Once declared the “best food for the future” by the World Health Organization, this blue-green algae is a protein-rich antioxidant that may support and maintain your immune system. Read on to learn more about spirulina. What Is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a dried supplement made from two species of blue-green algae, Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima . The Kanembu tribe in Chad call it dihé ; the Aztecs who lived in the valley of Mexico called it tecuitlatl [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ].
The algae naturally grows in warm freshwater lakes like Lake Texcoco in Mexico and Lake Chad, which sits on the border of Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon. Locals traditionally harvest the algae and dry it in “cakes” [ 4 ].
Once it’s been dried, spirulina contains up to 70% protein, is a nutrient-rich antioxidant, and takes less land, water, and energy to produce than staple crops like corn and soy . Farmers use it to enrich their animal feeds and improve the quality of meat they produce. It pulls huge quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and it may even be used to convert city sewage back to clean water [ 1 , 5 ].
Spirulina gathered attention as a possible pharmaceutical in the 1940s and 50s. In 1974, the World Health Organization declared it the “best food for the future” to combat malnutrition, especially in children [ 4 ].
To learn more about spirulina’s nutritional value and how it might work, check out this post .
Spirulina is a dried blue-green algae that contains 70% protein once dried. It is considered an important “food for the future” by the WHO. Snapshot of Spirulina
High in protein and full of nutrients
May reduce the risk of heart disease
May reduce inflammation, especially in allergies, and boost immunity
May lower blood sugar
May possibly prevent fatigue
May protect the liver, brain, and kidneys
Some potential benefits have been insufficiently investigated
May cause rare allergic reactions
Occasional contamination with other cyanobacteria
May interact with some medication
Health Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use and generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing. Effective For
1) Antioxidant Activity
When free radicals build up, they disrupt structures, machinery, and even DNA inside cells. This process is linked to a great many diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and arthritis [ 6 , 7 ].
The most robust benefit of spirulina is probably its antioxidant effect . Multiple cell, animal, and human studies have demonstrated its ability to reduce oxidative stress; furthermore, spirulina contains diverse active compounds with antioxidant activity. It may contribute to whole-body health and, when combined with diet and lifestyle choices, delay or prevent disease onset [ 8 , 9 , 1 ]. Likely Effective For
2) Heart Health A review of 12 human clinical studies suggested that spirulina may protect the heart not only through its antioxidant properties, but also by lowering cholesterol , triglycerides , and blood pressure [ 9 ]. Blood Pressure Multiple clinical studies revealed that spirulina lowers blood pressure . In particular, the diastolic blood pressure – the lower of the two numbers, measured when the heart is resting between beats – is significantly decreased in people taking spirulina supplements [ 10 , 11 , 9 ]. Cholesterol and Triglycerides High levels of cholesterol and triglycerides increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke [ 12 , 13 , 14 ].In animal and human studies, spirulina decreased total cholesterol, LDL (the “bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides in the blood. These markers may increase as we age; spirulina may, therefore, have key benefits in elderly people or in those prone to high levels [ 15 , 9 ].The existing evidence suggests that spirulina reduces the risk of heart disease. Although spirulina supplements are not FDA-approved for this purpose, you may discuss with your doctor if they may be helpful in your case. Possibly Effective For 3) Inflammation Inflammation, like oxidative stress, is linked to many different conditions. Inflammatory diseases include everything from depression to IBD to arthritis [ 16 , 17 , 18 ].Spirulina contains multiple bioactive compounds that are known to reduce inflammation. Taken as a supplement, spirulina blocks the activity of molecules that stimulate the inflammatory response . In both human and rat studies, it reversed an age-related increase in inflammatory cytokines [ 1 , 8 , 15 ]. In Allergic Rhinitis Allergic rhinitis is the most common allergic reaction to environmental allergens like pollen; it is also a major part of asthma. In one clinical study on 150 people, spirulina decreased all measured symptoms of allergic rhinitis compared to placebo [ 19 , 20 ].Although limited, the evidence suggests that spirulina may help with allergic rhinitis and other inflammatory conditions. You may try spirulina if your doctor determines that it may help. Never take it instead of what your doctor recommends or prescribes. 4) Boosting Immunity Animal and human studies have demonstrated spirulina’s immune-boosting properties. By activating white blood cells and the tissues that produce them, it may help the body defend against bacteria, viruses, and even tumors without causing excessive inflammation [ 21 ].In a clinical trial on 169 HIV-infected people, daily supplementation with spirulina (along with a balanced diet) i ncreased the levels of immune cells (CD4) and reduced the viral load after 6 months [ 22 ].Similarly, spirulina reduced viral load and liver damage in a trial on 30 people with hepatitis C [ 23 ].Spirulina extract improved natural killer cell activity in 2 small trials on14 healthy people [ 24 , 25 ].In a trial on 19 rowers, supplementation with spirulina p rotected against the deficit in immune function caused by strenuous exercise (increased Treg over natural killer cell proportion) [ […]