You’ve probably already seen it as an ingredient in a smoothie or juice made from superfoods. But except for its unique color (blue-green), very few people really know what spirulina is, and especially the benefits it can or can not bring to our body.
By doing your own research on the Internet, you will certainly read that this micro-algae can cure you of almost all diseases (by strengthening your immune system or improving your heart health). But is spirulina as “super” as it looks? This is what you will discover in our comprehensive guide.
What is spirulina?
Arthrospira Plantensis, also known as Spirulina, is a microalgae with a distinct blue-green color. It is also and above all one of the oldest life forms on the planet and a super nutritious superfood.
Spirulina takes its name from the Latin “spiral”. It grows in freshwater lakes, ponds and other mineral-rich waterholes. It is generally found on all continents, but particularly in volcanic regions.
Spirulina is often referred to as “superfood” because of its impressive nutritional qualities. We will come back to this later, but remember that it contains large amounts of proteins, amino acids, vitamin B12, iron, calcium and other beneficial compounds specific to blue-green algae. (like klamath)
A short history of spirulina
Spirulina has a long history. There are traces of its consumption in the region of the Kanem Empire which will later become Chad. It is dried there to prepare a dough that was (and still is) used as a broth for many meals.
Spirulina was consumed as a food source in the 12th century by the ancient Aztecs of the region that was to become Mexico. The Aztecs described the microalgae as “stony excrement”.
The process of harvesting spirulina was first documented by a soldier of the conquistador Hernan Cortes in the sixteenth century. There is also in his writings mention of cakes and pastries containing spirulina.
There were hardly any traces of spirulina after this period. And it was not until the 1940s that French botanist Pierre Dangeard observed an interesting phenomenon during his visit to Chad.
He noticed during his visit that the pink flamingos who drank and ate in a lake containing spirulina had a much longer life than the average pink flamingo.
Dangeard’s studies on spirulina and its properties have remained relatively confidential until other scientists search for spirulina found in Lake Texcoco in Mexico in the mid-1960s. But also on others sources of spirulina in Africa.
In the 1970s, the French created the first farm to produce and harvest spirulina . The United Nations declared at the same time that these microalgae possess the qualities of a “superfood”. Today, spirulina is grown and harvested around the world in more than 20 countries and is consumed in nearly 80 countries.
Nutritional profile of spirulina
Spirulina is extremely rich in nutrients. This is mainly due to its direct environment as it develops in both fresh and salt water. Biologically, it is a type of cyanobacteria , a family of unicellular microbes often called blue-green algae.
Like plants, cyanobacteria can produce energy from sunlight via photosynthesis. This small seaweed is full of nutrients. A single tablespoon (7 grams) of dried spirulina powder contains for example:
proteins: 4 grams;
vitamin B1 (thiamine): 11% of RDA,
vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 15% of RDA;
vitamin B3 (niacin): 4% of RDA;
copper: 21% of RDA
iron: 11% of RDA
It also contains good amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese, as well as small amounts of almost every other nutrient that your body needs. In addition, the same amount contains only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbohydrates. It can be concluded that spirulina is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
We find, always in a tablespoon (7 grams) of spirulina, a small amount of fat (about 1 gram), including omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, in a ratio of about 1.5 to 1. The quality of the protein in spirulina is considered excellent (it is comparable to eggs). Be careful with vegetarians and vegan because Spirulina does not contain vitamin B12 itself. This is the pseudo vitamin that is found in the composition of Spirulina , a form very little assimilated by the human body and therefore inefficient enough to avoid deficiencies.
The benefits and natural properties of spirulina
Now let’s move on to the many benefits of spirulina. We return to the many claims that are made about this microalga and present only those properties that have been supported by rigorous scientific studies. Continue reading to unravel, finally, the true from the fake.
Spirulina has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
What are the benefits of spirulina?The oxidation process (under the effect of free radicals) can damage your DNA and your genes. This damage can lead to chronic inflammation, which leads to cancer and other diseases. cells.
Spirulina is a fantastic source of antioxidants , which can protect you from the action of free radicals. Its main active component, phycocyanin is a natural antioxidant also gives spirulina its unique blue-green color.
Many risk factors exist, such as high levels of bad cholesterol or triglyceride. Numerous studies have shown that Spirulina has a positive impact on some of these risk factors. For example, it lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) and increases the level of HDL (good cholesterol).
In a study of 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina a day significantly improved these markers. Another study in people with high cholesterol found that one gram of spirulina a day lowered triglycerides by 16% and “bad” cholesterol by 10%.
Several other studies have shown favorable effects (although with higher doses of 4.5 to 8 grams per day).
It protects the bad cholesterol against oxidation
The fatty structures of your body are sensitive to oxidation. This is called lipid peroxidation, a key factor in many serious diseases. For example, the oxidation of “bad” cholesterol is one of the key steps in the development of heart disease.
It is interesting to note that the antioxidants contained in spirulina seem to be particularly effective in reducing lipid peroxidation in humans and animals.
In a study of 37 people with type 2 diabetes, 8 grams of spirulina a day significantly reduced the markers of oxidative damage. It has also increased levels of antioxidant enzymes in the blood.
Spirulina would be anticarcinogenic
Some evidence suggests that spirulina has anti-cancer properties. Animal research indicates that it can reduce the appearance of cancer and the size of tumors.
The effects of spirulina on oral cancer have been particularly well studied. A study of 87 people with precancerous lesions revealed that 1 gram of spirulina per day for one year reduced their incidence by 45%.
When these people stopped taking spirulina, almost half of them had re-formed lesions the following year. In another study of 40 people with similar lesions, 1 gram of spirulina a day resulted in a greater improvement in symptoms than the medical treatment currently prescribed.
The micro-alga reduces the blood pressure
High blood pressure is the main cause of many serious diseases, including heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease.
Although one gram of spirulina is ineffective, it has been shown that a dose of 4.5 grams a day lowers blood pressure in people with normal levels. This reduction is thought to be due to increased production of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that helps the blood vessels relax and expand.
Spirulina relieves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis
It is triggered by environmental allergens, such as pollen, animal hair or even dust. Spirulina is a popular alternative treatment for the symptoms of allergic rhinitis and has been proven to be effective.
In a recent study of 127 people with allergic rhinitis, 2 grams a day dramatically reduced symptoms such as runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and itching.
Spirulina would be effective against anemia
How to buy organic spirulina?There are many forms of anemia. The most common is characterized by a reduction of hemoglobin or red blood cells in your blood. Anemia is quite common in the elderly, resulting in a prolonged sensation of weakness and fatigue.
In a study of 40 elderly people with a history of anemia, spirulina supplements increased the hemoglobin concentration of red blood cells and improved immune function.
Keep in mind that this is just a study. Further research is needed before serious recommendations can be made.
It could improve muscle strength and endurance
Oxidative damage induced by intense physical exercise is a major factor of muscle fatigue. Some plant foods have antioxidant properties that can help athletes and physically active people minimize this damage.
The Spirulina appears beneficial in bodybuilding , because some studies have shown an improvement in muscle strength and endurance. In two clinical trials, spirulina has improved endurance, and slows the onset of fatigue.
It could help control the glycemic
Animal testing has linked Spirulina to a significant decrease in blood sugar levels. In some cases, it has even supplanted the most commonly used antidiabetic drugs, including metformin. There is also evidence that spirulina can be effective in humans.
In a two-month study of 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina a day resulted in an impressive reduction in blood glucose. HbA1c, a long-term marker of blood glucose, decreased by 9% to 8%, which is considerable. Studies estimate that a 1% reduction in this marker would be enough to reduce the risk of death from diabetes by 21%.
Spirulina Review: Is this superfood really effective?
According to French and European health authorities, scientific evidence is still lacking to determine whether spirulina is effective in the treatment of certain diseases.
However, spirulina is rich in nutrients , some of which are not found in any of the main foods that make up our daily diet. Spirulina contains significant amounts of calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron. It can also draw essential amino acids (which are the building blocks of proteins). Moreover, proteins represent about 60 to 70% of the dry weight of Spirulina.
Nevertheless, spirulina supplements should be taken daily to approximate the recommended dietary intakes for the nutrients it contains. And that’s not the only problem with the supplements of this superfood. We do not necessarily know the bioavailability of each component of spirulina, which prevents us from determining what quantity brings the micro-algae to our body.
Bioavailability describes the amount of nutrients you swallow and the body actually uses . In some cases, eating two different foods at the same time will help the body better absorb the nutrients you consume separately. Scientists are still studying the bioavailability of nutrients in individual foods, as well as their role in disease prevention.
If spirulina is therefore very important to cover your daily needs, we recommend that you incorporate it into a healthy diet so that it works in synergy with other foods and increases its bioavailability.
How to use spirulina?
Spirulina is available commercially in two different forms: tablets and powders. It is also used as an ingredient in certain cakes and drinks called “healthy”.
In powder form, spirulina has a distinctive taste of seaweed and can be used as an ingredient in all kinds of preparations , from smoothies to cooked meals, not to mention desserts. Spirulina powder has a relatively long shelf life and can be kept refrigerated for several months. However, many nutrients in the powder are sensitive to air oxidation and may lose their value if the powder remains exposed for too long in the open air.
Spirulina has a powerful flavor that may not be suitable for all tastes, it can be mixed (in smoothies or drinks) or with sweet fruit for a balance of flavors.
Spirulina is versatile and can be included in a wide variety of recipes ranging from starters such as spring rolls to spirulina and spirulina soup. Not to mention snacks such as spirulina yogurt and kale chips.
Spirulina can be added to popular dishes such as ice cream, cereal bars and even pizzas. Depending on the amount added, it may be enough to give a sweet taste and a nice blue-green color.
If the flavor of Spirulina does not please you, you can enjoy its many nutritional benefits by taking spirulina tablets, as you would with any other vitamin supplement without flavor.
How to choose your spirulina: buying guide
As with any product, the quality of Spirulina varies according to its natural environment and its mode of production. It is therefore best to make sure that the spirulina you buy is as fresh as possible and rich in nutrients. Some powders and capsules available on the market are sometimes of inferior quality to other supplements. Give priority to organic designations, which will guarantee you a complement without pesticides or chemicals.
Who can take spirulina: side effects and contraindications
Doctors consider that spirulina is safe in general. Especially in the light of its long history and the many peoples who have consumed it. But spirulina can be contaminated with toxic metals, harmful bacteria and microcystins (toxins produced from certain algae) if grown under uncontrolled conditions.
Contaminated spirulina can cause liver damage, nausea, vomiting, electric shock and even death. It is even more dangerous for children. We therefore recommend that you carefully study the composition and production conditions of your supplement before buying your spirulina .
People with certain autoimmune conditions should also avoid spirulina supplements. Because spirulina boosts the immune system, supplements can worsen the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other problems associated with over-activity of the immune system.
Spirulina can also interfere with drugs that slow blood clotting, including anticoagulants such as warfarin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The combination of spirulina and herbal supplements that slow blood clotting can increase the risk of bleeding. This includes clove, danshen, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng and turmeric.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid spirulina because of the lack of safety studies. People with phenylketonuria should also avoid spirulina, as this could worsen their condition. As there are not enough studies to establish a safe dosage range for spirulina, it is best to consult a doctor and follow the instructions of the manufacturer of your supplement to avoid overdose and side effects of spirulina .