A cyanobacteria bloom in California.
Spirulina provides similar benefits to seaweeds, but it is a different organism entirely. Spirulina is a microscopic blue-green algae classified as bacteria. This spiral shaped, vitamin-rich algae has existed since the beginning of life on earth and grows in alkaline water bodies (mostly lakes, ponds & rivers) mostly in warm & sunny climates.
Characteristics of Spirulina
Spirulina’s scientific ‘bacteria’ name is cyanobacteria. It is a surprising creature with some characteristics similar to plants, namely being chlorophyll-rich and using the sun as an energy source the way plants do (photosynthesis). It’s prime growth location is climates where maximum sunlight is available. Spirulina ‘blooms’ in large green colonies on the water surface, un-managed, it can create havoc for humans and the environment as the blooms can be toxic.
Cyanobacteria doesn’t have the hard cellulose membranes characteristic of plant cells. Often confused with seaweed, it does have similar health benefits in that both are considered complete foods and great sources of plant protein.
It is essential to buy Spirulina from a trusted supplier to avoid the dangers associated with its consumption. All types of blue-green algae, release toxins when they die and can become contaminated if the environment where they grow is not managed carefully. Of these toxins, microcystins are of the greatest concern, because they are toxic to the liver.
Health Benefits of Spirulina
By far the highest source of plant-based protein in existence, Spirulina contains an average of 60% total complete protein. All the essential amino-acids, in a highly digestible form, are present and presented with a better balance of minerals and vitamins than other protein sources.
Spirulina is also rich in numerous phytonutrients & antioxidants. Some of these, especially phycocyanin, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, GLA and iron, have been researched for positive effects on health (see below for more details). There is still controversy about its vitamin B12 content. Although some still promote Spirulina as a rich source, some studies advocate that the B12 is in a form that cannot be metabolized by humans.
Some of the amino acids present in the algae are known to improve brain function and prevent depression. One of them in particular – tryptophan – is used to produce serotonin, an essential compound in dealing with stress, depression, insomnia and neurological disorders.
Like seaweeds, Spirulina is a good source of bio-available sulfur based compounds. These play an essential role as we age, lessening weakness, inflammation & pain of the joints/muscles. In addition to regulating inflammation response, dietary sulfur is key to the production of glutathione, an essential antioxidant for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s.
Spirulina s also one of the richest source of GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an essential fatty acid that also reduce inflammatory symptoms of arthritis and relieve joint pain. GLA has also been associated with easing the symptoms of PMS.
Studies support this superfood’s ability as an integral part of an alimentary regime to correct malnutrition. Other health benefits include:
- High levels of the amino acid tryptophan (the amino acid required in the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter required by the body to deal with stress, improve mood, alleviate depression, get good restful sleep and prevent neurological conditions) make Spirulina ideal for balancing brain chemistry.
- Spirulina contains antioxidant carotenoids, known for boosting the immune system; studies suggest that Spirulina may have a place in the treatment and management of enveloped viruses including HIV, herpes and influenza. Humans are incapable of synthesising carotenoids and must obtain them through diet.
- Chlorophyll, found in ample amounts in Spirulina, is known to be an excellent blood, liver and nervous system cleanser.
- High iron levels make it suitable for preventing anaemia.
- Studies reveal that Spirulina lowers fasting blood glucose, postprandial glucose and glycosylated haemoglobin in type-2 diabetic patients. Further promising trials with rats and mice suggesting that Spirulina may one day play an integral role in the management of diabetes.
- Phycocyanin is one of the most important pigments in Spirulina. It is shown to have interesting potential in the fight against cancer.
- Studies show that oral intake of Spirulina slows and retards tumour growth in mice by increasing the activity of the NK (natural killer) cell, responsible for the inhibition of tumour and cancer cell growth.
- Spirulina is also shown to reduce the propagation of, and cause cell death in, cultured Leukaemia cells.
- Phycocyamin found in Spirulina acts as protection for the plant cells against radiation from the sun, suggesting potential application in protecting our own cells from damage from radiation. These findings strongly suggest that this powerful superfood may have prospects in the management and prevention of cancers, and as a useful therapy alongside more traditional cancer therapies. Phycocyanin also forms soluble complexes with iron and other minerals, increasing their bioavailability in the body. Phytocyanin is also known to stimulate haemopoiesis (the synthesis of blood cells and platelets), resulting in increased ability for oxygenation of body tissues.
- Spirulina contains Superoxide dismutase (SOD), a naturally occurring antioxidant enzyme in the body that protects against DNA damage and helps to remove free radicals. Deficiency in SOD may accelerate aging and wrinkling of skin tissue, making Spirulina a potential anti-aging solution.
Nutritional & therapeutic potential
Antiviral, anti-tumour, antibacterial, antiHIV
Evidence-based health applications
Anemia & immune function
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.