, it is one of the most potent nutrient sources available.
It is largely made up of protein and essential amino acids, and is typically recommended to vegetarians due to its high natural iron content.
The high concentration of protein and iron also makes it ideal during pregnancy, after surgery, or anytime the immune system needs a boost.
While you may have only seen it as an ingredient in your green superfood beverages, energy bars and natural supplements, spiralina 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.
The health benefits –
Though it does taste like pond scum, Spirulina has some great health-boosting qualities:
Most nutrient Dense Food On the Planet — The concentration of protein and vitamins in Spirulina has led many to classify it as the “most nutrient dense food on the planet.” Compared to other foods gram for gram, it lives up to this reputation and is a great source of :
- Protein: It is considered a complete source of high-quality protein and is often compared to eggs for the amount of protein per gram. The protein in Spirulina is highly usable and has a net protein utilization rate of between 50-61%
- Vitamin B1: Also called Thiamin, this vitamin is necessary for the digestion of fats and proteins. It is often taken for increased energy, eye health, brain function and for improving nerve functioning.
- Iron: Spirulina is a favorite food for vegetarians and vegans because it is one of the best plant sources of iron. Even for those who consume meat, it has a highly absorbable form of iron that is gentle on the digestive system.
- Calcium: Spirulina is also incredibly high in calcium with over 26 times the calcium in milk.
Spirulina is a great source of other nutrients — including (according to Wikipedia): “It contains vitamins B-1(thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3(nicotinamide), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E. It is also a source of potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc. Spirulina contains many pigments which may be beneficial and bioavailable”.
May Help Balance Blood Sugar – Studies show that spirulina may be especially helpful in balancing blood sugar, and may even be as effective as diabetes medication in some instances. Other studies show that it not only lowers blood sugar but may also lower HbA1c, which is a long term marker of blood sugar levels.
Powerful Antioxidants — Antioxidants are powerful substances that protect our cells from damage. Thanks to decades of research, many of us understand the importance of consuming enough antioxidants from natural sources, and spirulina is a great choice. The antioxidant that makes spirulina unique is called phycocyanin, which is a potent inflammatory.
May help with those Allergies — Some research has suggested that Spirulina may be helpful for those with allergies and allergic reactions. This is likely because it reduces inflammation that leads to nasal congestion and other issues. In studies, those who took spirulina noticed a reduction in nasal congestion, itching, and sneezing.
Helps remove heavy metals — Spirulina can bind with heavy metals in the body and help remove them. It is also extremely high in Chlorophyll, which helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system. In fact, one study found that 5gm of spirulina combined with zinc supplementation was enough to reduce arsenic toxicity by almost half!
Muscle and endurance benefits – Spirulina is known to increase fat burning during exercise. Its high antioxidant content makes it beneficial in reducing exercise induced oxidation which leads to muscle fatigue and inability to gain muscle.
Lowers blood cholesterol levels — Spirulina reduces the blood cholesterol levels naturally and boosts the absorption of vital minerals. Consumption of several grams of Spirulina daily can reduce LDL or bad cholesterol and improve the cholesterol ratio. This normalization of cholesterol plays a great role in weight reduction.
Beneficial in Diabetes — In a study it was observed that taking Spirulina as a dietary supplement for 12 weeks results in a significant reduction in blood-fat levels. It is particularly beneficial for diabetics as it decreases inflammation and helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.
Aids in weight loss — Spirulina is rich in beta-carotene, chlorophyll, fatty-acid GLA and other nutrients which are particularly beneficial for overweight people. Taking this supplement is beneficial while fasting, as it supplies the nutrients that are needed to cleanse and heal your system, while curbing your appetite.
Prevents Cancer — Several studies have proven that Spirulina can arrest the development of cancer progression, reduce the risk of cancer initiation and boost your immune system. It is a great substitute for animal products as it contains a special form of protein that assimilates well. Unlike animal proteins, it does not burden your body with waste products. It is also rich in phycocyanin, a pigment with anti-cancer properties. It strengthens immunity and inhibits excess cell division. Spirulina also offers some protection against oral cancers.
Improves Brain/cognitive functions — Folate and vitamin B-12 play an important role in the healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system. Being rich in these nutrients, Spirulina helps in protecting cognitive function as one starts to age. This nutritional supplement helps maintain brain function.
Cures Depression — Spirulina is a good source of folic acid which provides nourishment for the brain and supports the production of energy and blood cells. This makes it beneficial in the treatment of depression.
Eye Health — Research has shown that Spirulina is beneficial for the eyes. It is proven to be effective in treating eye diseases such as geriatric cataracts, diabetic retinal damage (retinitis), nephritic retinal damage and hardening of retinal blood vessels (angiosclerosis)
Treatment of Ulcers — Spirulina acts as a good treatment of gastric and duodenal ulcers, thanks to the presence of amino acids, cysteine and a high content of high quality protein. Being rich in chlorophyll, it is great for retaining and restoring a good digestion.
Treatment of Hepatitis and Cirrhosis — Clinical reports have indicated that Spirulina prevents, as well as cures, fatty liver and hepato-cirrhosis. This supplement should be taken for at least one month to notice beneficial results
Promotes Sexual Vitality — The high content of protein in Spirulina, as well as the presence of other vitamins, minerals and enzymes, makes it beneficial for improving sexual vigor.
Dental Health — Spirulina has a high content of phosphorus and helps improve your teeth.
Has anti bacterial properties — Chronic candida yeast is responsible for worsening symptoms of various autoimmune diseases. Spirulina keeps candida overgrowth under control by encouraging and supporting the growth of healthy bacteria in your stomach.
HIV and AIDS — Spirulina can cure the symptoms that are a side-effect of HIV and AIDS treatment. It also helps inactivate the human immunodeficiency virus associated with HIV and AIDS.
Beneficial during Pregnancy — Spirulina has a high content of iron which is required during pregnancy, particularly for those with anemia. It also prevents constipation.
Skin Toner –– Spirulina has a high content of vitamin A, vitamin B-12, vitamin E, calcium, iron and phosphorus, all of which are vital for your skin’s health. Free radicals make your skin look tired, limp and flabby. Taking Spirulina supplements on a regular basis works wonders for your skin, making it look toned, youthful and vital. It also treats flabby skin by eliminating the body’s metabolic waste products and strengthening the body as a whole.
Treatment of Dark Circles — Spirulina is effective in treating dark circles and dry eye symptoms. Its detoxifying effects give your eyes new energy and power, removing dark shadows and dryness.
Anti Ageing Benefits — Spirulina contains tyrosine, vitamin E or tocopherol, and selenium, all of which are known for their anti-ageing effects. Tyrosine slows down the ageing of skin cells. The antioxidants present in it eliminate free radicals which are responsible for skin ageing. Try this facial mask to prevent premature ageing of skin and fight acne. Make a paste by mixing some Spirulina with water and apply it on your face. Keep on for 20 minutes and wash off. This will make your skin amazingly soft and smooth as well as prevent signs of ageing like wrinkles.
Detoxifies Skin — Spirulina facilitates faster cell turnover that helps skin heal faster. It wards off free radicals and eliminates toxins from the skin to increase skin metabolism. It also prevents candida overgrowth that can cause acne breakouts.
Healthy Nails — Regular use of Spirulina treats fingernail ridges and other nail problems. Spirulina contains 70% high-value protein which is required by the body. Consuming it for about 4 weeks can cure nail problems and warts.
Promotes Hair Growth — External use of Spirulina can speed up hair growth. Besides consumption, this algae is used as an ingredient in shampoos and conditioning treatments. It also helps in hair re-growth.
Treatment of Hair Loss — Alopecia is an autoimmune disease characterized by hair loss at an alarming rate. It is not just confined to the scalp alone but also leads to hair loss across the body and face. This can result in bald spots, even in women, and even complete baldness. Spirulina acts as an alternative medicine to deter further loss of hair and facilitate hair renewal.
Treatment of Dandruff — Spirulina acts as an antioxidant compound and taking it for 4 weeks makes your hair completely dandruff-free, glossy and stronger.
The Side effects of Spirulina –
- Worsens Phenylketonuria — Phenylketonuria is a genetically acquired disorder, wherethe patient cannot metabolize the amino acid called phenylalanine due to the lack of an enzyme named phenylalanine hydroxylase. It is an autosomal recessive condition that requires a defective gene each from mother and father. The patient exhibits symptoms, such as delayed development, convulsions, hyperactivity and analytical disability. Spirulina is a rich source of phenylalanine. Consuming spirulina aggravates the symptoms of phenylketonuria.
- Exacerbates The Symptoms Of Autoimmune Diseases — An auto-immune disease is characterized by the immune system attacking the healthy tissues that are normally present in the body. Reactive arthritis, vitiligo, type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and pernicious anemia are a few examples of auto-immune diseases. When consumed by a person suffering from any of these auto-immune diseases, spirulina acts as an irritant. It amplifies the activity of the immune system, which exacerbates the symptoms of the disease.
- Drug Interaction — Spirulina boosts the activity levels of the immune system. It poses a threat of drug interaction, especially with immune-suppressants. Spirulina and immune-suppressant drugs work in a contradictory manner. A person on immune-suppressant medication must not consume spirulina, or it will diminish the effect of the medication resulting in serious complications.
- Risk of heavy metal toxicity — Varieties of spirulina that are produced under unrestrained settings are often infested with significant traces of heavy metals, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead. Prolonged consumption of spirulina that comes from such undependable sources results in damage to visceral organs, such as kidneys and liver. As compared to adults, children are at higher risk of developing fatal complications due to heavy metal poisoning from contaminated spirulina.
- Renal Disorders — A large amount of ammonia is produced in the body as the protein in spirulina is metabolized. The ammonia gets converted into urea. This puts excessive pressure on the kidneys to flush out the large amount of urea from the blood, which ultimately results in decreased efficiency of the kidneys. Some people tend to develop kidney stones due to high concentration of urea in the renal system.
- Triggers Edema — As motioned earlier, spirulina is packed with vitamins, proteins, and minerals. People with a compromised renal function are unable to expel all the unnecessary components from their blood stream. The buildup of excessive nutrients in the blood causes the limbs to puff up. This swelling of limbs is known as edema.
- Digestive discomfort — Consuming spirulina can lead to synthesis of digestive gases in excess amount, causing abdominal cramps and flatulence. If you are consuming spirulina for the first time, you might want to avoid stepping out. Newbies trying spirulina often experience nausea and vomiting. Spirulina varieties infested with contaminants, such as mycrocystins also give rise to serious ailments of the digestive system, such as queasiness and acute dehydration.
- Septic Shocks — It is quite possible for spirulina to be infested with toxin-producing bacteria. The toxins, when released within the human body, can cause bacteremic shock, also known as septic shock. Patients suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis, hypertension and multiple myeloma are highly susceptible to bacteremic shock.
- Risk Of Acquiring Motor Neuron Disease (MND) — Spirulina harvested from the unrestrained wild sources, such as lakes, ponds and sea are often toxic in nature. These varieties produce toxins in the body upon consumption, which ultimately makes way for motor neuron disease. The symptoms include muscular spasms, garbled speech, and rapid weight loss due to muscle degeneration. As MND progresses with time, it gradually results in disability.
- Risk For Pregnant Women And Breastfeeding Infants — The side-effects of spirulina on the normal course of pregnancy are yet to be discovered. Nevertheless, as children and infants are highly sensitive towards contaminants present in spirulina, it would make sense on the part of the pregnant women to not consume spirulina at all. Similarly, nursing mothers should play it safe and avoid taking spirulina. Otherwise, the ill-effects can easily be passed on to the infant during the course of nursing.
The key is not to exceed the recommended dosage. The human body is a group of intricate and delicate systems, which can be put in disarray with minimal intervention of harmful substances. And also remember to buy spirulina that is free from contaminants to avoid complications.
I’m Dr. Malini Bhat MD (Ayu); an Ayurvedic Doctor and a health blogger. Follow me on social media to get daily health tips which you can easily adapt to a healthy lifestyle.