Superfoods are considered nutrient dense food sources with high concentrations of vitamins and minerals with benefits that far exceed their nutrient values for human health. Blue-green algae spirulina is an amazing superfood that historically was among the first life forms on the Earth. Spirulina has amazing survival adaptations and is considered one of the richest superfoods.
Single-celled organisms make up spirulina. These organisms rely on photosynthesis to produce energy for survival. The bluish hue of spirulina is the reason why these algae are labeled as cyanobacteria given that the Greek word for blue is “cyano.” Anthocyanins give spirulina its blue color and when combined with the green color of chlorophyll phycocyanins it also contains its overall color is blue-green.
Powerful healing properties
Spirulina is contained in natural springs, saltwater oceans and freshwater all over the world. The algae was a staple of the North African and Aztec Indian (Mexico) diets centuries ago, and was consumed for its healing properties. It is revered as a superfood and nutraceutical by health experts everywhere.
Spirulina is considered a functional whole food due to its variety of nutrients which sustain life without the added requirement of other food sources. Amino acids are found in pre-digested proteins in the algae for a high rate of utilization and efficient absorption. It also is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, which are lacking in many modern diets. Aquatic life forms, such as krill and fish, rely on spirulina for omega-3 nutrients.
Spirulina also is an excellent source of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), an essential omega-6 fatty acid. Spirulina contains DNA-benefiting nucleic acids which provide the raw materials required for the repair of our DNA. This superfood also contains rich sources of methylating B vitamins folate and B6. The phytonutrient anthocyanins give it powerful antioxidant abilities which possess anti-carcinogenic activity.
Stimulates healthy gut flora
A healthy gut microbiome is enhanced from the anti-microbial properties of spirulina. Specifically, it assists in managing the development of pathogenic yeast and bacteria along the digestive tract. This ability is key to optimize nutritional absorption and digestion. These benefits also aid in the detoxification process of the bowels essential for total body health.
Due to its high concentration of chlorophyll, spirulina also acts as a blood cleanser. In other words, the chlorophyll aids in restoring red blood cells in the body and increases the absorption ability of magnesium into cells. This action helps oxygenate the blood stream while effectively removing toxins (1, 2). Compared to green vegetables by volume, spirulina contains approximately 10 times more chlorophyll.
Rich source of antioxidants
Spirulina is a potent source of a type of antioxidants called carotenoids. It contains 10 times more vitamin A in the form of beta carotene than do carrots by equal volume (3). Furthermore, it contains antioxidants beneficial for healthy vision and overall eye health such as zeaxanthin and lutein.
Polysaccharides are contained in spirulina, which stimulates functional productivity of spleen cells, the thymus, and bone marrow (4, 5). Along with anthocyanins, the compounds allophycocyanin and phycocyanin help give algae its blue color and these antioxidants have been found to stimulate white blood cell production (6).
A 2003 study found that spirulina has a tremendous impact on preventing free radical damage to organs caused by lead. It was shown to scavenge these free radicals preventing organs from the damaging effects of this dangerous heavy metal. The study also detected that spirulina is able to significantly decrease the storage of lead in the brain (7).
Enhances skin and eye health
SOD (superoxide dismutase) is one of the most well-known antioxidant powerhouses which protects against damaging effects of the superoxide molecule within the body. Spirulina is one of the best sources of SOD. SOD is biologically programmed to seek and destroy superoxide radicals and prevent tissue damage. When the body is deficient in this powerful antioxidant, the body increases in the rate of tissue degeneration and consequently aging (8).
Healthy skin is dependent on SOD and carotenoids found in spirulina (9). This combination is beneficial for improving skin problems such as eczema, acne, aging spots, and rashes. As mentioned earlier, carotenoids also benefit eye health as does SOD. Individuals with skin concerns, poor vision, cataracts or glaucoma should regularly consume spirulina.
Decreases risk of cancers
In the field of nutrition, spirulina is categorized as the best discovery yet of the 21st century (10). It is the wide array of dense nutrients contained in spirulina that has been shown in several studies to provide pharmacological actions such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, as well as cancer-preventative effects.
Today, much of the world around us can cause carcinogenic mutations from the toxins we absorb through our skin to the chemicals contained in our food. Supplementing spirulina into your diet is an effective way to combat the damaging effects of toxins accumulating in our bodies. One of the anticancer effects is attributed to its ability to act as an immunostimulatory agent or a substance which enhances the immune response to defend against abnormal and invasive cell growth (10).
- Skin Cancer
Researchers have shown that spirulina is able to inhibit the growth and development of tumors resulting from overexposure to UVB rays from the sun. In the study, spirulina was shown to promote healthy gene function, inhibit free radical producing enzymes, reduce inflammation and limit DNA damage (11).
- Reproductive Abnormalities and Cancer
Researchers conducted a study in 2014 testing the mutagenic effects of a common carcinogen, Benzo-alpha-pyrene (found in cigarette smoke, grilled foods, vehicle exhaust, etc.), and the effects of spirulina on the health of sex cells. This chemical negatively affects sperm cells, male reproduction, immune response, and embryonic development. Spirulina was shown in this study to promote apoptosis (cell death) of abnormal cells, prevent inflammation by reducing reactive free radical compounds, and supplement antioxidant-benefiting effects.
Supplementing spirulina into diets of animals exposed to Benzo-alpha-pyrene had a lower rate of genotoxicity and exhibited an increase in the successful implantation of a healthy embryo. Spirulina is believed to inhibit mutagenic activity by enhancing SOD and other antioxidant powerhouses relating to glutathione activity.
- Liver Cancer
Hepatocellular carcinoma is a common form of liver cancer which may be readily influenced by another pigment compound found in spirulina, C-Phycocyanin (C-Pc). C-Pc is found to reduce the rate at which cancerous liver cells multiply. Furthermore, this anti-mutagenic compound stimulates apoptosis in developed cancer cells and may reduce tumor mass (12).
How to get spirulina
Be sure to look for a certified organic as other types can be contaminated or have nitrate compounds as additives. You can get this in combination with other greens in a green superfood powder or with other detoxification herbs in a capsule-based supplement.
Most experts believe it is best to get it on its own and take 1-2 tablespoons daily. If fighting cancer, take 3-4 tablespoons daily.
Cautions about spirulina
Individuals with the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU) will have trouble digesting the amino acids in spirulina and should avoid it. Spirulina has blood-thinning properties, so it should be avoided by individuals on anticoagulant medications.
Some individuals with leaky gut, food sensitivities, and autoimmunity do not do well with spirulina. If you notice an increase in inflammatory conditions when consuming this, then it is best to avoid.