By Karen Appold
Spirulina, a blue-green microscopic algae, contains an alphabet soup of over 100 nutrients. That’s more than any other type of plant. Available in the form of supplements, spirulina is well-suited for maintaining health, boosting energy, losing weight, and more.
In particular, spirulina is rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, calcium, carotenoids, chlorophyll, copper, gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid), iron, magnesium, manganese, omega-3, omega-6, potassium, phosphorous, protein, selenium, sodium, and zinc, as well as vitamins B, B2, B12, B complex, and E.
Spirulina is nearly 60 percent protein — more than the amount contained in fish or beef — making it an excellent source of energy. It needs to be consumed in large quantities to confer health benefits, however. Other protein sources, such as whole grains, meats, nuts, and legumes provide protein in smaller servings.
It seems natural to assume that spirulina’s abundance of nutrients leads to natural health benefits. In practice, more research is needed — particularly in humans — to confirm preliminary findings.
For instance, spirulina may boost the immune system (because it produces anti-bodies and proteins that fight infections) and protect against allergic reactions (by stopping histamines from being released). There is some evidence that it has antiviral and anticancer properties.
Spirulina boosted the growth of Lactobacillus acidophilus and other probiotics in animal and test-tube studies. It may also help to protect against liver damage and cirrhosis, strengthen bones and teeth, improve eyesight, speed up metabolism, and protect against certain infections such as HIV/AIDS.
Studies indicate that spirulina’s antimicrobial properties may destroy bacteria and viruses such as measles, mumps, enterovirus, cytomegalovirus, influenza A, and herpes simplex. It might also destroy fungal pathogens such as Candida albicans (yeast infections). Again, more research is needed to confirm this.
For individuals who choose not to eat meat, spirulina is a good choice for getting nutrients a vegetarian diet may lack. It’s also ideal for malnourished individuals.
Spirulina grows well in warm climates in both fresh and salt water. It is commercially cultivated in the United States, France, India, Thailand, China, and African countries. Commercial spirulina farms manufacture it for supplement production in the form of pills, powder, or as flakes.
While studies of the health benefits of spirulina are ongoing, there are no reported health risks associated with it. The high levels of vitamin K spirulina contains may be a concern for individuals undergoing anticoagulant therapy and such persons should consult a doctor before taking the supplement.