Spirulina

Spirulina: Nutritional Fact, Health Benefits, Side Effects

Spirulina is a biomass of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that can be consumed by humans and animals.

The three species are Arthrospira platensis, A. fusiformis, and A. maxima.

It’s Cultivation is worldwide, Arthrospira is used as a dietary supplement or whole food. People uses it as a feed supplement in the aquaculture, aquarium, and poultry industries.

People consider spirulina a superfood due to its excellent nutritional content and health benefits.

Spirulina has a high protein and vitamin content, which makes it an excellent dietary supplement for people on vegetarian or vegan diets.

Spirulina Nutrional Fact

Spirulina Tablets

As an ecologically sound, nutrient-rich dietary supplement, spirulina is being investigated to address food security and malnutrition, and as dietary support in long-term space flight or Mars missions.

Its advantage for food security is that it needs less land and water than livestock to produce protein and energy.

Spirulina (Dried)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy1,213 kJ (290 kcal)
Carbohydrates23.9 g
Sugars3.1 g
Dietary fiber3.6 g
Fat7.72 g
Saturated2.65 g
Monounsaturated0.675 g
Polyunsaturated2.08 g
Protein57.47 g
Tryptophan0.929 g
Threonine2.97 g
Isoleucine3.209 g
Leucine4.947 g
Lysine3.025 g
Methionine1.149 g
Cystine0.662 g
Phenylalanine2.777 g
Tyrosine2.584 g
Valine3.512 g
Arginine4.147 g
Histidine1.085 g
Alanine4.515 g
Aspartic acid5.793 g
Glutamic acid8.386 g
Glycine3.099 g
Proline2.382 g
Serine2.998 g
VitaminsQuantity%DV
Vitamin A equiv.beta-Carotenelutein zeaxanthin4%29 μg3%342 μg0 μg
Thiamine (B1)207%2.38 mg
Riboflavin (B2)306%3.67 mg
Niacin (B3)85%12.82 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)70%3.48 mg
Vitamin B628%0.364 mg
Folate (B9)24%94 μg
Vitamin B120%0 μg
Choline13%66 mg
Vitamin C12%10.1 mg
Vitamin D0%0 IU
Vitamin E33%5 mg
Vitamin K24%25.5 μg
MineralsQuantity%DV
Calcium12%120 mg
Iron219%28.5 mg
Magnesium55%195 mg
Manganese90%1.9 mg
Phosphorus17%118 mg
Potassium29%1363 mg
Sodium70%1048 mg
Zinc21%2 mg
Other constituentsQuantity
Water4.68 g
Link to USDA Database entry
Units: μg = micrograms • mg = milligrams IU = International units
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Spirulina Health Benefits

Spirulina Shake

1. Excellent nutritional profile

Consuming spirulina is one way to supplement protein and vitamins in people’s diets without notable side effects.

One tablespoon or 7 grams (g) of dried spirulina contains:

  • 20 calories
  • 4.02 g of protein
  • 1.67 g of carbohydrate
  • 0.54 g of fat
  • 8 milligrams (mg) of calcium
  • 2 mg of iron
  • 14 mg of magnesium
  • 8 mg of phosphorous
  • 95 mg of potassium
  • 73 mg of sodium
  • 0.7 mg of vitamin C

It also contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and vitamins B-6, A, and K.

Taking spirulina, as part of a balanced diet, may help a person to stay well nourished.

2. May Reduce Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a main driver of many serious diseases, including heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease.

While 1 gram of spirulina is ineffective, a dose of 4.5 grams per day has been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with normal levels.

This reduction is thought to be driven by an increased production of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that helps your blood vessels relax and dilate.

3. Losing Weight

People can usually lose weight if they eat fewer calories than they use.

Spirulina is a high-nutrient, low-calorie food that contains a lot of nutrition in a small amount of powder.

Introducing spirulina to the diet may help people lose weight without losing nutrition.

The results of a 2016 double-blind placebo-controlled trial suggest that spirulina may aid weight management.

In the study, people who were overweight and regularly ate spirulina for 3 months showed improved body mass index or BMI.

4. Lowering Cholestrol

Taking spirulina extract may help to lower cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is an unhealthful fat in a person’s blood that medical experts link to heart disease.

A 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that taking spirulina supplements may have a positive impact on blood lipids, which are fats in the blood.

In the study, spirulina was found to significantly reduce total cholesterol and lower LDL — “bad” — cholesterol while increasing HDL — “good” — cholesterol.

A 2013 study also supports this health claim. Researchers found that taking 1 g of spirulina every day reduced participant’s total cholesterol after 3 months.

5. Powerful Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Oxidative damage can harm your DNA and cells.

This damage can drive chronic inflammation, which contributes to cancer and other diseases.

Spirulina is a fantastic source of antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative damage.

Its main active component is called phycocyanin. This antioxidant substance also gives spirulina its unique blue-green color.

Phycocyanin can fight free radicals and inhibit production of inflammatory signaling molecules, providing impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

6. May Have Anti-Cancer Properties

Some evidence suggests that spirulina has anti-cancer properties.

Research in animals indicates that it can reduce cancer occurrence and tumor size.

Spirulina’s effects on oral cancer — or cancer of the mouth — have been particularly well studied.

One study examined 87 people from India with precancerous lesions — called oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF) — in the mouth.

Among those who took 1 gram of spirulina per day for one year, 45% saw their lesions disappear — compared to only 7% in the control group.

When these people stopped taking spirulina, almost half of them redeveloped lesions in the following year.

In another study of 40 individuals with OSMF lesions, 1 gram of spirulina per day led to greater improvement in OSMF symptoms than the drug Pentoxyfilline.

7. Preventing heart disease

High blood pressure and cholesterol levels are both linked to heart disease.

As spirulina may reduce both of these risk factors, is it possible that it could help prevent heart disease?

A 2013 review suggests that these blue-green algae may play a role in preventing heart disease. This might be due to their cholesterol-lowering, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidative effects.

8. Boosting metabolism

Taking spirulina may help boost a person’s metabolism.

A higher metabolic rate may make a person feel as if they have more energy.

It may also increase the number of calories they burn each day, which may aid weight loss.

In a small-scale 2014 study, people who took 6 g of spirulina a day experienced beneficial metabolic effects, alongside weight loss and better health-related quality of life.

The people in this study had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and so more research is needed to see if spirulina may boost metabolism in others without this condition.

9. May Improve Muscle Strength and Endurance

Exercise-induced oxidative damage is a major contributor to muscle fatigue.

Certain plant foods have antioxidant properties that can help athletes and physically active individuals minimize this damage.

Spirulina appears beneficial, as some studies pointed to improved muscle strength and endurance.

In two studies, spirulina enhanced endurance, significantly increasing the time it took for people to become fatigued.

10. May Aid Blood Sugar Control

Animal studies link spirulina to significantly lower blood sugar levels.

In some cases, it has outperformed popular diabetes drugs, including Metformin.

There is also some evidence that spirulina can be effective in humans.

In a two-month study in 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina per day led to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels.

HbA1c, a marker for long-term blood sugar levels, decreased from 9% to 8%, which is substantial. Studies estimate that a 1% reduction in this marker can lower the risk of diabetes-related death by 21%.

However, this study was small and short in duration. More studies are necessary.

Spirulina Side Effects

Although few adverse effects are associated with the use of spirulina, consuming spirulina may cause

  • headaches
  • allergic reactions
  • muscle pain
  • sweating
  • and insomnia in some cases.

People with allergies to seafood, seaweed, and other sea vegetables should avoid spirulina.

If you have a thyroid condition, an autoimmune disorder, gout, kidney stones, phenylketonuria (PKU), or are pregnant or nursing, spirulina may not be appropriate for you. You should check with your healthcare provider before taking it.

It’s possible that spirulina grown in the wild can absorb toxins from water, such as microcystins (known to cause severe liver damage), pollutants, and heavy metals. Most spirulina sold in the United States is grown in laboratories.

Summary

Spirulina is a type of cyanobacteria — often referred to as blue-green algae — that is incredibly healthy.

It may improve your levels of blood lipids, suppress oxidation, reduce blood pressure and lower blood sugar.

While more research is needed before any strong claims can be made, spirulina may be one of the few superfoods worthy of the title.

If you want to give this supplement a try, it’s widely available in stores and online.

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