This pond-scum-turned-superfood has burst onto the health food scene in a big way, with fans claiming it’s everything from a complete protein to a cure for cancer.

Naturally, when one food source is said to do all that and more, it piques my interest. I decided to take a closer look at spirulina to see if it lives up to the hype.

What Exactly Is Spirulina?

spirulina natural form algaeThis spiral shaped micro-algae grows naturally in warm, alkaline lakes in Africa and Central and South America, as well as in saltwater. It’s also cultivated and harvested in man made reservoirs.

Spirulina, with its rich blue green color, is said to be quite similar to the nutrient rich sea vegetables like dulse, kelp, nori, kombu, wakame, and chlorella.

From Aztecs To Astronauts…

aztec structure greenFor an algae, it has a pretty interesting history I have to say. It was said to be a protein source of the Aztecs in the 14th century, as well as for those living around Lake Chad in Central Africa.

At the United Nations World Food Conference of 1974, spirulina was declared as ‘the best food for the future’ and is still being looked at as a way to combat malnutrition in developing countries.

And, in the late 1980s, NASA proposed spirulina as one of the main foods to be cultivated during long term space missions, because of its high nutritional content and ability to survive almost anywhere.

With endorsements from NASA and the UN, it’s pretty hard not to be interested in spirulina. Let’s have a look at its nutritional profile and some of the health benefits it may bring.

A Complete Protein

2 tablespoons It seems like the Aztecs were on to something using spirulina to help meet their protein needs. Not only does it contain 50% to 70% protein by weight, it also contains all of the essential amino acids. I can see now why vegetarians and vegans often supplement with spirulina.

I have to say I’m skeptical of claims that you can replace a whole portion of your meal with a mere scoop or two of powder. It would work out pretty expensive too, this algae costs about 30 times as much as meat or milk per gram.

While it might have a high protein content, it’s just not practical in terms of cost and volume needed. Instead, I suggest non meat eaters get their protein from other plant based sources like nuts, legumes, quinoa, and whole grains, in addition to supplementing with spirulina if they wish.

Rich In Vitamins & Minerals

vitamins tabletsBeing a seafood, spirulina is a great natural way to get iodine into your diet, which is important for a well functioning thyroid, a strong metabolism and healthy brain.

The American Thyroid Association lists iodized salt as one of the best sources of iodine (along with dairy, meat, seafood, and eggs). If you’re not keen on adding salt to your diet, and don’t eat animal products, then spirulina may be an alternative way to meet your iodine needs.

This algae has about the same amount of calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium as milk, is a good source of vitamin K, pantothenic acid (B5), and potassium, and a very good source of thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), iron, copper, and manganese.

While you can see that spirulina is a rich source of B vitamins, many sources also claim it’s exceptionally high in B12. However, I’ve discovered mixed findings on this with studies suggesting that our bodies don’t absorb this particular form of B12 well, if at all.

Because a B12 deficiency can cause so many undesirable symptoms, from disturbed vision, to depression, and declining mental abilities, it is important spirulina is not relied on as a sole source of B12. Instead, try meat, salmon, dairy, eggs, or fortified cereals and non-dairy milk.

An Antidote To Poisoning?

antidote posioning
Perhaps one of the most fascinating studies I came across on Spirulina was its ability to treat arsenic poisoning. Because millions of people consume high concentrations of arsenic through their drinking water, Bangladeshi researchers conducted a three month hospital based study, where spirulina was given to 34 patients of chronic arsenic poisoning, while 17 received placebos.

Results show that spirulina extract plus zinc twice daily for 16 weeks contributed to a significant improvement of symptoms.

 

Fight Allergies

woman cold flu allergiesAre you one of the millions that suffer from allergies to pollen, dust mites, mold, pet dander, or other irritants that you inhale?

Animal studies suggest that spirulina stops the release of histamine, which contributes to symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Similar studies on humans found that spirulina consumption significantly improved symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching, when compared with the placebo group.

Regulate Blood Pressure

regulate blood pressureHigh blood pressure is a serious medical condition that leads to an increased risk of dying from heart attack or stroke. It’s so important to regulate your blood pressure levels though healthy diet, lifestyle choices, and exercise.

There may be no harm in getting a little help from a superfood too. According to one study, 4.5 g of spirulina daily was shown to help regulate blood pressure in both men and women in just six weeks.

Manage Cholesterol

dark green spirulina bowlI’ve talked about cholesterol before, so you’ll know it’s important to ensure the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ cholesterol are balanced. If not, you could be on your way to a heart attack or stroke.

Sure, there are medications out there that help lower your cholesterol, but they aren’t without side effects.

Wouldn’t it make much more sense to balance cholesterol levels through diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements? Well, spirulina might just be one such supplement.

Elderly patients (aged 60+) were found to have lower cholesterol levels after consuming 8 grams of spirulina a day for 16 weeks. Another study found that spirulina may be beneficial in preventing atherosclerosis (a hardening of the arteries caused by high cholesterol levels) and reducing risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.

Boost Immunity

boost immunityIf you pick up every cough and cold going around, then this may be of interest to you.

The superfood spirulina has been found to enhance immune system function and suppress the development of viral infections.

How To Take Spirulina

drink veggies spirulinaYou can add it to just about anything – from energy bars and smoothies, to guacamole and pesto. As with any new supplement, start slowly and work your way up to a teaspoon or two per day.

I have to warn you…it tastes pretty odd. I prefer to just add my spirulina to a little water and get it over and done with. You can also get it in capsule form, which might be a wiser choice if you can’t get past that scummy taste, smell, and feel.

What’s your take on spirulina? Have anything else you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below!