What comes to mind when you think of algae?
In most cases, people think of it as blue-green plant blooms that form in still bodies of water, such as freshwater lakes or around saltwater marshes or bays, where there are no waves. It also has a very distinct odor that can be somewhat unpleasant.
In some cases, it can also be harmful to the local ecosystem and environment because it chokes out other aquatic life and forces the closure of recreational aquatic areas.1
However, most people may also be unaware that it is technically a form of bacteria. Furthermore, it is actually a major superfood that can provide your patients with a number of health benefits.
What exactly is blue-green algae, and how can it help your patients?
What is blue-green algae?
Blue-green algae is actually a form of bacteria, scientifically known as cyanobacteria. It derives its energy via photosynthesis, but lacks a nucleus that true algae have.2 However, the general public and supplement manufacturers use the term blue-green algae to describe cyanobacteria.
Although there are several varieties of blue-green algae, Spirulina is probably the best known and the type most commonly used as a superfood.
The algae is harvested during the summer, when there are more blooms. It is then filtered and purified. The algae is then powdered or frozen. It is usually sold as powdered drink mixes, single-serving popsicles, or capsules.
Spirulina is 60 percent to 70 percent protein (including 22 essential amino acids), 4 percent to 9 percent lipids, and 8 percent to 14 percent carbohydrates.2,3 It also contains high levels of B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, and gamma-linolenic acid. Furthermore, the total protein in Spirulina is higher than in legumes, making it an excellent nutritional choice for your vegetarian or vegan patients.3
Health benefits of blue-green algae
A review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food looked at results from several studies on the use of blue-green algae supplements to help protect against metabolic and inflammatory diseases.4
Diabetes: A group of patients with type 2 diabetes was given 2 grams of Spirulina per day, for two months. At the end of the two months, the patients had significantly lower plasma triglycerides, and HDL and LDL levels.4
Atherosclerosis: An animal study examined the effect of adding Spirulina into the diet of white rabbits that were fed a high-cholesterol diet. The rabbits all showed reduced development of atherosclerotic lesions, as well as lower plasma levels of total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL.4
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Finally, the review article reported on a small case series of three Hispanic patients with fatty-liver disease that was not the result of alcoholism. This case is particularly interesting, as fatty-liver disease is common among Hispanic patients.
The patients were given 4.5 grams of Spirulina per day for three months. At the end of the study, their triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL all improved. Furthermore, ultrasound showed improvement in their liver.4
While it is true that the blue-green algae that you see in lakes can be an environmental hazard, it is also becoming one of the best new superfoods for your patients to try.
- Mazard S, Penesyan A, Ostrowski M, et al. (2016). Tiny microbes with a big impact: The role of cyanobacteria and their metabolites in shaping our future. Marine Drugs, 14(5), 97.
- Christaki E, Florou-Paneri P, Bonos E. (2011). Microalgae: A novel ingredient in nutrition. International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, 62(8), 794-799.
- Spirulina. Drugs, Accessed 11/12/2017.
- Ku CS, Yang Y, Park Y, & Lee J. (2013). Health benefits of blue-green algae: Prevention of cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Journal of Medicinal Food, 16(2), 103-111.