There seems to be no end to the online articles that talk about the health benefits and the miraculous nutritional properties of spirulina and in particular spirulina powder. However, many fail to mention key pieces information that you really should be aware of if you are considering using Spirulina as part of your daily diet.
In this article we will delve into the nutritional properties the reported health benefits as well as looking at some of the health risks associated with spirulina and how you can avoid them by ensuring you are purchasing the safest and most trusted products.
Lets get started!
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a microscopic spiral shaped blue-green vegetable algae which grows in mineral-rich freshwater and saltwater sources. Often lauded as the next great “Super food,” one that some researches think can help alleviate malnutrition and starvation in poverty and draught stricken countries.
To reason why Spirulina is reported to have so many health benefits is due to its high concentration of nutritional properties. However, it must be said that these same nutrients can be found in other food sources but you would need to eat large quantities across a broad spectrum of food types to attain the same levels of nutrition that a small, singular amount of Spirulina will provide.
Protein - Spirulina contains about sixty to seventy percent high quality protein which contains all the essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the human body. Even though it has reduced amounts of lysine, methionine and cysteine, it is still regarded as a complete protein.
Vitamins - One of the nutritional properties of Spirulina that is often referred to is that of Vitamin B12 but many sources that refer to this fail to mention that the particular kind of B12 that is abundant in Spirulina is pseudo vitamin B12 and of little use to humans. So, if you are considering using it as a means to supplement your B12 intake then be forewarned that it will not provide much benefit. However, it will provide you with a rich source of essential Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B9, D, E and K.
Minerals – Spirulina contains high concentrations of Calcium, Chromium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Selenium, Sodium and Zinc.
Essential Fatty Acids - Spirulina lipid content is 7 percent by weight and contains essential fatty acids which are inherent in vegetable oils such as gamma linoleic acid sometimes independently marketed as a dietary supplement credited with treatment of inflammation problems and auto-immune diseases.
Health Benefits of Spirulina:
Many of the articles, reviews and marketing materials written about the health benefits that Spirulina provides will allude to the extensive scientific research carried out on spirulina. However, they fail to mention that much of this extensive testing has been conducted on animals and although results of this testing have been positive there is no way of knowing if they will replicate with humans until further studies are conducted.
However, the little scientific research that has been conducted with humans and a plethora of postive testimonials from those who use Spirulina as part of their daily diet shows that it can produce positive results in the following areas.
Increased Brain function - Spirulina contains vital amino acids, including tryptophan and leucine, which promote optimum brain chemistry by supporting premium neurotransmitter function. It is also accredited with combating stress and helping to calm nerves.
Increased Body functions - Spirulina aids the reparation damage tissues, increases organ function and energy levels, while also helping to aid digestion by increasing intestinal flora such as lactobacillus and bifidus.
In addition, Spirulina is alkalizing and because many foods ingested during modern times are highly-acidic, choosing alkalizing Spirulina will counteract acidic levels, thereby supporting a more robust and effective immune system.
Cell Damage - Spirulina is also an excellent source of powerful antioxidants, which slow down cell damage. Examples of antioxidants found in Spirulina include beta-carotene, vitamin E, Chlorophyll, Zeaxanthin, Superoxide dismutase and phycocyanin.
Weight loss - Spirulina is not a weight loss product (although marketed as such in the US), however, due to the high concentration of nutrients you can diet safely while still receiving abundant nutrients which are free of excess calories. In essence you can eat less without feeling hungry while still providing your body with the essential vitamins, minerals and protein that it need to function.
To get the most benefit from Spirulina for weight loss it is recommended that you take it one hour before eating.
In addition to the above mentioned benefits research studies have shown that Spirulina helps lower blood cholesterol, inflammation and also cleanses the body of toxin build-up and can help reduce incidences of chronic fatigue, anemia, low blood sugar and ulcers.
Risks Associated with Spirulina:
There are four main common risks associated with Spirulina; allergic reactions, diarrhea, stomach upset, and heavy metal poisoning. It must be noted that these reactions usually occur when products are contaminated and such contaminations can be avoided when you purchase Spirulina from reputable manufactures that test their product first.
Spirulina in all its forms is considered unsafe if the algae are contaminated. There were concerns raised in China because the Spirulina supplements marketed there were found to be widely contaminated with lead, mercury and arsenic. These metals are considered to be extremely poisonous to multi-cellular organism.
It is still unclear whether Spirulina being a form of cyanobacteria does or does not contain toxins such as BMAA (associated with a disease characterized by fast progressing weakness, wasting away of muscles, difficulty speaking etc.) or microcystins (deadly toxins both to humans and plants and may harm the liver) and other toxins which are sometimes produced by such bacteria.
If you have the metabolic condition known as phenylketonuria which prevents the body processing the amino acid phenylalanine then you should avoid taking Spirulina as it is rich in all amino acids, including phenylalanine. You should also avoid taking Spirulina if you are pregnant or nursing.
Since Spirulina is considered a dietary supplement in the US but concerns have been raised about its handling during the manufacturing process because there are no regulations or enforced safety standards regarding its production. Where production of important supplements like Spirulina is not regulated, a lot can easily go wrong.
“Typically, toxins associated with algae are responsible for Spirulina risk factors. However, the best Spirulina powder manufacturers remove these toxins, thereby providing consumers with contaminant-free supplements that pose little or no risk.”
How to ensure you are purchasing the purist forms?
While Spirulina powders are sometimes available in local communities, they are easier to find online but be aware that you get what you pay for, and cheaper Spirulina products are in most cases to be avoided. When you choose a highly-rated brand, you’ll be more likely to get all the health benefits the formula has to offer.
The color of pure Spirulina should be dark green or blue-green and contain no excess fillers, additives or colored specks. Organic or Natural powders and tablets are the best choices for consumers, since they offer the highest standards of quality and purity. However, not all organic or natural supplement powders are the same and the purist forms should have a “non-GMO” label, which will indicate that they are not genetically engineered and also “contaminant-free”. While non-organic types may be inexpensive, they lack the purity of organic formulas.
To date the Food and Drug Administration has only awarded the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) designation to Spirulina from the American Spirulina companies Cyanotech, Earthrise, and RFI as well as to Spirulina produced by the Indian company Parry Pharmaceuticals.
When shopping for Spirulina powder or tablets, it’s important to weigh the cost of products, versus their particular features and benefits. It is worthwhile to spend more on an organic formula that is not genetically engineered.
The best supplements of this type will contain freshness packets that are non-edible. These packets are designed to keep Spirulina fresh for long periods of time. When storing any form of Spirulina powder, it’s important to keep the product container closed tightly.
“In 2005 two of the major and most trusted producers of Organic Labeled Spirulina in the USA – “Cyanotech,” the makers of Nutrex Hawaii brand and “Earthrise” had to drop the organic label from their products. This was due to the USDA terminating the use of a nitrate previously permitted as an organic feed in the growth of Spirulina. The nitrate feed is by no means harmful but foods cannot be technically classed as organic in the USA or Europe if it is used in the production process. “Cyanotech” and “Earthrise” now refer to their products as natural rather than organic.”
Spirulina Powder v’s Spirulina Tablets:
Once you choose and organic, pure and tested form of Spirulina then there is little difference in regards to quality. The only real difference is in the absorption rates (the time it takes to enter the blood stream) and the quantity that you need to take.
Powder forms are by far the quickest to absorb and provide you with a more concentrated dose. Therefore this form is preferred by those who are using Spirulina as a diet aid or for those who need an instant hit of nutrients to the blood stream. The latter usually being people who use Spirulina for pre or post work-out nutrition.
In addition, some forms of Spirulina powder may dissolve more readily in water than others do. Since all products of this type are typically ingested after being mixed with pure H20, it’s important to check product details before you buy in order to find a Spirulina powder that blends smoothly into water thus giving you the most instantaneous nutritional value.
Is Spirulina Right For You?
Now that you know more about the risks and health benefits of Spirulina, you’ll be ready to decide if this product is really right for you. If you’re a vegetarian and you want to ensure that you’re getting enough protein and minerals each day then you can’t go too far wrong with introducing it to your daily diet, as long as you buy a pure formulation, you’ll get ample nutritional support.
In addition, Spirulina is claimed by many to alleviate a range of pre-existing health conditions, such as low blood sugar, fatigue and obesity.
If you eat meat, you may not need tons of protein supplements in order to meet your daily protein requirements. However, the benefits of choosing Spirulina powder do not stop with protein. By selecting this product as a general health tonic, you’ll improve your body’s ability to metabolize energy (calories), while also easing vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
There is no denying that Spirulina is powerful source of nutrition and it can certainly provide you with many health benefits. However, there is a lot of exaggerated hype and glossed over facts that many producers and sellers of this product neglect to mention. If you were to ask me if Spirulina is a real a “Super Food” I would definitely say yes, but is it a wonder tonic and a cure all for all ailments I can’t say for sure, at least not until more scientific research is conducted.
What I will say is that regardless of scientific proof there are countless people who swear by and attest to its medicinal and health benefits. Maybe science just needs to catch up with what thousands of people who use Spirulina on a daily basis already know!