Spirulina has been recognized as an ingredient that’s been popping up frequently as a superfood packed with nutrients, but what is spirulina exactly and what benefits does it offer? Spirulina is derived from blue-green algae found mostly in saltwater, although it’s found in freshwater sources, too. It’s been used for centuries for its nutritional and medicinal value across various cultures. Though largely used by the ancient Aztecs, the superfood was notably and more recently used by NASA astronauts in space.
Spirulina is typically found in powder or tablet form and is added to smoothies, mixed in with soups, and included as part of daily supplementation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, spirulina provides a rich source of non-animal protein, which makes it extra beneficial for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.1 t’s also a good source of B vitamins, beta-carotene, and iron to help support the body’s metabolism and immune system, as well as promote good skin and eye health.
Additionally, research from a collaboration between Liverpool University Hospital in the UK, the Hippocrateio Hospital, and University of Ioannina in Greece suggests spirulina may have anti-viral, anti-allergic, and anti-cancer effects.2 Evidence also points to how algae helps with lowering cholesterol. One study showed a significant reduction of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol after eight weeks of administering spirulina, while another found spirulina supplements reduced blood cholesterol significantly in ischemic heart disease patients.3
Those who are new to spirulina may be wondering, “is spirulina safe to consume?” These and other studies have confirmed spirulina as a safe and effective dietary supplement and a possible remedy for certain ailments and conditions. However, it’s most regularly used as part of preventative healthcare to keep the body and brain strong.
Health Benefits of Spirulina
What is spirulina good for and how can it help you in everyday life? Spirulina is known as a functional food that’s been widely used as a way to consume more nutrients on a regular basis, but it also carries several health benefits beyond its initial nutritional value. Generally speaking, as a natural food supplement, it should be considered as an effective part of a dietary regimen. Consuming spirulina is an easy way to get the recommended daily dose of essential daily vitamins and minerals. Here are a few of the commonly attributed health benefits that a daily dose offers.
Packs a Nutrient-Rich Punch
One of the main benefits of consuming spirulina is that it’s packed with nutrients. A tablespoon of spirulina powder contains four grams of protein, copper, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, and B3. It also contains magnesium, potassium, and other healthy electrolytes and nutrients. These essential minerals are absorbed into the body when consumed orally as a dietary supplement. Furthermore, a single serving has only 20 calories, approximately one gram of fat, and less than two grams of digestible carbs, making it an easy addition to maintain a balanced diet.
Reduces Allergy Symptoms
Turkish researchers exploring the effects of herbal remedies found spirulina to be effective in alleviating inflammation of nasal mucous and decreasing serum histamine levels.4 This reduces the onset of allergic rhinitis or hay fever, as it’s more commonly known. Spirulina has also been effective in helping to reduce sneezing, congestion, and itching when compared with a placebo used in other trials.5 It’s a favorable alternative to allergy medication that may cause side effects like drowsiness or dizziness.
May Aid in Anti-inflammatory Activities
Collaborative research performed by the University of Rhode Island and Fooyin University in Taiwan shows evidence suggesting spirulina may provide beneficial health effects in managing cardiovascular conditions, particularly those with inflammatory symptoms.6 One referenced study showed a significant decrease in serum IL-6 levels (a marker for immune system activation) and IL-6 production in elderly women taking 7.5 mg of spirulina a day for eight weeks. This decrease demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects.
Promotes Weight Loss
What is spirulina used for as part of a dietary regimen? In a joint medical review published by the Mid-America Heart Institute in Kansas, Baystate Medical Center in Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the University of MIssouri-Kansas City, it reported that spirulina may promote weight loss when consumed as a supplement along with a low-calorie diet.7
In one referenced randomized trial, 52 obese participants were given two grams of spirulina per day and set on a restrictive caloric diet. The placebo group followed a restricted-calorie diet only for a period of 12 weeks. The outcome of those in the spirulina group was a significant reduction in body weight, waist circumference, and body fat, as well as lowered triglycerides. Plus, the nutrient density of spirulina offers benefits that are similar to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which promotes healthy eating.
Lowers Blood Pressure
In addition to weight loss, there have been studies with evidence of spirulina lowering blood pressure in patients. In a trial conducted by the University of Medical Sciences in Poznan, Poland, results showed that after three months of receiving a daily supplement of two grams of Hawaiian spirulina, there was a significant reduction in blood pressure and body mass index, while the same measured parameters remained unchanged in the placebo group.8
May Lower the Risk of Diabetes
Spirulina is also known to reduce blood sugar levels and subsequently lower the risk of diabetes. A study conducted by the University of Baroda in Gujarat, India revealed a two-month administration of a spirulina supplement resulted in lowering blood glucose levels in participants.9 It marked a significant reduction in HbA(1c) blood glucose levels, which indicates improved regulation of blood sugar, which further aids in reducing the risk of diabetes.
Optimizes Energy Levels
As part of preventative healthcare, what is spirulina good for and how can it benefit us now and in the long-term? A daily dose of spirulina has been shown to prolong energy levels and carry performance-enhancing effects. One particular study conducted by the Institute of Human Performance and Rehabilitation, Center for Research and Technology in Greece observed nine moderately-trained males that took part in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.10 Each person received either a spirulina tablet or a placebo for four weeks and ran on a treadmill at various intensities.
The results showed the time to fatigue after the measured two-hour run was significantly longer for those who received spirulina supplementation, and it increased fat oxidation by nearly 11 percent when compared to the placebo. Optimizing fat oxidation through diet and exercise can help reduce symptoms of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic conditions.
May Have Anti-Cancer Effects
Spirulina has been studied as having anti-cancer effects, particularly for cancers of the mouth. Researchers from the Medical College Campus Regional Cancer Centre in Kerala, India studied the effects of spirulina in reversing oral cancer lesions. After consuming one gram of spirulina a day for 12 months, there was a complete regression of lesions in 45 percent of the participants compared to the 7 percent of regression in the placebo group. Additionally, within a year of discontinuing spirulina supplements, 45 percent of the participants developed recurrent lesions.
Improves Immune Function
Immune function often begins to decline in older adults. A study conducted by the University of California at Davis and the IRCCS Istituto Clinico Humanitas in Milan, Italy tested anemia (lack of healthy red blood cells) management and immunological decline in older adults through a nutritional approach. The data presented evidence that spirulina could help on both accounts.
Over a 12-week period, 40 volunteers of both sexes, ages 50 and older, without any history of major chronic disease incorporated spirulina supplementation. At the end of the 12-week period, there was a reported increase in average values of mean corpuscular hemoglobin (average mass of hemoglobin per red blood cell), with women appearing to benefit more rapidly from the supplements. There was also an increase in indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) enzyme activity, a sign of the immune function at both the 6-week and 12-week mark of the study.
Incorporating Spirulina Into Your Daily Diet
The easiest way to add spirulina to your diet is by taking a daily plant-based supplement. It allows you to consume the nutrients you need without adding another meal or more foods to your diet. You can take a supplement on its own or use spirulina powder as an alternative option.
Spirulina powder is popular since it can be mixed with a variety of foods and drinks. Add a serving to water, green juice, or a smoothie. Add a spoonful to hummus, salad dressing, or soup for an extra serving of nutrients. Others like to combine it with other whole ingredients to homemade energy bars or other healthy snacks as a tasty way to introduce it into the diet. There are plenty of ways to use spirulina that can be enjoyed on a daily basis! Either way, you choose, the spirulina benefits are widespread. Whether you’re specifically trying to mitigate symptoms or simply want to preserve continual good health, it delivers ongoing value in a convenient way.
Nutrition is essential to good health and evaluating what you’re consuming and the effects it has on the body can transform how well you’re able to function. When adding spirulina as part of a routine of regular exercise and a balanced diet, it can boost how you look, feel, and perform. It allows you to ensure that you’re receiving the proper nutritional value and starting each day in a positive way.
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1. Wellness Team, “Is Spirulina Good for You?,” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic (Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, September 16, 2020), https://health.clevelandclinic.org/spirulina-superfood-youve-never-heard/.
2. P D Karkos et al., “Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications,” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM (Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2011), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136577/.
3. Panam Parikh, Uliyar Mani, and Uma Iyer, “Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus,” Journal of medicinal food (U.S. National Library of Medicine), accessed January 21, 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12639401/.
4. P D Karkos et al., “Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications,” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM (Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2011), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136577/.
5. P D Karkos et al., “Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications,” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM (Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2011), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136577/.
6. P D Karkos et al., “Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications,” Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM (Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2011), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136577/.
7. James J DiNicolantonio, Anusha G Bhat, and James OKeefe, “Effects of Spirulina on Weight Loss and Blood Lipids: a Review,” Open Heart (Archives of Disease in childhood, March 1, 2020), https://openheart.bmj.com/content/7/1/e001003.
8. James J DiNicolantonio, Anusha G Bhat, and James OKeefe, “Effects of Spirulina on Weight Loss and Blood Lipids: a Review,” Open Heart (Archives of Disease in childhood, March 1, 2020), https://openheart.bmj.com/content/7/1/e001003.
9. Ruitang Deng and Te-Jin Chow, “Hypolipidemic, Antioxidant, and Antiinflammatory Activities of Microalgae Spirulina,” Cardiovascular therapeutics (U.S. National Library of Medicine, August 2010), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907180/.
10. Ruitang Deng and Te-Jin Chow, “Hypolipidemic, Antioxidant, and Antiinflammatory Activities of Microalgae Spirulina,” Cardiovascular therapeutics (U.S. National Library of Medicine, August 2010), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2907180/.