Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that is found naturally in fresh water. It is one of the oldest lifeforms on Earth and was first discovered by the Aztecs over 1,000 years ago. Since then, scientists have determined that spirulina is packed with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein, antioxidants and more.
Spirulina received recognition by the World Health Organization in the 1970s for its high content of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carotenoids and phycocyanin pigment. Today, it has grown in popularity as a nutritional supplement due to its impressive array of potential health benefits.
A single tablespoon (4 grams) of dried spirulina contains the following nutrients:
- 4 grams protein
- 2 grams fat
- 1 gram carbohydrates
- Vitamin K - 27% DV
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) - 15% DV
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) - 11% DV
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin) - 5% DV
- Copper - 16% DV
- Iron - 11% DV
- Manganese - 5% DV
- Selenium - 21% DV
As you can see, spirulina is high in several important nutrients like protein, iron, copper and selenium. It also contains antioxidant phytonutrients including phycocyanin, which gives it a vibrant blue-green color.
1 - Weight Loss
Consuming spirulina may aid in weight loss through appetite suppression. Studies have found that spirulina consumption reduces levels of ghrelin, the "hunger hormone", which helps you feel fuller for longer. It also increases levels of leptin, a hormone that regulates metabolism and stops you from overeating.
Even without intentionally restricting calories, spirulina can help facilitate modest weight loss over time by improving metabolism and balancing hunger hormones. One study gave overweight adults 3 grams of spirulina per day and saw a significant decrease in body weight, BMI and waist circumference after 8 weeks.
2 - Muscle Building
Spirulina is an excellent source of high-quality plant-based protein, containing all essential amino acids. Protein is the main building block for muscle growth and recovery after workouts. Taking spirulina daily can help your muscle tissues repair and rebuild stronger.
Early research also shows spirulina may enhance exercise performance. In one study, male swimmers who took spirulina for 4 weeks improved time trial performance by over 4% compared to a placebo group. The antioxidants in spirulina likely reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and speed recovery.
3 - Diabetes Management
Studies link spirulina consumption to improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in individuals with diabetes or prediabetes. In one study, type 2 diabetics who took 8 grams of spirulina daily for 8 weeks saw reductions in fasting blood sugar, HbA1c, LDL "bad" cholesterol and increases in HDL "good" cholesterol.
Another study gave diabetics 500mg of spirulina twice daily and found significant decreases in post-meal blood sugar spikes over 8 weeks. The abundant vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in spirulina all likely contribute to its anti-diabetic effects.
4 - Detoxification Support
The high antioxidant content of spirulina makes it a potent detox supporter. Phycocyanin gives spirulina its distinctive blue-green color and has demonstrated powerful antioxidant actions in the body. It helps neutralize free radicals and flush out toxins at the cellular level.
Studies show spirulina also supports Phase I and Phase II detox enzymes in the liver. A healthy detox system is crucial for eliminating excess hormones, chemicals, pollutants and other toxic substances from our bodies on a daily basis. Regular spirulina intake can help maintain optimal detox organ function.
5 - Immune System Enhancement
Spirulina contains beta-carotene and other compounds that aid immune cell communication and response against pathogens. Research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found spirulina supplementation upregulates genes encoding for natural killer cell activity and antiviral defense in humans.
Mouse studies show spirulina stimulates T cell and B cell proliferation, important for both cellular and antibody-mediated immune defenses. By supporting a robust immune system from within, spirulina may help ward off colds, flu and other infections.
6 - Skin Health
When taken orally or applied topically, spirulina benefits your skin in multiple ways. The high antioxidant levels protect skin at the cellular level against damage. They also help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation linked to skin aging and breakouts.
Plus, compounds like phycocyanin give spirulina a greenish tint that works as a natural sunscreen when applied to skin pre-exposure. Lab tests show phycocyanin provides SPF protection against UVB rays comparable to commercial sunscreens.
Early studies demonstrate spirulina improves skin hydration and brightness when taken daily for 8-12 weeks. Nutrients like copper and iron support collagen production for firmer, plumper skin over time as well.
7 - Hair Health
Internal spirulina consumption and occasional topical application to the scalp promote thicker, healthier hair. The protein, iron, B vitamins and antioxidants in spirulina nourish follicles and prevent damage from environmental stressors.
Lab research published in Pharmacognosy Magazine found spirulina protect hair against chlorine damage when applied before swimming. Combined with its ability to support circulation, spirulina may prevent hair thinning and loss over the long run.
One study gave women spirulina supplements for 3 months and observed significant improvements in hair strength, hair density and reductions in breakage frequency compared to placebo.
8 - Energy Levels
Spirulina contains iron for oxygen transportation to cells and B vitamins for energy metabolism. This makes it a natural energy booster when you need a pick-me-up. The high protein content also provides sustained energy from balanced blood sugar.
Research shows spirulina supplementation increases stamina, focus and mental alertness within 30 minutes for up to 3 hours post-consumption. Athletes or active individuals often use spirulina as a pre-workout supplement to increase endurance during exercise.
9 - Brain Health
Studies link spirulina's compounds like phycocyanin, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to neuroprotective effects. They help maintain optimal blood flow to the brain and may shield neurons against age-related cognitive decline.
One study gave older adults 500mg of spirulina supplements twice daily for 16 weeks and observed significant improvements in working memory and selective attention tasks. Blood tests showed spirulina reduced inflammation implicated in dementia progression as well.
10 - Overall Health
Eating foods like spirulina every day promotes a strong foundation of wellness from within. The nutrients in spirulina support nearly every system in your body from cardiovascular health to digestive regularity.
Plus, the high protein and antioxidant content promote satiation to control appetite and curb unhealthy cravings. People who regularly consume spirulina report increased energy levels, better moods, fewer illnesses throughout the year and an overall heightened feeling of well-being.
How to Take Spirulina
The typical recommended dosage is 1-3 grams per day for general wellness benefits. You can add spirulina to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal or mix it in water as a shot.
If using spirulina powder, start with half a teaspoon and gradually work up to 1-2 teaspoons daily mixed in liquid or food over 1-2 weeks as your body adapts to its potent nutrients.
Here are some delicious ways to incorporate spirulina into your diet:
Blend 1 banana, 1 cup spinach or kale, 1⁄2 avocado, 1 cup coconut water/milk and 1 tsp spirulina powder.
Mix 1⁄4 cup nut/seed butter, 1⁄4 cup coconut, 1⁄4 cup oats, 1 tsp honey and 1⁄2 tsp spirulina.
Mix 1⁄2 cup oats, 1 cup milk of choice, 1 tbsp chia seeds, 1 tsp spirulina and enjoy chilled the next day.
Toss cooked pasta with fresh pesto and sprinkle 1⁄2 tsp spirulina for a pop of green color.
Green Goddess Dressing
Blend 1⁄4 cup olive oil, 1⁄4 cup yogurt/mayo, 1 garlic clove, 1⁄4 cup fresh herbs and 1⁄2 tsp spirulina.
Potential Side Effects
While spirulina is generally well-tolerated, potential side effects at high doses include:
- Stomach discomfort/nausea
- Rashes or itching
- Muscle pain
If pregnant or nursing, consult your doctor before using spirulina. People with phenylketonuria (PKU) or selenium toxicity risk should also check with their provider prior to supplementation.
Where to Buy Spirulina
You can find spirulina powder or tablets at most health food stores, vitamin shops and online retailers like Amazon. Look for organic varieties from reputable manufacturers whenever possible.
Make sure to store spirulina in a cool, dark place and consume within 6-12 months of opening for maximum freshness and potency of nutrients.
Spirulina is a microalgae nutrition powerhouse with significant health benefits backed by science. Regular consumption through food or supplements can help support weight loss, metabolism, immunity, muscle growth and overall wellness.
Start with small doses and listen to your body's feedback as you increase intake over weeks. Combined with a healthy lifestyle, spirulina shows great potential as an accessible superfood for enhancement of mind and body performance.