Spirulina is one of the members of the blue-green algae family that can be found growing naturally on the surface of lakes and various other water masses. These can be either in fresh or salty waters. Sometimes algae can be found on the surface of rocks in fast or slow moving waters. These organisms have chlorophyll – the green pigments that help them make food from the sunlight. Its hue of blue is due to a protein called phycocyanin.

History suggests that spirulina was used as food by the Aztecs and other natives of the Americas. Records also indicate that spirulina products were available in Africa around Lake Chad. To this day, it is still used in these areas.

Spirulina and your health

Spirulina has been given the tag ‘superfood’. Although there is no universal agreement of what entails a superfood, it points to the fact that this product has ingredients that affects health in a major and positive way. It has been considered as an important product in the fight against malnutrition and food insecurity. It is one of the food items thought to be important in the futuristic human travels to Mars. With this, the question arises – why is spirulina rated so highly?

There are many reasons for this. They include:

Energy

It has a low caloric value and so a lower risk of weight problems. 100gms of spirulina contains only 290kcal.

Proteins

It contains proteins that are easier to produce (environmentally friendly) as compared to those produced through livestock. The proteins in spirulina contain a wide range of the amino acids needed for good health. These include (all the nine essential amino acids):

  • Tryptophan
  • Leucine
  • Threonine
  • Valine
  • Isoleucine
  • Histidine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine

Fats

It has three broad types of fats. These are:

  • Saturated fats.
  • Monounsaturated fats
  • Polyunsaturated fats.

These provide an important source of vital fatty acids that include:

  • Gamma linoleic acid
  • Alpha linoleic acid
  • Stearidonic acid
  • Linoleic acid
  • Arachidonic acid.
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic (DHA)

EPA and DHA are important fatty acids in the class of omega 3s. The amount of these fats may vary in different strains of spirulina algae.

Vitamins

Without vitamins, all body processes would grind to a halt. Spirulina helps to maintain the body’s needs for these important food ingredients. It supports these by providing vitamins that include:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B complex vitamins that include thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), folate (B9), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5) and cobalamin (B12).
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K

Spirulina also contains choline. This is an ingredient that has vitamin-like properties. Human beings produce choline in small amounts and so it has to be supplemented through the diet in order to achieve adequate levels necessary for health. In the U.S for example, choline is considered as an essential food product for optimal health.

Minerals

Spirulina is rich in a number of minerals. Some of these include:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Zinc
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Iron
  • Sodium

Antioxidants

Spirulina contains bioflavonoids. These helps to protect the body against cell damage due to excess and toxic free oxygen species called free radicals. The main antioxidant in this is evercetine and spirulina is one of the best natural sources of it.

Sources of spirulina

Spirulina is found naturally in various water masses. For many people however, it is found in a dried supplement form. It is also commonly found as part of a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. Belisan’s Daily Multivitamin Essential is such a product. It contains 125mg of organically sourced spirulina.

Health benefits of spirulina

The wide range of vitamins, proteins, and minerals found in spirulina work synergistically to support the body in many ways. Although research is ongoing, it has been considered to possibly support health in:

  • Supporting healthy blood sugar metabolism
  • Improve quality of life in HIV/AIDS patients
  • Supports brain functions by alleviating symptoms of ADHD
  • Supports the immune system
  • May help in maintaining healthy levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut
  • Helps to maintain healthy levels of cholesterol
  • Has antioxidant properties
  • Has anti-inflammatory properties
  • Supports heart health
  • Supports healthy bones and joints.

Health risks

Spirulina is considered as a generally safe product that usually doesn’t show any adverse effects even in children. It is for this reason that the World Health Organization more than four decades ago considered it a safe food with multiple benefits that was safe in children. As with any product however, in some users, spirulina has been associated with mild and transient symptoms that include:

  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Abdominal upset
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache

The source of spirulina may be the greatest determinant of its safety. Possible contaminants that can cause serious health issues include microcystins that can lead to liver damage. Others include heavy metals such as lead and mercury.

For people with inability to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine, spirulina can increase the risk of brain damage due to phenylalanine accumulation in the brain.

To minimize the risk of these potential health hazards, source your spirulina supplements from a reliable source that guarantees purity. Organically sourced spirulina is a better bet. Such a product should clearly indicate these on its product label.

Spirulina from a safe source is great for good health. However, to achieve optimal health, other important ingredients are needed. This is why Daily Multivitamin Essential contains many other ingredients to help you achieve this goal. Get more information about this here.

References

“Spirulina.” Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. . Retrieved April 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/spirulina

Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine of The National Academies. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein and amino acids. The National Academies Press; 2005. www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/energy_full_report.pdf

Ayehunie, S., Belay, A., Baba, T. W., & Ruprecht, R. M. (1998). Inhibition of HIV-1 replication by an aqueous extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis). Journal of acquired immune deficiency syndromes and human retrovirology: official publication of the International Retrovirology Association, 18(1), 7-12.

Deng, R., & Chow, T.-J. (2010). Hypolipidemic, Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Activities of Microalgae Spirulina. Cardiovascular Therapeutics, 28(4), e33–e45. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1755-5922.2010.00200.x

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