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Spirulina – Nutrition, Health Benefits, Types, & Side Effects

With the boom of the supplements industry in recent years, there is now a huge range of supplements that are readily available for consumption.

However, with the substantial growth of the supplements industry, it can be challenging to distinguish between the supplements that are truly effective and the supplements which are nothing more than an experiment.

Spirulina is a commonly used supplement that many believe can have a significant positive impact on health. This article will provide a review of the potential benefits of spirulina.

Table of Contents

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is cyanobacteria or “blue-green algae” which is safe for human consumption. While it can be eaten as a whole food in powder form, it is commonly taken in tablet form. Spirulina typically grows in lakes and can even grow in conditions that would be far too extreme for other organisms.

In terms of manufacturing, spirulina is collected, freeze-dried and then sold as a powder, added to specific drinks and foods or used in supplements.

It is thought that spirulina has been used as a food source from as early as the 16th century and has been associated with a range of health benefits including reduced inflammation, lowered cholesterol levels, reduction in blood pressure, and enhanced immune function.

Nutritional Value of Spirulina

Spirulina contains a vast array of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, all of which are key for promoting health. One heaped teaspoon (7 grams) of spirulina contains the following nutrients:

Total Calories – 20Protein – 4.02 gramsCarbohydrates – 1.7 gramsFat – 0.54 gramsFibre – 0.3 grams

As demonstrated, spirulina has been found to have a high protein content of 60% – 65% which is much greater than the majority of vegetables.

Protein is a key nutrient for recovery and growth and there are many studies that suggest the use of a high protein diet.

Therefore, for those who struggle to consume enough protein each day, taking spirulina or adding it to foods and drinks can be a quick and easy method of boosting daily protein consumption.

All of the above nutrients play an extremely helpful role in maintaining good health. Taking spirulina regularly will ensure that you are consuming a wide range of nutrients in high quantities which will significantly benefit your health.

Health Benefits of Spirulina

This section will investigate the scientific literature that has been published on spirulina and the impact that supplementation has been found to have on human health and function.

While there are some studies that have been completed on spirulina, they are a limited number and therefore more research is required to back-up many of these proposed benefits.

1. Excellent Nutritional Profile

The three micro-nutrients that are found in the biggest quantities in spirulina are potassium, sodium and vitamin A. Both potassium and sodium contribute to regulating fluid balance, muscular contraction, and nerve impulse.

Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the organs (heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, etc.). Furthermore, it is also required for vision, reproduction and a healthy immune system.

Other noteworthy nutrients found in spirulina that significantly contribute to health include calcium and magnesium both of which help to keep bones strong and healthy, regulate heart rate, and contribute to a strong immune system.

2. Improved Heart Health

It has been suggested that spirulina can have a positive impact on the heart by reducing the amount of bad cholesterol and blood pressure. One recent study investigated the impact of spirulina supplementation on LDL levels and found that by taking just 1 gram of spirulina every day over a 3-month period, participants’ LDL levels dropped by 10%.

There are a few more studies that have investigated the effects of spirulina on cholesterol levels using different dosages. Results suggest that spirulina may indeed lower LDL levels.

3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stress. Spirulina contains an abundance of antioxidants and consuming it regularly may help to reduce the impact of oxidative stress thus reducing inflammation and the risk of developing a chronic disease such as cancer. 

The primary antioxidant in spirulina is known as phycocyanin which is the substance that gives spirulina its greeny-blue colour. Phycocyanin has been found to be particularly effective in inhibiting inflammatory responses.

4. Performance Enhancement

Spirulina supplementation may also be useful in physical training. Oxidative stress is a by-product of exercise and therefore, consuming a high number of antioxidants may reduce the amount of stress experienced during exercise.

A small number of studies have indicated that spirulina may indeed improve both strength and endurance capabilities thus improving exercise performance.

5. Impact on Medical Conditions

While more research is required to confirm findings, preliminary studies suggest that spirulina may have a positive impact on specific medical conditions.

One recent study found spirulina to be effective at reducing the number of symptoms associated with allergic rhinitis. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest spirulina may also assist in the management of type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

Best Ways to Take Spirulina

As reflected on, the two most common methods of taking spirulina are:

Tablet Form

If you routinely take supplements such as multivitamins and fish oils, simply add a spirulina tablet to your routine. In general, a dosage of anything between 1-8 grams per day has been found to be impactful on health.

Powder Form

There are many different foods and drinks that powered spirulina can be added to. The most basic method of adding spirulina is to mix the powder with water and drink it. However, be aware that spirulina is typically an acquired taste and it may take time to become accustomed to it.

If you find the taste of spirulina to be overpowering or difficult to drink, consider adding it to a smoothie or fruit juices instead. Not only will the drink become far more palatable, but adding fruits will boost the micro-nutrient content thus increasing the potential health benefits.

Spirulina can also be added to a number of foods including salads, stocks, soups, stews, pesto, hummus, omelettes, and energy balls.

Is Spirulina Good For You?

Considering that spirulina nourishes the body with a range of essential micronutrients in large quantities, it can unequivocally be stated that spirulina can have a positive impact on health and function.

As highlighted in the previous sections, research has indicated that spirulina may have a significant benefit on health and wellness. It may also be used by those who have chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, anaemia, and hypertension, however, more research is required to confirm this.

Side-effects of Spirulina

It should be noted that a few users of spirulina have reported a small number of adverse side effects including headaches, pains, nausea, allergic reactions, and insomnia.Spirulina may interfere with medications and therefore, it is important that you consult a medical professional prior to beginning spirulina supplements.Those who suffer from the condition known as phenylketonuria (or PKU), should not take spirulina as it contains an amino acid known as phenylalanine which they cannot break down.Those who suffer from an autoimmune condition such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis should also avoid the consumption of spirulina. This is because Spirulina is rich in Phenylalanine (an amino acid) which stimulates the Immune System, those with immune system disorders will be negatively impacted.

Summary

While more research needs to be conducted on spirulina to confirm the effects that supplementing it has on health, there does appear to be a number of benefits associated with spirulina. With that being said, it should be supplemented with caution and those with medical conditions must consult their physician prior to taking spirulina.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does spirulina do to the body?

Spirulina has an abundance of three micro-nutrients that are potassium, sodium and vitamin A. Both potassium and sodium contribute to regulating fluid balance, muscular contraction, and nerve impulse. Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of the organs (heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, etc.). Furthermore, it is also required for vision, reproduction and a healthy immune system. Other noteworthy nutrients that are found in spirulina that significantly contribute to health include calcium and magnesium which both help to keep bones strong and healthy, regulate heart rate, and contribute to a strong immune system.

Does spirulina cause weight gain?

No spirulina does not cause weight gain. As a matter of fact, spirulina can be a catalyst for weight loss as it provides for the body’s nutritional demands and thus curbs unhealthy cravings which lead to weight gain. 

Can spirulina be harmful?

Yes,  spirulina can be harmful to certain people. People have reported suffering from headaches, pains, nausea, allergic reactions, and insomnia after having spirulina. Spirulina may even interfere with medications and therefore, it is important that you consult a medical professional prior to beginning spirulina supplements. Those who suffer from phenylketonuria (PKU) and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis should also avoid the consumption of spirulina as it can have severe side effects. 

What does spirulina do for your skin?

With its high content of vitamins like A, E and B-12, spirulina benefits the skin in various ways. It boosts the overall health of the skin making it softer, brighter and younger looking. The antioxidants present in spirulina fight the free radicals that cause damage to the skin making it blemish and acne free. 

Does spirulina thicken hair?

Yes, the zinc present in spirulina promotes proper cell structure which further leads to structurally-formed hair follicles. Spirulina is also packed with micronutrients like iron, protein, essential fatty acid, amino acids and vitamins like A and B-12. All these together contribute towards better quality hair while fighting hair fall. 

Is it safe to take spirulina every day?

Yes, 5-8 grams of spirulina is safe for everyday consumption. 

How long does it take for spirulina to work?

It can take about 1-3 weeks for spirulina to show its effects on your body. Various other factors like your health, activity status, and food consumption can also play a part in its effectiveness. The healthier your lifestyle the sooner you’ll feel the positive effects of spirulina. 

Who should not take spirulina?

Those who suffer from phenylketonuria (PKU) and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis should also avoid the consumption of spirulina as it can have severe side effects.  Spirulina may even interfere with medications and therefore, it is important that you consult a medical professional prior to beginning spirulina supplements.

What foods contain spirulina?

Spirulina is cyanobacteria or “blue-green algae” which is safe for human consumption. While it can be eaten as a whole food in powder form, it is commonly taken in tablet form. You can even add spirulina powder to your smoothies or fresh fruit juices or sprinkle it over your salad. 

Does spirulina make your poop black?

Spirulina is a great detox agent. It can even remove the waste products accumulated in your colon that may give your stool a dark green/ blackish appearance. 

Is spirulina good for grey hair?

Yes, spirulina has amino acids and various micronutrients that make the hair stronger and appear shiny. It provides the essential amino acids and thus delays greying of hair. 

Is spirulina good for the eyes?

Yes, spirulina is rich in zeaxanthin, an important nutrient linked to eye health. Zeaxanthin protects the eyes against damage from the sun and may reduce the risk of cataracts and other age-related macular degeneration. 

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