I don’t like using the term superfood, though it could certainly be applied to Spirulina. Though not technically an herb (actually a cyanobacteria), it boasts its fair share of health promoting properties. It is rich in Chlorophyll, and like plants, gets its energy from the sun.
What is it?
Spirulina is a natural “algae” (cyanbacteria) powder that is incredibly high in protein and a good source of antioxidants, B-vitamins and other nutrients. When harvested correctly from non-contaminated ponds and bodies of water, it is one of the most potent nutrient sources available. It is largely made up of protein and essential amino acids, and is typically recommended to vegetarians for its high natural iron content. It is often touted for its high B-12 content, though there is a lot of debate about if this particular form is a complete and absorbable form of B-12 and I don’t recommend it completely in place of animal products.
The high concentration of protein and iron also makes it ideal during pregnancy, after surgery, or anytime the immune system needs a boost.
Though it does taste like pond scum, Spirulina has some great health-boosting qualities:
- Spirulina is 65% protein and amino acids including the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which has gotten a lot of attention for its anti-inflammatory properties, especially when taken with other quality Omega-3 supplements like Fermented Cod Liver Oil. (I suspect that the benefits of GLA in Spirulina are even more than what the studies have found since these studies often use vegetable oils for their GLA source, and the other inflammatory compounds in vegetable oils can interfere with the anti-inflammatory ability.) It contains all essential amino acids. GLA is difficult to find in a food source and normally has to be created by the body. Spirulina is one of the few foods with a natural GLA content.
- Spirulina contains Omega 3-,6 and 9s and is especially high in Omega-3s.
- Spirulina is extremely high in Chlorophyll, which helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system.
- Spirulina has a very high concentration of bio-available iron and is excellent during pregnancy and for those with anemia and will not cause constipation. The proteins and nutrients in Spirulina are very bioavailable and easy to absorb.
- Spirulina is a great source of other nutrients including (according to Wikipedia): “Spirulina contains vitamins B-1(thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3(nicotinamide), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E. It is also a source of potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc. Spirulina contains many pigments which may be beneficial and bioavailable”.
- This Spirulina (from Mountain Rose Herbs) was tested be an independent laboratory and found to have an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of over 24,000 which is 4x the ORAC score of blueberries. The ORAC score is generally used to measure antioxidant ability and concentration in different foods.
- Spirulina is also incredibly high in calcium with over 26 times the calcium in milk, making it excellent for children, the elderly and during pregnancy.
- Some research has suggested that Spirulina may be helpful for those with allergies and allergic reactions.
- Spirulina’s phosphorus content makes it helpful as part of a tooth remineralization regimen.
- Emerging evidence suggests that it binds with radioactive isotopes and may be useful for radioactivity exposure or radiation therapy.
- The protein in Spirulina is highly usable and has a net protein utilization rate of between 50-61%
- Spirulina can bind with heavy metals in the body and help remove them.
- Spirulina can increase fat burning during exercise.
How to Consume Spirulina
When choosing Spirulina, make sure to choose one that is organic, as others can be contaminated or have nitrate compounds as additives. The best one I’ve found is from Mountain Rose Herbs and it is also the cheapest organic Spirulina I’ve seen.
It does taste like pond water though, so many people prefer supplements like this high quality spirulina capsule.
I add Spirulina to my veggie smoothies each day and take extra during pregnancy. It is best to get in about 2 teaspoons per day, and 2 or more tablespoons during illness, after radiation exposure, or during pregnancy. It does taste horrible though!
You can also mix into water and drink straight, though many people have trouble with this. The phosphorous makes it useful for thetooth remineralizing regimen, and it is best taken with an Omega-3 source like fermented cod liver oil. It’s anti-inflammatory properties have been helpful to some with joint pain or other types of inflammation.
Cautions About Spirulina
Those with PKU should consult with a doctor before taking, as it does contain that amino acid. Those on any type of anti-coagulation medicine should consult with a doctor before beginning (or stopping) taking Spirulina. Some people with autoimmune disease do not do well with Spirulina. If you are pregnant, nursing or have any medical condition, check with your doctor first!
University of Maryland Medical Center Report on Spirulina
P. D. Karkos, S. C. Leong, C. D. Karkos, N. Sivaji, and D. A. Assimakopoulos, “Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2011, Article ID 531053, 4 pages, 2011. doi:10.1093/ecam/nen058
The Medical Research of Spirulina – Cyanotech Corporation
Park, Hee Jung;Lee, Yun Jung;Ryu, Han Kyoung;Kim, Mi Hyun;Chung, Hye Won;Kim, Wha Young, “A randomized double blind, placebo controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans,” Annals of nutrition & metabolism. 2008.
Ever taken Spirulina? What did you think of the taste? Will you try it now? Share below!