What Is Spirulina? Health Benefits, Nutrition Values, Side Effects & How To Use

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What is spirulina?

Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) is a single-celled unicellular blue alga with a narrow and elongated shape (it does not exceed half a millimeter). Widespread in brackish waters, it favors tropical and subtropical areas where it benefits from the alkaline water pH that characterizes them.

Despite being in the category of blue algae, spirulina is dark green, a shade that is given by the presence of chlorophyll, whose pigments cover the bluish reflections of the policianina and the yellow ones of the carotenoids. The name ‘spirulina’ derives instead from the shape of this alga which recalls, as we can guess from its own name, that of a spiral.

Nutritional Properties

Spirulina is particularly rich in proteins, essential amino acids and lipids. The fats contained in it belong to the large family of mono and polyunsaturates, with a clear prevalence of omega-6 compared to omega-3 and with high amounts of gamma linolenic acid; these nutrients, if well balanced with each other, are considered able to normalize the levels of cholesterol in the blood, participate in the formation of myelin sheaths that cover the nerves and improve the functionality of the immune system. In order for this to happen it would be appropriate to balance the omega6 / omega-3 ratio of one’s diet with the help of a nutritionist, considering also the possible integration with spirulina algae.

Among the vitamins abound tocopherol, Β-carotene, inositol and some B vitamins. Discrete also the mineral content, among which iodine is not included, an element that abounds especially in marine algae (fucus and laminaria).

The ACE coupled vitamin (carotenoids, ascorbic acid and tocopherol) + phycobilins and other pigments (e.g. chlorophyll), gives spirulina remarkable antioxidant properties. Thanks to these characteristics, spirulina algae is potentially able to protect against free radicals and the damage they cause to the body (premature aging, neurodegenerative diseases, some forms of cancer and atherosclerotic disease).

The alimentary use of spirulina is very ancient, in fact it seems to date back to Roman times, which gave it to the diet of the African populations (spirulina platensis). This alga was also present in the diet of pre-Columbian civilizations (spirulina maxima); this tradition was reported by the Spanish ‘conquistador’ Cortés who in the early 16th century subjected the Atzeco empire.

Spirulina supplements

Today, spirulina-based supplements are very popular among sportsmen and those who want to quickly reach their own weight or look for a natural alternative to multivitamin-mineral and reconstitutive synthesis supplements. In the first case the high content of vitamins and minerals is exploited as enzymatic cofactors to support energy production during a particularly intense muscular effort.

Sportsmen can also take advantage of the excellent vitamin supply of spirulina and its valuable antioxidant properties (physical activity, while improving endogenous disposal systems, produces many free radicals).

Spirulina supplementsThe very high protein content (65-70 grams per 100g of food, compared to 20-25g of a lean meat cut), makes spirulina a particularly useful and nutritious food for the sedentary population. The good amino acid profile can be a valuable aid to cover the needs of essential amino acids in people who follow a strict vegetarian diet (vegan). Its particular cell wall, free of cellulose and of a mucoprotein type, also gives it a good digestibility.

Spirulina also seems to have a certain effect on appetite control. When taken before meals, it accelerates the appearance of satiety (probably due to the abundance of nutrients, especially protein, and their effect on CCK secretion) and can thus find room in dietary-behavioral therapies and to reduce body weight. Satisfying any vitamin or mineral deficiencies, spirulina could also help to alleviate the appearance of bulimic crises. However, these are hypotheses mostly exploited for commercial purposes, since there is not enough scientific basis to justify the usefulness of spirulina in the control of body weight. For all these positive characteristics, spirulina has earned the nickname of ‘food of the future’.

Spirunlina chemical constituents

  • Protein;
  • Essential amino acids (in particular valine, leucine, threonine);
  • Lipids;
  • Vitamins (C, B and E);
  • Phycocyanin;
  • Carotenoids;
  • Mineral salts and trace elements (excluding iodine).

Spirulina in herbal medicine: properties of spirulina

Spirulina is mainly used as a food supplement due to its high content of proteins. Thanks to this particular composition, spirulina is part of the composition of many food supplements, which can be used to compensate for certain deficiencies in individuals who adopt particular diet regimens, such as, for example, those who follow a vegan diet. Spirulina supplements can also be used as adjuvants in slimming diets. In fact, if taken before meals, it seems that spirulina is able to anticipate the onset of the sense of satiety.

Spirulina also has some success thanks to its high content of vitamins and minerals, but not only. In fact, it seems that the biotin contained in it disadvantages the production of lactic acid during physical exertion and promotes the elimination of carbon dioxide, while tocopherol, carotenoids and ascorbic acid exert an antioxidant action. Despite these numerous qualities, spirulina has not been officially approved for any type of therapeutic application.

However, there are numerous studies that are being conducted on its components to investigate further properties, such as potential immunostimulant, hypocholesterolemic and antitumor activities. In particular, this latter property has been the subject of a study which showed that the phycocyanin present in spirulina could be able to induce apoptosis in the malignant cells of human ovarian cancer.

side effects:
As a rule, spirulina should not cause undesirable effects, even if the onset of nausea and sense of fullness have been reported in some predisposed subjects. Furthermore, spirulina may be contaminated with microcystins, or heavy metals. These substances may, respectively, cause gastrointestinal disorders and liver damage.

Pharmacological interactions

The prolonged intake of alginates can reduce the absorption of iron and other minerals at the intestinal level.

How to use spirulina

The recommended dose is 10 grams per day, an apparently modest quantity but which is able to cover, on its own, a large part of the daily requirement of many nutrients such as vitamin A and iron.

How to use spirulinaDespite the high presence of proteins, minerals, vitamins and lipids, a portion of 10 or 20 grams cannot be considered a complete food and as such cannot replace a normal meal. If used as a dietary supplement, spirulina can still represent an important help in covering the needs of the various nutrients. Specialists emphasize its physiological effect useful for ‘support and nourishing action’.

With regard to the side effects, the potential risks deriving from the contamination with microcystins, analyzed in the article on klamath alga, are underlined. For the rest, spirulina is normally well tolerated; there are gastrointestinal disorders (such as nausea and a sense of gastric fullness) in predisposed subjects. Do not exceed recommended intake doses.

Uses of spirulina powder

Spirulina is mainly used as a natural supplement both as a tonic and as a detoxifier. The skin benefits from a supplement of spirulina because the presence of antioxidants can counteract aging and free radicals; Vitamins A, C, D and E are essential for the health of our skin and spirulina contains them all: vitamin A normalizes sebum, vitamin C regulates the production of collagen, vitamin D affects the quality of the hydrolipidic film that it covers the skin and finally the vitamin E makes the epidermis tissue tonic and so the skin is soft and elesthetic.

Uses of spirulina powderAlso the presence of essential fatty acids in spirulina helps to have an enviable skin; in addition, the presence of omega 3 and 6 is useful for normalizing the levels of cholesterol circulating in the blood and to counter the onset of diseases related to triglycerides.

Compared to the cardiovascular system, spirulina reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease: the presence of vitamins A and E lower the risk of thrombosis, vessel sclerosis and embolism because these vitamins are blood anticoagulants.

Furthermore, spirulina can help and optimize the transmission of messages in the nervous system, helping the formation of the myelin sheaths that are those parts that line the nerves; in this way the information system works best. Spirulina is also used to regulate blood sugar in particular in cases of diabetes and has a high satiating power that leads to an adjustment of appetite, in favor of a normalization of meals useful for those who want to lose weight but also to stabilize levels of insulin in the blood.

Spirulina: who is it for?

Considering the broad spectrum of uses of spirulina we can say that this seaweed can be taken by everyone for their health and well-being. In particular it is useful for women to regulate the menstrual cycle and can even alleviate premenstrual pain, acting on the functioning of the ovaries and the regulation of hormones thanks to the richness of its nutrients.

Spirulina is also suitable for athletes, children and older people because it can provide many nutrients at the same time: proteins, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, also essential for treating flu and for people who feel asthenic, tired and stressed.

Finally, even for the categories that may have specific diseases such as diabetes or in cases of shortcomings and even for those who make a choice of vegetarian and vegan diet, spirulina becomes an excellent source of nutrients and healthy.

Where to find spirulina powder, and more

Spirulina is found in health food stores and specialized shops selling natural products such as bioshops. Online purchasing is currently very common and it will therefore be possible to find spirulina also in e-commerce.

The most popular forms are powder and dry extract tablets in which, depending on the needs, they can be used as natural supplements; the dosages are reported on the packs and in principle 5 grams of spirulina are recommended per day.

It is also possible to buy flaked spirulina as a food, rather than as a supplement. Spirulina flakes or even powder can be added to soups, sauces, pies, risottos and other traditional or ethnic dishes depending on your taste.

Its availability is therefore easy and the only advice remains to pay attention to the quality of the product. To look for a high quality spirulina it is good to choose brands with recognized certifications such as the word ‘from organic farming’ that respects regulations and protocols of cultivation and marketing without the use of chemical synthesis products.

Spirulina is the best source of vegetable protein, with a protein content of 65%, higher than any other natural food. It is also a protein extremely easy to digest and assimilate. In fact, the cell walls of these algae are made up of easily digestible muco-proteins because they completely dissolve in the digestive system. Spirulina is complete because it has all the essential amino acids (those that the body cannot synthesise) in optimal proportion and 10 of the 12 non-essential amino acids. Due to its high protein content it is highly recommended for vegetarians and vegans.

It is rich in phytoelements of all kinds: compounds such as phycocyanin, polysaccharides and sulpholipids that strengthen the immune system.

Spirulina has antibiotic properties, inhibits the growth of bacteria, yeasts and fungi. This superfood has an exceptional concentration of functional nutrients such as has never been seen in any food, plant, grass or cereal. Spirulina sulfolipids can prevent viruses from sticking or entering cells, preventing viral infections from developing. Ficocyanine and spirulina polysaccharides have been shown to increase the production of macrophages, contribute to spinal cord reproduction, strengthen the immune system and the capacity to resist diseases

Due to the richness of basic minerals, spirulina helps restore the acid-base balance by making the tissues more alkaline. There are many uses for which spirulina algae is used.

Acne

The high content of vitamin A makes spirulina an excellent means of combating acne. In fact, this vitamin regulates the functioning of the sebaceous glands and avoids excessive secretion and congestion.

spirulina for Acne

Anemia

Spirulina is particularly effective in the fight against anemia. Not only does it provide a lot of iron, it also contains nutrients such as vitamins E, vitamin B12, folic acid and copper, which are necessary for the use and fixing of iron.

Convalescence

Due to the wide range of nutrients that make it up and their prompt availability, spirulina is particularly indicated to help recover energies in convalescents and people debilitated by an illness or surgery.

Heart and blood vessels

Spirulina is recommended for cardiovascular disease. Vitamin F prevents the formation of cholesterol deposits, vitamin E decreases the risk of viscosity and blood coagulation (embolism), vitamin A fights the sclerosis of the vessels and magnesium supports the work of the heart muscle.

Diabetes

Regular consumption of spirulina has been shown to be effective in decreasing insulin requirements, moderating uncontrollable appetite and avoiding too strong fluctuations in blood glucose.

Dysmenorrhea or irregularity of menstrual flow

Spirulina provides abundant amounts of vitamin E which also has the function of regularizing the functioning of the ovaries.

As for vitamin A, congestive disorders and premenstrual pain decrease, while iron prevents exhaustion and anemia accompanying premenstrual periods.

Eczema

Skin diseases appear when the sweat and sebaceous glands are unable to eliminate all waste. The B vitamins present in spirulina stimulate the metabolism of the skin, the vitamin A that of the sebaceous glands and vitamin E gives softness and tone to the skin favoring the cicatrizazione process.

EczemaPregnancy

Traditionally, the women of the tribes living on the shores of Lake Chad where spirulina grows consume this seaweed in abundance during pregnancy to ‘protect’ the unborn child.

This protection, which for them has a magical character, is perfectly explained by the abundant consumption of alga which provides a series of nourishment necessary for the development of the fetus, removing the risks of possible malformations and organic disorders due to deficiencies.

Hypercholesterolemia

When cholesterol is combined with saturated fatty acids, stable compounds are formed which make the blood thicker and create deposits. With the addition of numerous unsaturated fatty acids with which spirulina is rich, it is possible to stop this process and lower the cholesterol level.

The unsaturated fatty acids replace the saturated ones in combining with the cholesterol forming a soluble compound that will easily leave the blood to reach the different glands where it will be used for the production of hormones, bile salts etc.

Obesity

Spirulina facilitates weight loss. Taken before meals, it has a hungry break effect, because the abundance of its nutrients causes the feeling of satiety to be reached more quickly. Moreover, despite the importance of the contributions, its caloric value is reduced (20 cal per 100 g).

This alga therefore allows you to be well fed without eating a lot. Satisfying the deficiencies in depth, the deficiencies that cause compulsive eating disorders (bulimia crisis) decrease more and more.

Eyes

Since vitamin A is found in abundance in spirulina, this alga is indicated for eye problems such as sensitivity to light, the difficulty of seeing in the dark, irritation and inflammation, cataracts and, in general, for disorders of view.

Immune system

Spirulina acts on the immune system strengthening it, Vitamin F promotes the production of prostaglandins, magnesium and iron allow fighting aggressors more effectively, vitamin E protects tissues from free radicals and the blue pigment of spirulina, phycocyanine, increases the production of lymphocytes and decreases the risk of neoplasia.

Older age

Pathological and accelerated tissue aging, largely due to deficiencies, can be prevented by administering the different nutrients present in the spirulina.

Tumors

Numerous nutrients contained in spirulina are known to be active against tumors: vitamin E and selenium as antioxidants, magnesium and germanium as anti-tumors, vitamin F for its role in the immune system and mucosal permeability, and vitamin A for its protective effect against the development of tumors.

contraindications:
As for the contraindications are not highlighted, even if it is found a slight increase in blood pressure and may cause some problems to those with thyroid problems as it contains iodine. Like all natural supplements, it is not always best to ask our doctor for advice.

The decisive factors for the choice of spirulina

In the world of supplements it is possible today to find various natural products to enrich our diet of fibers, vitamins, proteins and other nutritional elements that can support us during our daily activities or in sport. These foods are commonly called superfoods, because they are able to guarantee nutrients that we would not easily find in the same concentration in other foods.

The decisive factors for the choice of spirulinaIt is true, however, that the consumption of these products has become in a sense a consumerist fashion that many producers try to exploit to increase their profit. To distinguish which superfood is actually useful for our diet is very difficult if you do not have specific knowledge about it, and there is always the risk of buying useless products by spending your money in vain.

To deepen well before launching into the purchase is therefore a more than necessary precaution: for this reason we have chosen to create an informative guide dedicated to spirulina, one of the best known superfoods in recent times but of which we never talk enough.

The powdered preparation also contains a high percentage of proteins: on average the powdered spirulina alga concentrate consists of almost 60% of vegetable proteins, while the remaining parts are carbohydrates (20%), fats (4%), and minerals of various nature (5.50%).

Detox function

Much of the global population is affected by problems of heavy metal intoxication and in particular by inorganic arsenic. This is in fact what emerges from a statement of June 2016 of the World Health Organization (the World Health Organization), which warns the global population of the serious risks of this type of intoxication. In this regard, spirulina performs an important detoxifying function and, if taken together with minimum quantities of pure zinc with a certain constancy, can even halve the levels of metals present in the body.

Cholesterol reduction

Detox functionSpirulina has also proven to be effective in fighting and preventing arteriosclerosis and especially in reducing excessively high cholesterol levels in the blood. This was noted in some research carried out on rabbits, first fed with a diet high in cholesterol and then with foods to which the spirulina was added. In these animals it was therefore possible to see how concentrated spirulina is able to significantly lower excess cholesterol in the blood and that, in addition to this, greater quantities of spirulina enhance this type of effect. In this regard we suggest you continue reading the scientific article on the mentioned research, which is however only available in English.

Anti-carcinogenic power

Recent studies in the scientific and experimental field demonstrate some anti-cancer properties of spirulina. After careful laboratory tests, it was found that this particular alga is able not only to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood but also to prevent the development and reproduction of cancer cells, particularly in the pancreas area.

The best ally of weight loss diets

If your goal is to get back in shape by losing a bit ‘of excess pounds, even in this case spirulina is right for you. Being a food particularly rich in trace elements, proteins, amino acids and low in fat, the spirulina concentrate greatly increases the nutritional value of the dishes we consume without overloading the body. If added in smoothies or taken during the morning for a higher yield, the spirulina concentrate will be a valuable ally in the fight against overweight or for those who want to use it as a supplement for sports.

Method of employment

Now we come to what quantities it is correct to take the spirulina alga in our daily diet. Before going into this last part of our guide we would like to remind you that, if you wish to integrate the concentrate of spirulina into your diet, it is advisable to check with your doctor to have no problems of hyperthyroidism, forms of intolerance or specific allergies to this alga.

Spirulina intake mode

Without this premise, we can say that the recommended daily dose is between 10 and 12 grams a day. It may seem like a low quantity, but it is still sufficient to cover the daily requirement of various trace elements contained in the spirulina. Obviously a 10-12 gram dose of spirulina is not intended as a substitute for a complete meal, but only as a supplement and supplement to a complete and varied diet. If you prefer powdered spirulina, you can use it to prepare tasty milkshakes with fruit and almond milk or some tasty but healthy desserts.

Spirulina tasty dishes

Spirulina tasty dishesIt is always advisable not to exceed the indicated dose because, although there are no particular contraindications to an overdose, taking too high amounts of spirulina can cause nausea and headaches, as well as a feeling of excessive satiety.