I wrote several blogs about supplements, herbs, and natural remedies that I take or experiment with. I am interesting in slowing down aging and want to live a long, fulfilling life devoid of illnesses, diseases, and health problems. The blogs are:
- The Power of Herbs, Supplements, and Natural Remedies – explains which herbs I take and why I take them.
- Everything You Wanted To Know About Hyaluronic Acid
- The Power of Grape Seeds
- The Health Benefits of Resveratrol
- The Ancient Chinese Mushroom – Lingzhi
- The Super Antioxidant – Astaxanthin
- The Super Nutrient – Spirulina
Some call Spirulina the super food because it packs all of nature’s essential nutrients into one little package. However, it is neither a herb nor plant but cyanobacteria which comprises of two species: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima.
People in many countries and cultures across the world cultivate and consume Spirulina tablets, flakes, or powder either as a whole food or as a dietary supplement. Some farmers mix Spirulina into feeds for fish and animals.
Ancient man knew about Spirulina. The Aztecs and other Mesoamericans utilized spirulina as a food source until the 16th century. One of Cortes soldiers described the natives harvesting Spirulina cakes from Lake Texcoco. Even the European Space Agency and NASA suggested using Spirulina as a primary food source for astronauts to cultivate and grow during long-term space missions.
Dried Spirulina comprises roughly 65% protein, and our bodies can utilize that protein with a net rate ranging between 50% and 61%. Spirulina furnishes all essential amino acids although it contains lower amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine as compared to the proteins from eggs, meat, and milk. The U.S. National Library of Medicine stated Spirulina has no edge over milk or meat as a protein source, and it costs roughly 30 times more per gram. On the other hand, Spirulina provides more protein than legumes.
Pregnant mothers, vegetarians, and patients afflicted with anemia or required a boost in immunity after surgery should take Spirulina because it has high concentrations of protein and natural, non-animal iron. Furthermore, Spirulina supplies high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, but also provides omega 6s, and 9s. Spirulina contains about 7% lipids (oils) by weight and is rich in the essential gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Spirulina also supplies:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – healthy fatty acids in fish oil
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – healthy fatty acids in fish oil
- Linoleic acid (LA)
- Stearidonic acid (SDA)
Researchers and scientists have used the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) to measure the antioxidant ability and concentration of different foods. An independent laboratory tested Spirulina and rated it 24,000 which exceeds the antioxidant power of blueberries by four times. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped publishing food tables with the ORAC score because the ORAC score correlates poorly to biological effects on the body. Spirulina still supplies three important antioxidants: Beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. Spirulina also includes the following vitamins:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (nicotinamide)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
Experts believe people should not rely on spirulina as a source of Vitamin B12 although some tout Spirulina’s high B12 content. Spirulina supplements provide mostly pseudo-vitamin B12, which the human body cannot absorb and utilize. Hence, people should absorb their B12 from animal products. Spirulina furnishes over 26 times the calcium in milk, making it excellent supplement for children, the elderly, and expectant mothers, and it does not cause constipation. It also contains phosphorus that can help to re-mineralize the teeth. Furthermore, Spirulina provides the following minerals:
Spirulina uses Chlorophyll to obtain its energy from the sun. The chlorophyll helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system. Spirulina supplies many health-enhancing pigments such as:
Researchers studied Spirulina in animal and human studies. For example, Spirulina binds with radioactive isotopes and removes them from the body. Thus, Spirulina may help people exposed to radiation. Spirulina can also prevent damage caused by toxins and help protect the heart, liver, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, DNA, and testicles. Finally, researchers studied Spirulina to prevent chemotherapy-induced heart damage, recover from strokes, slow declines in age-related memory, and alleviate diabetes mellitus.
Spirulina supplies many health-boosting qualities even though it has the tastes and consistency of pond scum. Some believe Spirulina helps the body by:
- Boosting the immune system
- Strengthening the heart and circulatory system and promoting healthy cholesterol
- Improving gastrointestinal and digestive health
- Reducing inflammation
- Naturally cleansing and detoxifying by binding with heavy metals in the body and removing them
- Lowering cancer risks through its antioxidant power
- Alleviating allergies and reducing allergic reactions
- Satisfying appetite and helping in weight loss
- Enhancing fat burning while exercising
- Boosting endurance and strength in athletes
Spirulina contains 1% phycocyanobilin by weight. Phycocyanobilin inhibits NADPH oxidase, where NADPH stands for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate. What does this mean? The body can use NADPH to negatively charge oxygen molecules, so the oxygen kills microorganisms. However, these oxygen molecules move around in the body as free radicals. Thus, the phycocyanobilin in Spirulina prevents the NADPH into making free radicals. Furthermore, researchers believe the NADPH oxidase causes atherosclerosis, and if a substance could inhibit the NADPH oxidase, then this substance could reverse atherosclerosis. At this point, I am not suggesting Spirulina reverses atherosclerosis, but it is something to watch out for. (I kept NADPH in this blog because researchers are studying derivatives of NAD to slow down or reserve aging. NAD comprises one form of Vitamin B3).
Dosage and Toxic Effects
Spirulina had shown no harmful or toxic effects in humans or animals, even when they have consumed up to 800 milligrams per kilogram of body weight and have replaced 60% of their protein intake by Spirulina. In a 2009 study, 550 malnourished children consumed up to 10 grams per day of Spirulina powder with no adverse effects. In humans, researchers conducted small studies to evaluate Spirulina in undernourished children, to treat the cosmetic aspects of arsenic poisoning, to alleviate hay fever and allergic rhinitis, to reduce arthritis, to treat hyperlipidemia and hypertension, and to improve exercise tolerance.
People using any anti-coagulation medicine should consult with a doctor before taking Spirulina. It contains Vitamin K that can interfere with anti-coagulant medications that slow the clotting of blood.
People with phenylketonuria must avoid taking Spirulina because Spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine, roughly between 2.6 and 4.1 grams per 100 grams of Spirulina. Phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder, prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine. The phenylalanine accumulates in the brain, causing damage. Sufferers also cannot consume the artificial sweetener aspartame, or its brand name NutraSweet. Those with phenylketonuria should confer with a doctor before taking Spirulina.
The U.S. government does not regulate or enforce safety standards for Spirulina’s purity and manufacturing because it is a dietary supplement. Heavy-metal contamination of Spirulina supplements has also raised concern. For example, the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration discovered Spirulina supplements marketed in China were contaminated with lead, mercury, and arsenic.
Other types of cyanobacteria can contaminate Spirulina batches, creating toxic substances such as microcystins, BMAA (beta-Methylamino-L-alanine), and others. Microcystins can disturb the gastrointestinal tract and cause liver cancer in the long term. Thus, users should buy quality Spirulina supplements from well-known companies. Otherwise, they could risk developing cancer by chronic, long-term exposure to low levels of microcystins. Finally, BMAA can damage nerve cells and cause neurological disorders.