Spirulina, a natural algae found in both fresh and salt water, has long been called a superfood due to its high concentration of nutrients and antioxidants. While the ancient Aztecs were among the original users of spirulina, today it is a common ingredient in smoothies, juices and more. NASA even found a way to reuse it, growing it in space to help astronauts stay healthy, as reported in the journal Marine Drugs.
Today, spirulina is one of the most popular supplements on the market. However, you should still use caution, as research into its effects continues. Before you use spirulina, here’s what you need to know.
Benefits of spirulina
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae, considered one of the oldest forms of life on Earth. It is a cyanobacteria that uses photosynthesis to create energy, just like a plant. Due to its natural nutritional content, it has been called a superfood for humans, but how does it affect human health?
These are some of the known health benefits of spirulina.
It is full of nutrients and antioxidants
Spirulina has many different nutrients that the body needs to stay healthy, including vitamins like thiamin for healthy metabolism and vitamin A for vision, as well as minerals like copper and iron that help in improving immunity. There are also other nutrients, such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids that fight inflammation, and antioxidants such as phycocyanin and beta carotene that help reduce the risk of certain diseases. At 60% protein content, spirulina provides more protein than many vegetables and is a popular source of protein for vegans and vegetarians.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, one teaspoon of dried spirulina contains 20 calories and the following nutrients:
Dried Spirulina (1 tsp)
14% of the Daily Value (DV)
20% of the Daily Value (DV)
6% of the Daily Value (DV)
47% of Daily Value (DV)
11% of the Daily Value (DV)
Spirulina also contains magnesium, potassium and manganese in small amounts.
All these vitamins and nutrients will help you meet your daily nutritional needs.
It can support healthy cholesterol
Spirulina has been found to lower “bad” and total cholesterol and triglycerides, while increasing the good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL). It prevents fat and cholesterol in your blood from clogging your arteries, which, in turn, can put a strain on your heart. A small study found that those who took 1 gram of spirulina daily had lower cholesterol after just three months.
Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels helps prevent heart disease, as well as heart attack and stroke, according to Harvard Health.
It will help your immune system
Spirulina contains vitamins and minerals essential for immune health. Additionally, research has found that it increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies, both of which the body uses to fight disease. Importantly, spirulina’s effects on the immune system make it dangerous for those with autoimmune diseases like lupus, according to WebMD.
Spirulina’s anti-inflammatory properties may also benefit people with allergies from common culprits including dust, pollen and pet dander. It has been explored as an alternative treatment for allergic rhinitis symptoms, although more research is needed.
It can lower blood pressure
Spirulina can increase the production of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels and helps them expand. Several studies have found that daily doses of spirulina can help reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the first and second numbers in a blood pressure reading). It has also shown positive effects for those with hypertension.
It can support eye health
Spirulina may also benefit eye health. It’s rich in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A. Vitamin A has been shown to help prevent vision loss and promote better eye health, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
According to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, spirulina also contains high concentrations of zeaxantuin, which may reduce the likelihood of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Some animal research has supported the eye health benefits of spirulina, but more research is needed for more insights into how it might benefit humans.
Dangers and disadvantages of spirulina
When discussing any superfood, it’s important not to focus solely on the hype and ignore the potential dangers. Here’s what to remember about spirulina.
Lack of research
Spirulina has been around for a long time, but scientists are still learning more about its effects on the human body. Many of its purported health benefits are based on animal research or limited studies.
For example, one theory is that spirulina may help prevent cancer. It is rich in antioxidants known to fight inflammation, which can cause cancer. For example, it contains phycocyanin, which has been found to reduce inflammation while inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. However, studies continue to examine the exact link, if any, between spirulina and cancer.
Researchers are also studying spirulina and the possible prevention and treatment of influenza, herpes and HIV, but again, more studies need to be done.
It is not regulated
Many spirulina products exist on the market today, but be careful when buying.
Like all supplements, spirulina is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Some spirulina products have been found to contain contaminants, especially if they were harvested in wild areas full of heavy metals. These contaminants can damage your liver with enough exposure.
In addition, some products may contain more or less spirulina than listed on the label.
Side effects and safety precautions
Spirulina is largely considered safe in regular doses, and the Dietary Supplements Information Expert Committee gives it a Class A safety rating. However, some potential side effects include difficulty sleeping, digestive problems, and symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headache and dizziness. Some people have reported allergic reactions.
Spirulina is not recommended for people using certain medications, such as those designed to lower blood pressure, cholesterol or immune system activity. In addition, it is not recommended for the following groups of people:
- pregnant woman
- Autoimmune diseases
- Those who are about to or have just had surgery
Before using spirulina, always check with your doctor about any possible drug interactions, and buy it from a reputable retailer to ensure its legitimacy and safety.
How to take spirulina
One of the perks of spirulina is its versatility. Sold in most health food stores, it is available as a tablet, capsule or powder supplement. It has a bitter taste, but mixing it with yogurt or a smoothie can mask that.
Dosages may vary. Before you take spirulina, ask your doctor how often you should use it and how much you should take. You can also bring it to your appointment so your doctor can double check the brand and confirm it’s safe for you to use.
Spirulina can be a beneficial addition to your health regimen, but research is ongoing to determine how it affects the human body. Pay attention to the latest studies and buy verified products from well-known brands. Spirulina isn’t perfect for everyone, but your doctor can help steer you in the right direction.
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