Spirulina is a blue-green coloured vegetable algae found in both fresh and saltwater, from the prehistoric cyanobacteria family. It is a typically adaptable example of the microalgae varieties, growing well in extreme conditions. It particularly thrives in naturally mineral rich alkaline lakes. Its key requirements are sunlight and a hot climate.
Spirulina is now cultivated worldwide for the commercial dietary supplement market in specialised open ponds. As the issue of food production for our increasingly undernourished planetary population gains importance, cultivation of this highly productive and nutrient dense algae could offer a major contribution to solving the problem.
Its microscopic single-celled spiral coiled shape holds a rich concentration of easily assimilated complete proteins (including all essential amino acids), antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, nucleic acids, chlorophyll and other phytonutrients. In fact, spirulina has a high percentage of protein (60%) – it is one of nature’s superfoods.
Results of extensive studies during the last 20 years support adding spirulina to your regular diet to support nutrition and health. Centuries ago spirulina was valued by Africans and the Mayan and Aztec cultures in Mexico as a staple food.
Spirulina is a valuable nutrient source, and as a reliable source of vegetable protein is of particular benefit to people eating a vegan or vegetarian diet.
What are the researched health benefits of spirulina?
Many studies show supplementation with spirulina supports a healthy immune system as it supports red and white blood cell counts. Because of this, spirulina may provide support for energy. Spirulina nourishes healthy gut flora and in this way supports the body’s defence mechanism.
Spirulina is a good source of natural beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. It has ten times the beta-carotene concentration of carrots. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant and known for supporting immunity, eye health and healthy membranes.
Two other nutrients give spirulina its distinctive colour. The blue comes from phycocyanin, and chlorophyll, the green pigment. Chlorophyll is known as the ‘blood of plants’ because of its similarity in structure to haemoglobin in human blood. Chlorophyll also supports digestion and helps to balance acid secretion. It aids body tissues including liver cells with normal repair processes and supports balanced cardiovascular health.
What are the health indicators for supplementation?
For a normal healthy immune system, or if times are a bit stressful, then a daily spirulina supplement could aid your wellbeing.
Because spirulina is high in vitamins, nutrients and protein it may assist with the overall health of tissues including eyes, hair, digestive system organs and skin. Spirulina’s iodine content makes it a valuable aid in balancing thyroid function. Spirulina may also help to bind heavy metals and toxins and support their excretion out of the body provided other important minerals are insufficient levels. Always ask your health professional before undergoing a heavy metal detox.
Are adverse effects possible with spirulina?
Spirulina is produced in many countries. Quality of cultivation and harvesting is paramount as with any source of supplementation, and this varies from country to country, and within countries. It is the nature of spirulina algae to absorb whatever is in their growing environment, so potentially spirulina could be contaminated with pollutants like heavy metals and other substances. The way to ensure quality is to only buy spirulina that is tested for contaminants and is certified organic by recognised agencies.
Some chronic conditions that affect the immune system cause heightened immune system reactivity. These disease conditions might correlate with high levels of heavy metal toxicity and severe nutrient deficiency. Because certified organic spirulina is nutrient-rich it can support detoxification processes in the body. In chronic conditions where increased toxins may be present, it is therefore advised to introduce spirulina very gradually into the body.
Spirulina is a rich source of all amino acids, including phenylalanine. Therefore, it is contraindicated in individuals having problems metabolising phenylalanine. Occasionally spirulina has been related to digestive discomfort and so if there are severe seafood allergies, it would be wise to take a careful approach.
What is the recommended daily dosage?
Spirulina supplements come in tablet, capsule and powder form. The usual manufacturers’ recommendation when taken as a dietary supplement is to start with a lower dose for the first week, building up to a full dose gradually. Always stay within the recommended dose advised on the label.