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 on potential benefits of taking spirulina.
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What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a cyanobacteria or “blue-green algae” which is safe human consumption. While it can be eaten as a whole-food in powder form, it is commonly taken in the 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.
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 – 20
- Protein – 4.02 grams
- Carbohydrates – 1.7 grams
- Fat – 0.54 grams
- Fiber – 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 many of these findings lack weight and 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 towards 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 towards health include calcium and magnesium which both help to keep bones strong and healthy, regulate heart rate, and contribute towards 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 small-sided 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 do tend to 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. The primary antioxidant in spirulina is known as phycocyanin which is the substance that gives spirulina it’s greeny-blue color. Phycocyanin has been found to be particularly effective in inhibiting the inflammatory response.
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 have suggested spirulina may have a positive impact on specific medical conditions. One recent study found spirulina to be effective at reducing a 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:
If you routinely take supplements such as multivitamins and fish oils, simply add a spirulina tablet into your routine. The number of tablets that you take each day is entirely dependent on the spirulina dosage you wish to attain. In general, a dosage of anything between 1-8 grams per day has been found to be impactful on health.
There are many different foods and drinks that spirulina in powder form can be added to. The most basic method of adding spirulina is to mix the powder with water, mix it and drink. 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, by 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, omelets, 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, anemia, 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.
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. Additionally, those who suffer from an autoimmune condition such as multiple sclerosis, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis should also avoid the consumption of spirulina.
Finally, spirulina may interfere with medications and therefore, it is important that you consult a medical professional prior to beginning to supplement spirulina.
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.