Spirulina Benefits: 7 Reasons to Try It (& 1 Major Caution)

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Spirulina Uses and Benefits
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I don’t like using the term superfood, though it could certainly be applied to Spirulina (and is sometimes used for coconut oil). Surprisingly, you may know this amazing compound by its common name…

Pond scum:

This nutrient rich substance is actually a cyanobacteria and it boasts its fair share of health promoting properties. It is rich in chlorophyll, and like plants, gets its energy from the sun. It does have many benefits, (though contrary to some health claims, I’ve seen no evidence that it cures cancer or HIV).

What is Spirulina?

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 due to its high natural iron content.

The high concentration of protein and iron also makes it ideal during pregnancy, after surgery, or anytime the immune system needs a boost.

Benefits of Spirulina

Though it does taste like pond scum, Spirulina has some great health-boosting qualities:

1. Most Nutrient Dense Food On the Planet

The concentration of protein and vitamins in Spirulina has led many to classify it as the “most nutrient dense food on the planet.” Compared to other foods gram for gram, it lives up to this reputation and is a great source of:

  • Protein: It is considered a complete source of high-quality protein and is often compared to eggs for the amount of protein per gram. The protein in Spirulina is highly usable and has a net protein utilization rate of between 50-61%
  • Vitamin B1: Also called Thiamin, this vitamin is necessary for the digestion of fats and proteins. It is often taken for increased energy, eye health, brain function and for improving nerve functioning.
  • Iron: Spirulina is a favorite food for vegetarians and vegans because it is one of the best plant sources of iron. Even for those who consume meat, it has a highly absorbable form of iron that is gentle on the digestive system.
  • Calcium: Spirulina is also incredibly high in calcium with over 26 times the calcium in milk.

It also contains (per Tablespoon):

Spirulina nutrition benefits

Spirulina is a great source of other nutrients including (according to Wikipedia): “It 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”.

Important Note: Contrary to many claims, Spirulina is not a good source of Vitamin B12 for humans. While it does contain a form of B12, it is pseudovitamin B12 which is not absorbable or effective in humans according to studies.

2. Contains Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) & Omega-3s

Spirulina contains Gamma Linolenic Acid andOmega-3s

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.

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.

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.

Besides GLA, Spirulina also contains Omega 3-,6 and 9s and is especially high in Omega-3s.

3. May Help Balance Blood Sugar

Studies show that spirulina may be especially helpful in balancing blood sugar, and may even be as effective as diabetes medication in some instances. Other studies show that it not only lowers blood sugar but may also lower HbA1c, which is a long term marker of blood sugar levels.

4. Powerful Antioxidants

Antioxidants are powerful substances that protect our cells from damage. Thanks to decades of research, many of us understand the importance of consuming enough antioxidants from natural sources, and spirulina is a great choice.

The antioxidant that makes spirulina unique is called phycocyanin, which is a potent anti-inflammatory.

5. May Help Those with Allergies

Some research has suggested that Spirulina may be helpful for those with allergies and allergic reactions. (source)

This is likely because it reduces inflammation that leads to nasal congestion and other issues. In studies, those who took spirulina noticed a reduction in nasal congestion, itching, and sneezing.

6. Helps Remove Heavy Metals

Spirulina can bind with heavy metals in the body and help remove them.

It is also extremely high in Chlorophyll, which helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system. In fact, one study found that 500 milligrams of spirulina daily combined with zinc supplementation was enough to reduce arsenic toxicity by almost half!

Emerging evidence also suggests that it binds with radioactive isotopes and may be useful for radioactivity exposure or radiation therapy.

7. Muscle and Endurance Benefits

Spirulina is known to increase fat burning during exercise. Its high antioxidant content makes it beneficial in reducing exercise induced oxidation which leads to muscle fatigue and inability to gain muscle.

In fact studies found that it:

health benefits of spirulina powder

Cautions on Spirulina

Those with phenylketonuria (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 this supplement. If you are pregnant, nursing or have any medical condition, check with your doctor first as it is often not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.

Downsides of Spirulina

As I mentioned above, this beneficial algae is gram for gram one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. It is also probably one of the most expensive when compared gram for gram. Many articles about its benefits focus show the nutrition data per ounce. The problem is that one ounce contains about 28 grams and is MUCH higher than normal (or safe) daily intake would be.

It costs up to 30x as much as dairy or meat protein per gram and is not a viable primary protein source for this reason.

Is Spirulina the Same as Chlorella?

Short answer: No, but they share some similarities.

Both are types of algae but there are some key differences:

  • Structure: Chlorella is a single-cell algae with a nucleus, while Spirulina is a multi-celled plant with no nucleus. For this reason, chlorella is much smaller and acts differently in the body.
  • Color: Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, a blue-green type of algae, while Chlorella is a green algae.
  • Amount of Nucleic Acids: Both are a good source of nucleic acids, though Chlorella has almost twice as much per gram. Nucleic acids are important factors for DNA and RNA in the body.
  • Digestibility: Chlorella has to go through a process to break its cell walls before it is bioavailable and usable by the body.
  • Chlorophyll Content: Chlorella is higher in Chlorophyll, with almost double the amount.
  • Iron, Protein and GLA: Chlorella is not a great source of Iron, protein and beneficial Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA).
  • Heavy Metals: Chlorella has unique properties in its cell walls that make it bind to heavy metals and other contaminants

How to Take Spirulina (& What I Use)

I use a couple of different sources of spirulina that all checked out when I did my research.

  • Spirulina Powder – The least expensive but has a a strong flavor
  • Spirulina Capsule – Small, portable tablets called “EnergyBits.” Very easy to take and no unpleasant taste. Use the code “wellnessmama” at this link for 20% off.

For more on why spirulina and chorella are so beneficial for health, check out this Wellness Mama podcast interview with EnergyBits creator Catharine Arnston.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Ever tried spirulina? What did you think of the taste? Will you try it now? Share below!

Spirulina is a superfood plant source of protein, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Benefits include fighting anemia, good for blood and heart and more!
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


471 responses to “Spirulina Benefits: 7 Reasons to Try It (& 1 Major Caution)”

  1. Cathy Shepard Avatar
    Cathy Shepard

    I am thinking of implementing spirulina in my diet, I was wondering what powders are the best?

  2. Steben Avatar

    Spirulina is considered a complete source of high-quality protein and is often compared to eggs for the amount of protein per gram.

  3. Mark Davis Avatar
    Mark Davis

    Hey Katie, what’s your opinion on the Viva brand of spirulina?

  4. Anthony Shank Avatar
    Anthony Shank

    Spirulina has changed my life. It is so awesome!! I have found that the absolute best way to take this product is fresh frozen. NOT powdered or dried.

  5. Sid Avatar

    Spirulina – Is it good for skin when it comes to have clear sin (blemished free)? Please if anyone experienced, let me know.
    I really want to start it to make my skin clear, blemished free and of course being more energetic.

  6. Alex Avatar

    Great article, great statistics. I am adding to one aspect of the article, it is where the quoted “natural state” of the spirulina being a powder. The dried power state of spirulina that is freshly harvested is in a paste for and still a live organism whereas powdered spirulina is not. The bio availability difference between the two is vast. Think of powdered vs fresh spinach or arugula or swiss chard. Powdered spirulina was developed 40-50 years ago because we had no other way to harvest and preserve it. That is no longer the case. Truly fresh, not dried, not frozen spirulina is available on the market now. It is a game changer. It also changes ALL of the data because most of the current data is only derived from dessicated samples. By the way, the off putting smell and taste from powdered spirulina is actually decomposition, this is why there is a point where too much can be consumed and the benefits become outweighed by the negatives. Not so with fresh paste.

  7. Karton Weston Avatar
    Karton Weston

    I read the article about als and Alzheimer’s and the research into cyanobacteria… I threw out my spirulina… I’m a bit confused.. but my mom has Alzheimer’s and I want to be careful

  8. Natalia Avatar

    You say in this article that it is good during pregnancy, but then you say later that it might not be. Bit of conflicting information.

  9. Puneet Avatar

    Well, at one point you say ‘spirulina is ideal for pregnant women’ and at other point you say ‘its not recommended for pregnant women’. You contradict yourself which adversely effects the credibility of your post. Sorry for being a rude honest.

  10. Terra Avatar

    I take colloidal gold and platinum for brain health and cognitive ability following a TBI…will this remove these colloids? I am referring to the part of your post that states it will remove heavy metals. Thank you for any further information you provide! 🙂

  11. Dom Avatar

    It actually does not taste like pond scum, that’s bad quality spirulina (most on the market!). Try some sun dried spirulina instead.
    I found a brand that’s not sun dried and tastes pretty good. It’s spray-dried tho, like most on the market.
    But yeah, the point is that most spirulinas out there are unclean and got contaminated with scum, but it’s not always the case.

  12. Jill Avatar

    Hi! I’m so happy I found this site. I received my Nutrex Hawaiian Spirulina 500mg tablets yesterday. The aroma is there however, I took one with iced tea and no foul taste whatsoever! The bottle says to store in the refrigerator once opened? I haven’t read that on here anywhere. I took one tablet to be sure no side effects. I’m wondering how much & when to increase. How long before most people notice a real difference? Thanks for any advice!

  13. Holly Stone Avatar
    Holly Stone

    I wanted to check if I can take Spirulina or Chlorella during pregnancy?
    In one part of your article it says this is ideal during pregnancy but then later states that you should check with a doctor as it is often not recommend!

  14. Kim Avatar

    I’m a little nervous about taking green powders now that this shocking new info regarding blue green algae is out…looks like it could be toxic to the brain and causing ALS, Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases 🙁

  15. Erickson mosqueda Avatar
    Erickson mosqueda

    If it smell and taste pond scum or theres a foul smell or taste, its a low grade spirulina. Cultured high grade spirulina with green blue color has no strong odor and foul smell, it means the process of culturing and harvesting is properly implemented,
    Pond scum taste and smelly spirulina is the result of wrong proceedure of cultivating, and wrong harvesting of spirulina, .. the scum on the bottom of the pond.. which is the dead spirulina , if mixed on the harvested spirulina will not give high grade blue green colored spirulina..

  16. Alex Avatar

    A good article but it is missing some critical facts about the form of spirulina being a powder. If you think for a moment, it says that spirulina grows in ponds then harvested. How does it turn into a powder? Spirulina in its raw and natural form is in fact a paste, full of live culture and enzymes. The process of turning it into a powder is mans attempt to monetize and store it. There is a big difference between the two as far as bioavailability, taste and smell. As a matter of fact, the off putting smells and taste from powders or tablets is the smell of decomposition and its lower form of bioavailability compared to fresh and not frozen paste. Fresh spirulina has no detectable odor, nor does it have any taste. The texture is similar to greek yogurt. It is reported that the bioavailability of fresh is 7 times that of dried forms. I know it, I grow it, I eat it. Peace!

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