The food of the future, as spirulina has been called, might sound like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but it’s been on this planet longer than you have. Along with its cousin chlorella, spirulina is a freshwater blue - green microalgae. It is one of the most researched foods on the plant. It's health benefits range from lowering cholesterol levels to protecting against cancer. It can even enhance endurance and improve strength. This “miracle from the sea” is high in antioxidants, fiber, and a unique blend of polyphenols.
History of Spirulina
For much of the world, spirulina remains a mysterious food. But that’s not because it hasn’t been extensively researched. In fact, spirulina has inspired over 1,400 studies to date.
If you were to think of where a superfood of this magnitude would originate, chances are you wouldn’t think to check the ocean. But this so-called “pond scum” grows in oceans and alkaline lakes in the subtropical regions. Long ago, it was harvested by the Aztecs in central Mexico from Lake Texcoco. It is still collected from Lake Chad off the west-central African coast and turned into dry cakes today.
According to a study published in Cardiovascular Therapy, spirulina was almost considered a plant because of its photosynthesis ability and its rich plant pigments. But after some research, scientists discovered that its genetics belonged to the bacteria kingdom in the genus Arthrospira. Later, it was determined to belong to the genus Spirulina, of which there are three main species: Spirulina platensis, maxima, and fusiformis. Several other species exist but these “big three” if you will are so thoroughly researched because of their high nutritional content and therapeutic actions. The world has never seen anything quite like it before.
Spirulina is super easy to harvest because it grows in microscopic spirals that easily stick together. In the United States, you won’t find it sold in many places outside of supplement form except as a color additive to gum, candy, and in other packaged foods that need an intense hint of green. As for the future use of spriulina, NASA has been looking into growing it in space and using it as astronaut fuel.
Proven Health Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina contains the highest protein content of any natural food on the planet. A one tablespoon serving contains four grams of protein, all the amino acids, over 100 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and phytonutrients, only 20 calories, and 1.7 grams of digestible carbohydrates. It also contains 15 percent of the RDA of riboflavin, 11 percent of the RDA of thiamin, 21 percent of the RDA of copper, and 11 percent of the RBA of iron.
Also, spirulina contains B vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, calcium, potassium, magnesium, selenium, zeaxanthin, and phytonutrients such as sulfolipids, glycolipids and polysaccharides, carbohydrates and enzymes. It contains a trivial amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to help maximize nutrient absorption and a boasts a host of proven health benefits.
Lowers LDL Cholesterol And Triglyceride Levels
According to a study published in the Journal of Food Medicine, spirulina lowers LDL or “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides while raising HDL or “good” cholesterol. Another study found that people with high cholesterol who supplemented with one gram of spirulina each day lowered their triglyceride levels by 16.3 percent and their LDL by 10.1 percent.
Protects Against Cancer
Several animal studies have shown that spriulina has anti-cancer properties and may be able to reduce tumor sizes. One study found that people with oral cancer who took one gram of spirulina for a year had a complete regression of lesions in their mouth. When they stopped taking it, almost half of the people experienced a relapse of lesions.
Reduces Blood Pressure
One study found that participants with normal blood pressure who orally took 4.5 grams of spirulina a day were able to reduce their blood pressure.
A 2010 and a 2006 study have both shown spirulina’s ability to improve endurance. Specifically, significantly improved the time it took for people to become fatigued during exercise. A third study found that it improved muscle strength in college athletes.
Helps Control Blood Sugar
Spirulina might be better than some traditional drugs at controlling blood sugar levels. According to a 2013 study, spirulina’s anti-diabetic effects are due to its ability to stabilize insulin sensitivity and regulate glucose metabolism. Another study found that it was as effective as the popular diabetes drug Metformin at controlling blood sugar.
Detoxes Heavy Metals
A study published in Clinical Toxicology showed that spirulina is effective in detoxing the heavy metal arsenic from the body.
Fights Free Radical Damage
Spirulina has an impressive amount of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that have been shown to fight free radical damage. The main antioxidant found in spirulina is called phycocyanin, which has been shown to fight free radicals that cause oxidative stress and DNA damage.
Improves Leaky Gut Syndrome and Candida
Spirulina is particularly useful for treating digestive disorders. According to a 2012 study, it was found to contain anti-microbial properties that make it effective in treating candidiasis.
Lowers The Risk Of Stroke
A 2010 study in Toyko found that supplementing with spirulina decreased intimal aorta surface by up to 48 percent, meaning that it may be able to prevent atherosclerosis and eventually a stroke.
Promotes Weight Loss
Spirulina has wonderful digestive properties that help it naturally detox the body, which aids in weight loss. Research shows that it may also curb appetite in overweight people.
Spirulina has been demonstrated to reduce the inflammation associated with allergic rhinitis, according to a 2013 study. The study found that spirulina was successful in reducing nasal discharge, nasal congestion, sneezing and itching.
Used to treat HIV and AIDS
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Phycology, a combination of spirulina and a brown seaweed called Undaria pinnatifida were effective in stabilizing the whole blood cell count in participants affected with HIV. The study also found that unlike many medications, no side effects were associated with the combination.
Fewer foods on this planet have a higher nutrient profile than this green superfood. Whether you’re looking for a supplement to help you get rid of the toxins that are slowing you down during the day or you are a vegetarian looking for additional protein and iron sources, spirulina is an excellent choice for all your needs. It’s safe for use during pregnancy and is easier to digest than other forms of algae. Add it to your morning tea or smoothie or take it in supplement form for an easy way to incorporate more nutrients into your diet.