Spirulina is considered one of the most nutritious whole foods on the planet. It is a type of blue-green algae that grows naturally in warm, alkaline lakes around the world. Spirulina has been consumed for centuries by the Aztecs as well as other civilizations due to its immense nutritional content and health benefits.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a microscopic and filamentous cyanobacterium that is dried and compressed into a dark blue-green powder. Scientifically known as Arthrospira platensis, spirulina was one of the first life forms on Earth and continues to thrive today due to its ability to grow rapidly through photosynthesis. Spirulina gets its name from its coil-like and spiral filaments.
Some key facts about spirulina:
- Grows naturally in mineral-rich alkaline lakes, especially in Africa, South America, and Latin America
- One of the best plant-based sources of protein, containing about 60% protein by dry weight
- Rich in vitamin B1, B2, B3, iron, magnesium, potassium, and beta-carotene
- Significantly higher concentrations of nutrients compared to other vegetables, algae, and seaweeds
- Easy to digest and assimilate nutrients, even in powder form
Let's explore some of the top health benefits of spirulina supported by scientific research:
As mentioned, spirulina contains an immense amount of nutrients that are highly bioavailable to the body. Per 100 grams, it provides the following nutrients:
- Protein (60-70%): Complete protein containing all essential amino acids to build and repair tissues
- Iron (11% DV): Helpful for anemia and energy levels
- Vitamin B1 (15% DV): Converts carbs into energy and supports brain function
- Vitamin B2 (19% DV): Converts food into energy and antioxidant effects
- Vitamin B3 (53% DV): Vital for energy production and brain health
- Calcium (4% DV): Bone and teeth health
- Magnesium (21% DV): Important mineral that supports over 300 functions
- Phosphorus (11% DV): Bone health and cell growth and repair
- Potassium (6% DV): Heart and muscle function, hydration levels
Due to its nutrition density, spirulina acts almost like a liquid multivitamin providing many essential vitamins and minerals our bodies need.
Spirulina contains two special compounds that strongly boost immunity - phycocyanin and chlorophyll. These compounds have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties that support the immune system in fighting off infections and diseases.
Several studies have shown spirulina can enhance natural killer cell activity, antibody response, and thymus gland function which are all indicators of immune system strength.
Chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases like heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. Spirulina contains anti-inflammatory GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), antioxidants like carotenoids and phycocyanin, and other compounds that help quench free radicals and reduce inflammation in the body.
Research shows spirulina may help lower levels of inflammatory markers like CRP and cytokines making it an effective natural remedy for managing inflammatory conditions.
Due to its wealth of antioxidants like phycocyanin, beta-carotene, phenolic compounds, and vitamin C; spirulina is a potent scavenger of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the body. These free radicals are linked to age-related diseases and degeneration.
By neutralizing free radicals through antioxidation, spirulina may protect cells and DNA from oxidative damage and lower disease risk over the long-run.
Other Benefits of Spirulina
May Aid Weight Loss
Spirulina curbs appetite due to its high protein and fiber content. Research shows it may boost metabolism by up to 5% when taken regularly. This makes spirulina a nutritious addition to any weight loss diet.
Blood Sugar Balance
Several animal and human studies link spirulina intake to reductions in blood sugar levels and improved insulin sensitivity. This suggests it may provide benefits for managing diabetes and preventing hyperglycemia.
Rich in potassium, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins; spirulina supports heart health in multiple ways. It may reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, ease heart rate, prevent clots, and lower heart disease risk overall.
Early research links spirulina to enhanced cognitive performance, memory, focus, and mood stabilization due to its supply of B vitamins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and other brain-nourishing compounds.
Spirulina acts as a natural energy booster due to iron, B vitamins, antioxidants, and chlorophyll content. It increases stamina and endurance, especially for athletes seeking an organic pre-workout option.
The complete protein profile of spirulina makes it an effective recovery aid for muscle gain. Early studies show it may speed up muscle recovery and growth post-workout.
Spirulina has significant binding effects that help rid the body of toxins, carcinogens, heavy metals, and other pollutants. Regular intake assists natural detoxification and liver function.
Skin and Hair Health
Filled with essential fatty acids, proteins, antioxidants, and nutrients; spirulina nourishes skin and hair when taken internally. It may improve skin clarity, healing, hydration, and hair growth over time.
How to Take Spirulina
The optimal dose and form depends on your health goals:
- Powder Form: 1-3 grams per day mixed in water, juice or added to recipes is a good maintenance dose.
- Tablets: 500-1000mg daily as a dietary supplement depending on individual needs.
- Experience and tolerance also factors - start lower and gradually increase over weeks.
- Look for a high quality brand and source from organic spirulina farms when possible.
Some ways to take spirulina powder:
- Blend into smoothies, protein shakes, juices or nut milks. Apple and spinach hide flavors well.
- Sprinkle on top of cereal, oatmeal, yogurt or ice cream for extra nutrition.
- Mix with water or juice if you can tolerate the taste. Experiment with sweetener or mint leaves.
- Fold into homemade energy bars, granola, hummus or other dips and spreads.
Potential Side Effects
When taken in proper amounts, spirulina is generally safe and non-toxic. However, some potential side effects to be aware of include:
- Mild abdominal discomfort, nausea or diarrhea if excessive amount consumed at once. Go slow.
- May interfere with certain medications due to antioxidants. Consult doctor about interactions.
- Rare allergic reactions possible in sensitive individuals. Monitor for rash, itching throat.
- High doses in pregnant or breastfeeding women not recommended due to lack of research.
Spirulina Recipes to Try
Combine 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 banana, 1 cup milk, 1 tbsp honey, and 1 tbsp spirulina powder. Cook in a pan like regular pancakes.
Mix 1/2 cup pitted dates, 1/3 cup almonds, 1 tbsp chia or flax seeds, 1/2 tbsp coconut, 1/4 tsp vanilla, pinch salt and 1/2 tbsp spirulina. Roll into balls and coat with coconut if desired.
Blend 2 cups basil, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 3 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup parmesan and 1 tbsp spirulina. Toss with your favorite pasta.
Blend 1 banana, 1 tbsp cocoa powder, 1 cup milk, 1 tbsp almond butter, 1/2 cup ice and 1/2 tbsp spirulina until frothy.
Mix 1 15oz can chickpeas, 1/4 cup tahini, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 3 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 tsp cumin and 1 tbsp spirulina until smooth. Serve with veggies.
Where to Buy Spirulina
The best places to purchase high quality spirulina include:
- Local health stores: Find reputable brands and ask staff for recommendations.
- Vitamin retailers: Sites like Vitacost, iHerb, Swanson carry popular spirulina powders and tablets.
- Direct from brands: Order online from specialized brands grown ethically at verified farms.
- Farmers markets: Sometimes artisan producers sell small batches of superfoods like spirulina fresh.
When buying, look for organically grown non-GMO spirulina powders/tablets with certificates of purity from third-party labs. Refrigerate after opening for maximum freshness.
The Bottom Line
Spirulina is a nutritionally dense microalgae packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other compounds that can support immunity, gut health, detox, weight management and overall well-being. It's exceptionally sustainable, easily digestible superfood that's a natural addition to any diet when consumed in proper amounts.
With regular use, most individuals experience health benefits from spirulina. Start with a low dose and gradually increase as tolerated for optimum results. Combining it with lifestyle habits like exercise and stress management amplifies its effects. Remember to consult your doctor if taking any medications.