A recently rediscovered superfood spirulina has been around for centuries and is now the subject of much debate due to some of the claimed health benefits. Unfortunately, there have only been a few studies conducted on this blue-green microalgae. Even still, some companies are reporting it to be a miracle food. In this article I will discuss Where spirulina originated from, the potential reported health benefits and the studies conducted behind them. I will then discuss some of the potential hazards associated with spirulina. Lastly, I will show you some reliable sources on how to get your hands on spirulina should you decide you want to include it in your diet.
What spirulina is and where it comes from
As stated above spirulina is a blue-green algae harvested as far back as the 16th century. It grows in a spiral shape helping it bind together for easier cultivation. It was originally used as a food source for Aztecs and other MesoAmericans due to it large amount of complete proteins. It wasn’t discovered by modern day scientist until the 1960’s. Although, being well known for over 50 years now there is still limited research conducted on this somewhat mysterious health food. One thing that is well documented is the abundance of nutrients found in spirulina.
Spirulina is rich in complex B vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid. Many companies report spirulina being a significant source of B vitamins for vegetarians. There is currently much debate as to the bioavailability of the B vitamins in spirulina. According to many dietary associations, spirulina should not be considered a reliable source of b vitamins due to the inability for the body to process them properly. That’s according to the American Dietary Association and the Dietitians of Canada. That being said there are numerous other readily available nutrients that are easily digested by the body and therefore, make it a good option for those looking to increase their nutrient intake.
Spirulina is considered a dietary supplement by the FDA and is therefore limited as far as regulation goes. This typically leaves the door open to people making sometimes outrageous notions in regards to the potential health cures spirulina is capable of. Some of these claims include helping with or curing metabolic disorders, cardiac disorders, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, liver disorders, cancer, eye disease, fatigue, athletic performance, anxiety, depression, ADHD, memory, and PMS just to name a few.
That’s quite the laundry list of ailments that one supplement is capable of helping with. In the next section, I will take a look at some of the studies conduct on spirulina to spawn these claims and find out why some people make it out as the potential miracle cure some claim.
Why you should consider taking spirulina
According to the NIH, there is not enough scientific research conducted to support the claim that spirulina can effectively be used in treating any health conditions. There is no doubt a substantial amount of nutrients available such as calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, and iron but is it enough to be beneficial to our health? According to some, the short answer is no. unlike the Aztecs it may not be something we could easily consume all day and in such large quantities as to be any benefit. That doesn’t mean we should skip it altogether. There are some other benefits to spirulina that have been the subject of many research studies.
Reported cancer-fighting benefits
Some of the biggest studies conducted are on the antioxidant effects of spirulina and how it affects cancer cells. In 1995, 87 people who suffered from cancerous mouth lesions and tumors were used in a study out of Kerala, India. There is a higher percentage of mouth cancer known as leukoplakia in this area that has been linked to the use of a chewing tobacco known as Paan. Over the course of a year, the participants who took spirulina daily 45% of them saw a complete regression of their lesions and 7% saw a complete regression in their tumors. This is according to research conducted by The Journal of Nutrition and Cancer.
Improved athletic performance
The antioxidant properties found in spirulina can aid in the performance of intense exercises. During exercise, the body experiences what’s known as oxidative stress that contributes to muscle fatigue and eventual failure. According to research conducted by the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise the antioxidant properties in spirulina may play a role in this effect. The study found that the phenolic compounds, phycocyanins, tocopherols, and beta-carotene are shown to improve athletic performance in male recreational runners. Although these findings are promising, they are the only ones found related to this effect. They are too small at this moment to be conclusive.
Effects on High Cholesterol
In 2013 a study conducted by The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture on 52 adults, ages 37-61 showed that taking spirulina may be linked to decreased level of Low-density lipoprotein or LDL (bad) cholesterol. The participants took one gram of spirulina per day for 12 weeks. The study did not show a change in blood pressure, weight, or body mass index.
There are many other exciting studies underway to determine if spirulina can help with other health issues. Some of these ailments include inflammation, wound recovery, viral infection, and the immune system in general.
Unfortunately, most of the testing is preliminary and cannot be used as a reliable source. There just isn’t enough evidence to support a majority of the claims. That being said there is a lot of promising research that has been done and the amount being performed now shows this to be something that should be considered. Only the future holds what may be uncovered about this little-known potential super food.
Can spirulina be dangerous?
An Italian study has shown that replacing as much as 60% of daily protein intake with spirulina has been shown to not be toxic in animals or humans. that being said it is important to be aware of the source if you decide to take spirulina supplements. Some supplements have been shown to contain microcystins which can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and in the long term liver cancer.
This is not a byproduct grown in the spirulina itself but a result of contaminated ponds where it is harvested. The introduction of fertilizers or other blue-green algaes can cause the spirulina to be contaminated with these myocytins making them “likely unsafe” by the Food and Drug Administration.
Lastly, Chinese sources of spirulina have been shown to be contaminated with heavy metals making them very unsafe for human consumption.
Where you can get spirulina
Given some of the potential dangers related to the sources of spirulina it’s important you go through a reliable manufacturer. Some of the best sources of spirulina are grown right here in the USA.
Spirulina Extra-Strength by BRI nutrition
With one of the best ratings and prices on Amazon.com this is a great spirulina supplement that is “made in the USA.” BRI utilizes a vegan type of capsule to help with the strong aftertaste some people experience after taking spirulina.
Be sure to check out all of jeffsmithfitness.com’s Supplement Reviews. Find out which ones are right for you and your fitness goals.
Did you enjoy this article?
Sign up for my weekly newsletter and get a new tip to your inbox every week.