Welcome to our spirulina facts article. Certainly the most famous algae, spirulina has been declared “the best food for humanity in the 21st century” by the World Health Organization and “the ideal and most complete food of tomorrow” by UNESCO. Focus on the thousand-and-one health benefits of this superfood …
Origin of spirulina
Appeared on our planet some 3 billion years ago, spirulina actually belongs to the family of cyanobacteria and not algae, although the term “algae” has firmly entered the common language to define spirulina (spiruline in french).
Its beautiful green-blue hue is due to chlorophyll, but it also includes another pigment called phycocianin, which is responsible for many of spirulina’s advantages.
The Mayans would have used this super-algae for the first time to irrigate their cleared fields in the Yucatan jungle, helping to feed a population of over two million people and cattle.
Then, when the Europeans landed in Central America in the early 16th century, they noticed that the Aztecs harvested a kind of blue-green mud (then called “tecuitlatl”) in the salt lakes of Mexico City, which they dried to make patties that they ate.
In 1852, the botanist Stizenberger published the first taxonomic report on spirulina, which he named Arthrospira because of its helical shape and its multicellular structure. Stizenberger observed at that time that the Kanembous children, living on the shores of Lake Chad and eating dried spirulina on a daily basis, were spared the deadly famine that was then raging in the country.
It is then in the 70’s that spirulina became very popular in industrialized countries and that researchers conducted numerous experiments in the hope of using these micro-algae to fight against global malnutrition.
Spirulina Nutritional benefits
Spirulina is probably the most nutritionally rich and varied food that exists.
First of all, it is extremely well provided in protein (up to 70% against 25% for a beef steak) of very good qualities, since they contain all the essential amino acids (contrary to the quasi totality of the food of vegetable origin). This exceptional content makes spirulina a food supplement of choice for vegetarians and vegans.
Spirulina is also a very good source of vitamins (pro-vitamin A, vitamin B9, vitamin E and vitamin C), minerals (iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium), essential fatty acids (omega 6) and antioxidants (chlorophyll, phycocyanine).
To summarize, spirulina has a nutritional, vitamin and mineral content close to a synthetic food supplement, while it is a natural food, with consequently a better bioavailability.
Benefits and virtues
Its exceptional content of minerals, iron and vitamins, make spirulina a precious ally in the fight against malnutrition, anemia and protein deficiencies that are rampant in the world, as highlighted by the WHO and UNESCO.
But the therapeutic and health benefits of spirulina do not stop there, since regular consumption of spirulina has many benefits.
Reduce blood lipids and cholesterol
By stimulating the synthesis of the lipase protein (which plays an important role in the metabolism of triglycerides), spirulina could reduce the level of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the blood and increase the level of HDL (good cholesterol).
A study conducted in 2010 in Tokyo1, shows that spirulina supplementation for 8 weeks in rabbits significantly reduces atherosclerosis related to hypercholesterolemia.
Alleviate the symptoms of allergic rhinitis
Spirulina’s anti-inflammatory properties are partly responsible for its effect on reducing hay fever symptoms.
A trial conducted in Turkey2 shows that taking 2g of spirulina per day for 16 weeks was much more effective than a placebo in reducing the participants’ allergic symptoms. The explanation? Spirulina would reduce sensitivity to allergens and reduce the secretion of histamine, responsible for allergies.
Reduce the risk of diabetes
The consumption of spirulina allows to lower the blood glucose level (glycemia) on an empty stomach and to boost the efficiency of insulin, hypoglycemic hormone.
This is in any case what a preliminary study3 carried out on people suffering from type 2 diabetes, receiving 2g of spirulina every day for 2 months, suggests.
The result? Their blood sugar level and glycated hemoglobin (two main markers of diabetes) were significantly reduced.
Improve kidney functions
It is a Japanese study conducted at Chiba University in 1904, which reveals that spirulina would protect the kidneys from various environmental pollutants (mercury in particular) thanks to one of its antioxidant pigments: phycocyanine.
Spirulina stimulates the function of the liver by preventing the accumulation of fatty acids (fatty liver, the “evil of the century”) and reducing liver inflammation. It would also have a proven role in the prevention of colon cancer.
Its role on the renal functions in case of exposure to various pollutants (lead, mercury), also makes it a detox alga par excellence.
The various scientific studies aimed at demonstrating its therapeutic benefits have for the most part been done with dosages of spirulina ranging from 2 to 5g per day.
Most often, it is recommended to take 1 to 1.5 g of it 2 to 3 times a day depending on the indications (diabetes, cholesterol, allergies).
It is advised to start the treatment with 1g per day for one week and then gradually increase the doses.
Side effects and contraindications of spirulina
As algae accumulate heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury …) when they evolve in a polluted environment, it is recommended to buy it whose cultivation methods are rigorously controlled (cultivated in an artificial and not natural environment) and to check that the product is pure .
Because the high protein content might induce unpleasant side effects in some people (headaches, nausea), it’s best to gradually increase the dosages to acclimate the body.
People suffering from phenylketonuria should avoid taking pills which, like all protein-rich foods, contains phenylalanine.
Regular use is likewise not suggested for pregnant and breastfeeding women as a precautionary measure and in the absence of scientific facts on the matter.
1. Cheong S.H., Kim M.Y., Sok D.E., et al., Spirulina prevents atherosclerosis by reducing hypercholesterolemia in rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet, J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo), 2010
2. The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Cingi C, Conk-Dalay M, et al. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2008 Oct;265(10):1219-23.
3. Mao, T. K., Van de, Water J., and Gershwin, M. E. Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients. J Med Food 2005;8(1):27-30.
4. Fukino H, Takagi Y, Yamane Y (1990) Effect of Spirulina (S. platensis) on the renal toxicity induced by inorganic mercury and cisplatin. Eisei Kagaku 36: 5.
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