You may have heard of spirulina before, but what is it? Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae (also known as cyanobacteria) that grows in both fresh and saltwater and was consumed as a food source by humans in the time of the Aztecs. Today, spirulina is popularly taken as a supplement because it is believed to have several health benefits.
It is packed with nutrients
One of the main reasons that spirulina is so popular is that it has extremely high concentrations of nutrients. Just one tablespoon of spirulina contains almost 4 grams of protein, and it is also packed with vitamins B1, B2, and B3, copper, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, potassium, and manganese.
The high iron content of spirulina also makes it a good source of iron for those on vegan diets, as red meat is usually the main source of iron for humans.
It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Spirulina is also thought to be good for preventing oxidative damage and inflammation. Oxidation is a chemical reaction in the body that can produce free radicals which can cause oxidative stress, damaging cells, causing inflammation, and potentially leading to serious illness such as heart disease and cancer.
As well as the many nutrients it contains, spirulina’s main active component is phycocyanin, making it a great source of antioxidants that neutralizes these free radicals.
It can lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol
We often think of all cholesterol as bad because high levels of this lipid in the body can significantly increase the risk of heart disease. Cholesterol does have an important role to play in the body, however, as it is required to build healthy cells.
Spirulina can help with this, as it can lower levels of LDL cholesterol (what is commonly referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol) in the body whilst raising levels of HDL (or ‘good’) cholesterol.
It could reduce blood pressure
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, strains the blood vessels, heart, and other organs, and can cause many problems such as heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease. Taking a higher daily dose of spirulina can be good for lowering blood pressure levels and therefore could help to protect people against these illnesses.
It could help with anaemia
There is some evidence that spirulina could be good for helping those suffering from anaemia, a condition where a lack of healthy red blood cells means oxygen cannot reach your body’s tissues effectively, causing fatigue and weakness.
Spirulina can potentially help with this condition by increasing the haemoglobin (the protein molecule that carries oxygen) content of red blood cells. This link was demonstrated in a study of 40 older people with a history of anaemia who were given spirulina supplements, but more research is needed in the area before firm conclusions can be made.
As you can see, spirulina is good for many functions in the body that contribute to our overall health and reduce the risk of disease.
However, it should be noted that those with the condition phenylketonuria (PKU) or an autoimmune condition should avoid spirulina because it contains an amino acid that cannot be metabolised by their bodies. You should always speak to your doctor before introducing new supplements into your diet.