Spirulina is a dark green algae that grows on the surface of lakes. The ancient Aztecs used superfood Spirulina as an important source of nutrients in their diets by drying it into cakes.
Today you can find dried Spirulina powder in the health food store, where it’s sold as a green supplement, or added to smoothies or juices. The algae is also added to products such as cookies, crackers, drinks, and energy bars.
Spirulina has become popular today for good reason- it has incredible nutritional value! The superfood is a significant source of protein, B vitamins, beta carotene, Vitamin E, Vitamin K, essential fatty acids and various minerals, including iron. Spirulina is also used to promote healthy weight status.
Spirulina is a great vegan source of high-quality protein. One ounce of dried Spirulina has approximately 15 grams of protein, which is equivalent to two jumbo eggs! This superfood is also utilized by vegans and vegetarians because of the iron and B vitamins, however, it is not a reliable source of B12 because the form of B12 in the algae is inactive in humans.
Some studies have shown some promising benefits in using iron-rich Spirulina to treat anemia. The iron in the algae is bio-chelated and has been found to be highly bioavailable in humans. A small study on subjects over 50 years of age with anemia treated with 500 mg of Spirulina supplements per day demonstrated significantly increased hemoglobin levels after only 12 weeks of treatment. More studies are needed before these algae can be recommended as a treatment for anemia, but the results of recent studies have been promising.
Immune Function Support?
Studies in test tubes and lab animals suggest that Spirulina may boost immune function, but there are not currently any studies that show the same effects in humans. There’s also some evidence that it might be prebiotics that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
In-vitro studies have suggested Spirulina has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antitumor, anti-cholesterol and immunologic properties. When shopping for this product it is important to seek out high-quality supplements. Poor quality supplements may be contaminated with toxic substances called microcystins or heavy metals like mercury.
Cancer, Diabetes, Allergies, Depression, Heart Disease?
There are reports abound that Spirulina can be used to improve all kinds of diseases and disorders, but the simple truth is there is not enough evidence to recommend it yet for any health condition.
The Bottom Line on Spirulina
Spirulina is a unique, nutrient-dense green food. Incorporating this superfood into your diet will provide lots of great vitamins, protein, healthy fats, and minerals for your body to utilize. If you decide to take a Spirulina supplement, make sure to purchase only high-quality supplements from reputable sources to avoid harmful contamination.
1) University of Maryland Medical Center. “Spirulina” http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/Spirulina-000327.htm
2) National Institute of Health. Medline Plus Supplements. “Blue-green algae” http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/923.html
3) Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. “Blue-green algae” http://www.naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com
4) Selmi C, Leung PS, Fischer L, German B, Yang CY, Kenny TP, Cysewski GR,Gershwin ME. The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens. Cell Mol Immunol. 2011 May;8 (3):248-54. doi: 10.1038/cmi.2010.76. Epub 2011 Jan 31. PubMed PMID:21278762.
5) Skidmore-Roth, Linda. Mosby’s Handbook of Herbs & Natural Supplements, 4th ed. St. Louis, MO:Mosby, 2001.