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Spirulina benefits: What you need to know

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Monday Sept 23, 2013 (foodconsumer.org) -- Overall, spirulina is a healthy food and it provides many health benefits.  Spirulina benefits include boosting your immunity, protecting against cancer and viral infection and allergic reactions and liver disorders, helping weight loss and grow probiotics, lowering cholesterol, and blood sugar in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients.  This fresh water blue-green algae may be a therapeutical food for diabetics.

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium that can be eaten by both humans and animals.  Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima are the two species that are commonly cultivated and used as a dietary supplement in the form of powder or tablets as well as a whole food for humans and as a feed supplement in aquaculture, aquarium and poultry industries because of high protein and numerous nutrients.  

Nutrients in Spirulina

One of the spirulina benefits is a variety of nutrients it provides.   Dehydrated spirulina contains 56 to 71 percent protein, the highest you can see in both animals and plants and even beef is no match for spirulina.  It contains all sorts of amino acids that humans need although some amino acids like methionine, cysteine and lysine are not as high in spirulina as in meats.   

Spirulina is also high in good fats including  gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and also provides alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA).  

The wonder food contains also many vital nutrients including vitamins like vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid),  vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E and minerals including  potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc.  

Still, spirulina is a rich source of a vaierty of natural pigments including  beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, echinenone, chlorophyll-a, xanthophyll, myxoxanthophyll, beta-cryptoxanthin, canthaxanthin, diatoxanthin, 3'-hydroxyechinenoneand oscillaxanthin, plus the phycobiliproteins c-phycocyanin and allophycocyanin which in many cases are also benefitial.

Spirulina Health Benefits

Research suggests that spirulina may boost the immune system, protect against allergic reactions, help diabetes mellitus patients, lower cholesterol, and protect against viral infections and cancer development.

Both animal studies and lab studies revealed that spirulina increases the production of antibodies or infection fighting proteins to improve the immunity people need to fight infections and chronic diseases such as cancer.   But it should be noted that another type of blue green algae known as chlorella does not provide immunity boosting benefits in people who receive flu vaccine.

Spirulina used as a healthy protein source or used as a protein supplement

Spirulina is a better protein compared with proteins derived from plants.  If methionine, cysteine and lysine rich foods or supplements are used together with spirulina, then the spirulina protein can be better utilized.

Allergic reactions

Both animal and lab studies suggest spirulina can stop the releasing of histamines, which are the triggers for allergic symptoms including watery eyes, running nose, hives and soft-tissue swelling.

Studies show that spirulina has an activity against viruses including herpes, influenza, and HIV.  It can also help grow probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and other beneficial bacteria.  Because of this, people who used antibiotics which would kill the good bacteria may take spirulina to boost the growth of probiotics.

Anticancer activity against oral cancer

One trial shows that taking spirulina reduced a precancerous lesion in participants who chewed tobacco and in those taking spirulina; lesions were more likely to be cured, compared with those in the control group.

Spirulina Protects Against Liver Damage

Spirulina has been found to be protective against liver disorders like cirrhosis, which can eventually lead to the development of liver cancer.  Cirrhosis is commonly found in people suffering chronic hepatitis. That is why people with chronic hepatitis are more likely to develop liver cancer.  Spirulina seems to help detoxify the body and get rid of toxins.

Spirulina Weight Loss

It's believed that spirulina can suppress appetite because it contains an amino acid phenylalanine. Spirulina may help lose weight also possibly because it is a low fat food.

Like anything else, spirulina is often used together with other measures to lose weight.   Research has not yet provided solid evidence to support the notion that spirulina is a magic supplement that can help people lose weight when they take only a few grams per day.  However, some people who took spirulina claimed that spirulina works.  Interested people may try high doses of this healthy food for a weight loss effect.  It is a healthy food in any case.

Spirulina Helps Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patients

A study published in 2008 in Nutrition Research and Practice shows subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus residing in Seoul, Korea taking spirulina for 12 weeks improved many metabolic biomarkers such as lipid profiles (cholesterol and triglycerides), inflammatory biomarkers, and blood pressure.  The findings indicate that spirulina can reduce the risk for heart disease in type 2 diabetics.  There are 25 millions of Americans living with this medical condition and another 25 millions live with prediabetes.

Another study in Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that taking spirulina for two months can help improve blood sugar and lipid profiles and a diabetes biomarker HbA1c. This indicates that spirulina may actually help cure diabetes.

Spirulina Lowers Cholesterol

A study reported in Nutrition Reports International in 1988 shows people eating 4.2 grams of spirulina per day as a dietary supplement for 8 weeks can help lower serum levels of cholesterol, which is linked to increased risk for heart disease.  But spirulina does not affect the food cholesterol or high density lipoprotein cholesterol.  This means that otherwise healthy people can enlist spirulia to lower their heart risk.

In many cases statins are used to lower cholesterol because they are very effective.  But statins can cause some adverse effects such as cataracts, many people turn to natural remedies such as red yeast rice and spirulina. 

Spirulina Side Effects

Side effects associated with use of spirulina are rare. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration has awarded the GRAS status to spirulina.  GRAS stands for generally recognized as safe, meaning eating it normally does not cause any problem.

Feeding trials suggest that spirulina is safe to use.  When 60% of protein in a diet was replaced by spirulina, no toxic effects were observed.   Instead, eating spirulina has been found to prevent damage induced by all sorts of toxins affecting the liver, heart, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, genetic material or DNA and testicles.  

Cautions

Both children and adults can eat spirulina.  The FDA has awarded GRAS status to spirulina and this food should be considered safe for both children and adults.

Spirulina can absorb metals so it is advisable that food consumers pay attention to the claims of retailers on the testing of harmful metals.   Make sure that all the toxic metals are under the acceptable level.   However, this normally does not cause any problem because spirulina itself can absorb metals.   In fact, research finds spirulina reduces nephrotoxicity by heavy metals and drugs and radiation.

Possible Drug Interactions

Spirulina can boost the immunity and this can be of concern in people who take immunity-suppressing medications such as patients who have received transplants.

Dosages

Research shows that 60% of protein in a person's diet can come from spirulina.  Americans eat an average of 15% or more calories from proteins or 75 to 85 grams or higher per day.  If that is true, then they can use 48 grams of spirulina per day.  But as a dietary supplement, spirulina may not have to be eaten in such a large quantity.  (DL)

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