What Exactly is Spirulina and what does it do?
Spirulina is one of the oldest life forms on Earth. In fact, this blue-green microalgae is partly responsible for producing the oxygen in the planet’s atmosphere that billions of years ago allowed the planet’s originating life forms to develop.
Spirulina is also a highly nutritious micro plant. Which was discovered in South America and Africa in natural alkaline lakes. It is a spiral shaped algae which is one of the most nutrient-rich foods on Earth.
For centuries Spirulina (called “tecuitlatl” by the Aztecs) constituted a significant part of the Aztecs and Mesoamerican diet up until the 16th century, until the draining of the surrounding lakes for agricultural and urban development depleted supplies.
Dried spirulina contains about 60% (51–71%) protein (more than beef, chicken, and soybeans), it has 8 essential and 10 non-essential amino acids, as well as high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), beta-carotene, linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, phosphorus, nucleic acids RNA & DNA, Chlorophyll, and phycocyanin, a pigment-protein complex that is found only in blue-green algae.
What Are the Benefits of Spirulina?
Spirulina provides a wide range of health benefits almost immediately upon ingestion. It provides a near-instantaneous boost to one’s energy, while helping to improve endurance and reduce fatigue. It helps improve the immune system, and provides exceptional support for the heart, liver, kidneys and allergies and allergic reactions.. Spirulina is also a natural detoxifier, oxygenating the blood, and helping cleanse the body of toxins and other impurities that may be causing illnesses or other health complications.
Spirulina is also a natural appetite suppressant, and it helps to improve the body’s digestive system. It also has very powerful antioxidant properties and it helps to balance the body’s pH, thereby reducing inflammation throughout the body in a safe and chemical-free way.
Contains Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) & Omega-3s which has gotten a lot of attention for its anti-inflammatory properties, GLA is difficult to find in a food source and normally has to be created by the body. Spirulina is one of the few foods with a natural GLA content.
Studies show that spirulina may be especially helpful in balancing blood sugar, and may even be as effective as diabetes medication in some instances. Other studies show that it not only lowers blood sugar but may also lower HbA1c, which is a long term marker of blood sugar levels.
Spirulina Vegetable protein vs animal protein
Spirulina contains more than 60% vegetable protein, which is much higher than fish, pork, or beef (which contains about 15 ~20 %).Animal protein is a much bigger molecule than vegetable protein, and is much harder to for our system to digest.
Most modern people overindulge in animal protein, by eating fish, beef, pork etc. When too much animal protein is eaten, it is deposited in our body as fat. Too much fat will cause high cholesterol levels and may impact our heart and blood vessels.
Vegetable protein is water soluble, and is much smaller than animal protein. If you eat too much vegetable protein, it is simply discharged by your system as waste and not stored as fat.
Animal protein is a much bigger molecule than vegetable protein, and is much harder to for our system to digest.
Spirulina is a great source of other nutrients including (according to Wikipedia): “It contains vitamins B-1(thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3(nicotinamide), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E. It is also a source of potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc. Spirulina contains many pigments which may be beneficial and bioavailable”.
Important Note: Contrary to many claims, Spirulina is not a good source of Vitamin B12 for humans. While it does contain a form of B12, it is pseudovitamin B12 which is not absorbable or effective in humans according to studies.
How much Spirulina should be taken?
It is suggested 5~10 tablets a day for adults, 3~5 tablets for children under 12 years old. If you have special requirements for extra nutrients, please consult your health practitioner.
What are the Spirulina side effects?
Spirulina is a totally natural product and will not normally cause any problems to the body. Even if too much is taken, there will be no harm to the body.
However some people may experience some of the following symptoms after taking Spirulina;
- Slight fever due to the body’s need to burn the extra protein from Spirulina
- Slight dizziness. If this occurs, take less of the product. If the symptom does not improve please stop taking Spirulina
- Thirst and constipation. After taking a high volume of Spirulina we recommend at least an extra 1/2 litre of water per day to help our body absorb the Spirulina
- Stomach ache
- Skin itch or slight body rash
Safety issues for certain target groups
Like all protein-rich foods, spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine, which should be avoided by people who have phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine, which then builds up in the brain, causing damage. Spirulina does also contain iodine, so those allergic or sensitive to iodine should avoid taking it.
Spirulina contaminated with microcystins has various potential toxicity, especially to children, including liver damage, shock and death. These toxic compounds are not produced by spirulina itself, but may occur as a result of contamination of spirulina batches with other toxin-producing blue-green algae. Because spirulina is considered a dietary supplement, no active, industry-wide regulation of its production occurs and no enforced safety standards exist for its production or purity.
And even though Spirulina has any health benefits, low quality Spirulina products can harm your health. If you ignore quality, you will take a risk poisoning yourself with heavy metals and other undesirable contents.
Is it the Same as Chlorella?
Short answer: No, though they share some similarities.
Both are types of algae but there are some key differences:
- Structure: Chlorella is a single-cell algae with a nucleus, while Spirulina is a multi-celled plant with no nucleus. For this reason, chlorella is much smaller and acts differently in the body.
- Color: Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, a blue-green type of algae, while Chlorella is a green algae.
- Amount of Nucleic Acids: Both are a good source of nucleic acids, though Chlorella has almost twice as much per gram. Nucleic acids are important factors for DNA and RNA in the body.
- Digestibility: Chlorella has to go through a process to break its cell walls before it is bioavailable and usable by the body.
- Chlorophyll Content: Chlorella is higher in Chlorophyll, with almost double the amount.
- Iron, Protein and GLA: Chlorella is not a great source of Iron, protein and beneficial Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA).
- Heavy Metals: Chlorella has unique properties in its cell walls that make it bind to heavy metals and other contaminants
Where is Spirulina produced?
Worldwide, only a few countries are able to grow spirulina commercially. There are two regions in the USA, (Hawaii & California), one in Mexico (may no longer operate), some in China , Taiwan , India and Thailand . Japan doesn’t have commercial growing sites (due to low temperature). Japanese companies import Spirulina for their products. There is one research plant in Okinawa , but not for commercial production.
Spirulina is grown in an open area in order to get maximum sunshine. It is not possible to grow Spirulina indoors commercially. So a pollution free environment is essential to grow Spirulina. With industrial pollution getting worse day by day, it’s hard to find a country like Australia which has a pollution free environment. Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia is one of these few pollution free areas in the world.
So it’s prudent to purchase your Spirulina from a reliable source. It is possible that a product stating “Australian Made” or “Made in New Zealand” might come from China, India or Thailand! It is just packed in Australia.
Whether Spirulina is imported or locally grown, every company should have a “Certificate of Origin” which tells you where they source their Spirulina.
Reputable brands include: Australian Spirulina which is the only company producing Spirulina in Australia or New Zealand, and Nutrex-hawaii is located on the Kona coast of Hawaii. Which draws fresh water from Hawaiian aquifers to cultivate Spirulina.
Ever tried it? What did you think of the taste? Will you try it now? Share below!
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- University of Maryland Medical Center Report on Spirulina.
- P. D. Karkos, S. C. Leong, C. D. Karkos, N. Sivaji, and D. A. Assimakopoulos, “Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2011, Article ID 531053, 4 pages, 2011. doi:10.1093/ecam/nen058
- Spirulina Pacifica – Technical Literature – Cyanotech Corporation.
- Park, Hee Jung;Lee, Yun Jung;Ryu, Han Kyoung;Kim, Mi Hyun;Chung, Hye Won;Kim, Wha Young, “A randomized double blind, placebo controlled study to establish the effects of Spirulina in elderly Koreans,” Annals of nutrition & metabolism. 2008.