Spirulina is a form of algae that can be found naturally in many parts of Africa, in Asia, Central America, and in California. It has been harvested for food for centuries and was famously used by the Aztecs and given to the Spanish Conquistadores. It is now often sold as a nutritional supplement and has become very popular in the vegetarian and vegan communities.
But how healthy is spirulina? In this article we will examine this supplement and list the six main health benefits of spirulina.
1. Spirulina Is An Excellent Source Of Iron
One of the common issues facing vegans is iron deficiency, this is because meat contains a lot of iron. 100g of spirulina contains 219% of your recommended daily allowance of iron, though a serving size would be closer to 10g. Even so, this represents 22% of your RDA. This makes spirulina a great supplement for any women who are menstruating, or if you are anemic.
A 2011 study published in Cellular & Molecular Immunology found that taking spirulina can help prevent anemia by increasing the hemoglobin in red blood cells .
If you need to increase your iron intake, then taking spirulina instead of an iron supplement may be a good idea. It is high in iron, but also has many other benefits (as we will see).
2. Spirulina Is High In Protein
Spirulina is an excellent source of protein for vegetarians, it is made up of 57.45% protein, with 5.74g per 10g serving. If you had a 10g serving of spirulina 5x per day then you would have 25g of protein, a decent amount.
There are many benefits to increasing your daily protein intake, increased strength and muscle size (when paired with resistance exercise), improved recovery from exercise, increased satiety (how full you feel after a meal), raised metabolism (as protein is the hardest macronutrient to digest), and the ability to maintain muscle mass while in a calorie deficit – important for anyone who is trying to lose weight.
3. Spirulina May Help Treat Diabetes
There appears to be evidence that spirulina may be effective in the treatment of both type I and type II diabetes. A 2017 study by Lee et al looked at the effect of spirulina on mice with type I diabetes .
It does this by preventing the damage and destruction of certain cells by inhibiting nitric oxide (which has many benefits but can also lead to cell apoptosis (death) of beta-cells. These are the cells that produce insulin , which is why protecting them is important for type I diabetics (and everyone else).
But spirulina may also be effective at treating type II diabetes, a 2001 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food looked at the effect of spirulina on type II diabetics . The researchers found that spirulina can improve type II diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels.
Whether you have type I or type II diabetes taking a spirulina supplement should help you to manage better. It might also be helpful for people who are at risk of developing type II diabetes.
4. Spirulina Can Lower Cholesterol
High cholesterol is one of the biggest causes of heart attacks and leads to many an early death. Anyone who has been told that their cholesterol is too high should make a serious effort to lower it as quickly as possible.
Spirulina may be an effective method of lowering total cholesterol. This is due to the effect that it has on LDL (bad) cholesterol. A 2014 study by Mazokopakis et al found that taking 1g of spirulina per day for 12 weeks led to a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol, and a slight increase in HDL (good) cholesterol .
Atherosclerosis is the disease that occurs once your cholesterol levels have risen too far and have caused plaque to build up on the walls of your blood vessels. It leads to hardening and narrowing of your arteries and leads to increased blood pressure.
Spirulina appears to be able to reverse atherosclerosis. By lowering your LDL cholesterol levels, increasing your HDL cholesterol levels and lowering triglycerides, spirulina can effectively prevent atherosclerosis from developing further, and in time it can even reverse the damage caused .
Because of all this, it is perhaps no surprise that spirulina has been found to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. A 2007 study published in Lipids Health & Disease found that taking spirulina led to a reduction in blood lipids, a reduction in LDL cholesterol, and a significant reduction in blood pressure .
This lowering of blood pressure may be down to inhibition of nitric oxide production, but also due to the reduction of LDL cholesterol and reversal of atherosclerosis.
5. Spirulina May Prevent Mouth Cancer
While cancer of the mouth may not be particularly well known in some countries (it is the 11th most common cancer in the world), in countries where chewing tobacco is popular (such as India) oral cancer is more common. A 1995 study on tobacco chewers in Kerala, India found that taking spirulina led to a reduction in cancerous lesions and ulcers .
There is some evidence that spirulina may help to prevent other cancers, but mouth cancer is the most studied and so far has yielded the strongest results.
6. Spirulina Improves Exercise Performance
Thanks to its high protein content, spirulina was always going to be a useful supplement for people who exercise regularly. But it seems that spirulina can improve exercise performance in more ways than one. A 2009 study published in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise looked at the effect of spirulina supplementation on running performance .
The study found that taking spirulina (as opposed to a placebo) led to an increase in the time it took for the runners to fatigue. Meaning that they were able to run further and for longer when taking spirulina. The study also noted an increase in the amount of fat oxidized (burning body fat for fuel), meaning that spirulina may be effective at increasing fat loss during exercise.
A 2006 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that taking spirulina led to a reduction in skeletal muscle damage during high intensity exercise . While muscle damage is necessary for protein synthesis to occur, it can lead to a drop in performance. Delaying fatigue and muscle soreness can help you to exercise for longer without a drop in intensity. It appears that spirulina can help achieve this.
Spirulina is a high-protein vegan-friendly supplement that is absolutely packed with nutrients. It provides numerous health benefits and it is no surprise that the supplement industry has started to take notice. You can now buy greens supplements containing spirulina, some of them even taste nice! As with most dietary supplements, spirulina is constantly being evaluated and it could be that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what benefits it offers.