You may not have heard of Spirulina before, but it is fast becoming a modern superfood. It has been consumed for centuries as a highly nutritional food source that offers a wide range of health benefits.
Spirulina is an intensely blue-green colored microalgae that is found growing naturally in saltwater lakes and oceans in subtropical climates. It grows in microscopic spirals that stick together, making it easy to collect and harvest, and it was once classified as a plant because it is rich in plant pigments and able to photosynthesize. It thrives best with plenty of sunlight in a moderate temperature, preferably in a pesticide-free environment. However, it can also survive extreme temperature fluctuations.
Historically, there are records of spirulina being used as a food source in Aztec, Mexico, where it was harvested from Lake Texcoco and turned into cakes. A similar process is still used today in Chad, Africa, where the spirulina they harvest from the small areas of water around Lake Chad is dried into cakes known as dihe. These dihe cakes are used in broths and stews.
In the modern world, the largest commercial producers of spirulina are based in the United States, India, Thailand, China, Taiwan, Pakistan, Chile, and Burma.
It’s Basically Pond-slime; Doesn’t It Taste Disgusting?
This is a question that is common from people who are trying spirulina for the first time. The important thing to remember is that it isn’t consumed as slime; it is dried out first. It is most commonly available in a capsule or as a powder that is usually added to protein-drinks or used in recipes. It has a relatively mild taste that is not dissimilar to seaweed.
As well as being used in some supplements, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of spirulina a color additive in candy, gum, and some other packaged foods.
The Nutritional Facts of Spirulina
Spirulina is primarily a source of vegetable protein. In fact, protein accounts for 60-70% of its dry weight. This makes it ideal for certain high-protein, low-carb diets, and why it is a firm favorite with bodybuilders.
The FDA also states that spirulina contains twenty-two essential amino acids, along with significant amounts of niacin, calcium, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium, and iron. Half a cup of dried spirulina will provide 89% of your recommended daily allowance of iron. It is also high in fiber, low in fat, and has a high level of carotenoids, which have antioxidant properties.
Health Benefits of Taking Spirulina
Spirulina is a naturally-produced source of nutrition, and as such, it has a host of beneficial properties. In fact, so many positive effects have been reported that it is worth looking at some of them in a little more detail.
Spirulina as an Anti-oxidant
When our cells use oxygen, our body naturally produces by-products, referred to as free-radicals, that attack the healthy cells in our body. Antioxidants work by preventing and slowing these attacks, and by trying to help our body heal itself. Health issues such as cancer, diabetes, macular degeneration (deterioration of the retina), and heart disease are adversely affected by oxidative damage. Although studies have not conclusively supported the use of spirulina in the fight against these diseases, it is certainly reasonable to believe that it could be used as a preventative measure.
Spirulina for a Healthy Gut
Some research has shown that spirulina promotes a healthy digestive system. It does so by stimulating the growth of friendly bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacteria, and by suppressing bad bacteria like e-coli and candida yeast. By supporting our internal microflora, it is also aiding other bodily controls linked with it, including bowel and autoimmune functions.
Spirulina to Maintain Healthy Eyes
Spirulina is an excellent supplement if you want to improve your eye health. It is very rich in carotenoids that can be converted into vitamin A. Spirulina actually has TEN TIMES the vitamin A concentration of the equivalent weight in carrots.
Spirulina as an Allergy Treatment
Some studies show that spirulina may be effective as an allergy treatment. It does this by stopping the release of histamines that trigger typical allergy symptoms such as hives, watery eyes, and runny nose. One particular research group reported a major improvement in their allergic reactions after taking 2000 mg of spirulina daily for twelve weeks. It could be very beneficial to start taking spirulina in the third or fourth months preceding the onset of hay fever season.
Spirulina to Fight Bacteria and Viruses
Spirulina has natural antimicrobial properties that help our bodies fight bacteria and viruses. By choosing spirulina as a supplement, we are able to boost our bacteria fighting cells and keep nasty bugs at bay.
Spirulina for Clear, Healthy, and Young-looking Skin
Containing both the anti-oxidant SOD (superoxide dismutase) and carotenoids, spirulina is a source of goodness for the skin. This combination fights against and repair tissue damage. Records show it has positive effects for improving skin conditions such as eczema and acne, and those who use it regularly report healthier and younger-looking skin.
Spirulina to Fight Inflammation
Spirulina has been recognized as a fantastic source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is a fatty substance that can be found in many plant seed oils, and it helps reduce inflammation and promotes healthy cell growth. It is often used as an effective and natural treatment to combat high cholesterol, rheumatoid arthritis, and other diseases and conditions.
Spirulina as a Meat Replacement
Yes, really. Due to its huge protein content, many vegetarians advocate the use of spirulina as a meat replacement. Without meat, it can be difficult to ensure that there is enough protein in your diet. Consuming spirulina will not only ensure enough protein is consumed, but it will provide additional iron and vital amino acids for your body.
Spirulina for Weight Loss
Spirulina is a powerful antioxidant that keeps your digestive system working properly. As such, it can aid weight loss by ensuring that your body is only holding onto nutritional and beneficial food. It is also a metabolism-booster, encouraging the digestive process and ensuring that food is metabolized quickly and effectively.
Spirulina for Detoxification
Our bodies are under constant attack from toxic chemicals found in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we consume, and the medicine that we take. Spirulina has a unique combination of phytonutrients that help to cleanse and purge our bodies of these toxins. One Russian study in 1994 found that children who were given spirulina to help alleviate the effects of radiation sickness experienced a 50% reduction in radionuclides and normal levels of allergic reactions.
Is Spirulina Safe to Take?
Generally speaking, doctors consider spirulina to be safe for consumption by humans. However, as with any supplement, it is recommended that certain groups of people avoid it.
People with particular autoimmune conditions linked to overactive immune systems, including lupus and multiple sclerosis, should avoid spirulina, as it is proven to further enhance the immune system. For the same reason, spirulina is not advisable for people who are required to take immunosuppressant drugs, as it will counteract them. It is also not recommended for people who have had organ transplants.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid spirulina, as there is insufficient research on the effect of spirulina supplements for this demographic.
As with all supplements, it is best to consult with your medical practitioner before using them them.
It is also recommended that you fully research the source of your spirulina supplements to ensure that they are grown in safe conditions and tested for toxins before taking them. Some spirulina that is grown in unsafe conditions has been reported to be contaminated with toxins that could be very harmful, particularly if ingested by children. Therefore, it is imperative to check the source of your spirulina before using it.
How Much Spirulina do I Need to Take?
A standard daily dose of spirulina is between 2000 to 3000 milligrams, taken in four to six 500 mg tablets or four tablespoons of powder.
However, it is better to start small to see if you experience any side effects before moving on to a higher dose. This rule should really be applied to all new food and supplements, not just spirulina.
Users of spirulina recommend starting with one tablespoon or two tablets a day for a week and gradually increase the dose if you experience no ill-effects.
Spirulina is yet another supplement available to boost our health through totally natural means. It is associated with a huge range of benefits, but there are also a number of considerations you must make before you begin to take it. It is absolutely recommended that you consult with your doctor before beginning to take spirulina, and for you to introduce it gradually into your regular diet. It is also vital that you check the source of your spirulina before you start taking it. Assuming that there is no medical reason for you not to take it, you aren’t allergic to the ingredients, and it is grown at a safe source, then spirulina opens the door to a whole world of health benefits.