Spirulina is a microscopic plant that grows in alkaline water. There are several species. The ones most commonly used in supplements are Spirulina maxima and Spirulina platensis. Spirulina is one of the blue-green algae due to the presence of both phycocyanin (blue) and chlorophyll (green) pigments in its cellular structure. These algae includes more than 60% protein including being a complete source of the 8 essential amino acids and 10 non-essential amino acids.
Spirulina Therapeutic Properties and Benefits
Spirulina contains a number of nutrients, including B-complex vitamins, amino acids, phytonutrients, iron, antioxidants, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. Dried Spirulina contains approximately 60% protein. Spirulina is very high in chlorophyll, which helps remove toxins from the blood and increase the immune function. An “Oregon State University” research in which lab animals were exposed to a strong cancer-causing substance found that animals given a chlorophyll prior to exposure developed far fewer tumors than animals who were not given the chlorophyll.
Spirulina includes high amounts of carotenes (including beta carotene) and xanthophylls (including cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin). Zeaxanthin is a predominant xanthophyll in human eyes and may lessen the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Increased risk of age related macular degeneration may result from low levels of zeaxanthin and lutein in the diet, serum or retina, and excessive exposure to blue light. Research findings indicates a potent correlation between high blood serum levels of zeaxanthin and a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataract formation. According to a study published in the November 2002 issue of “Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science” indicates that supplementing your diet with zeaxanthin helps to avoid and reduce harm to the retinas. In a study of 2500 persons (POLA Study), high levels of zeaxanthin in their blood have 93 percent less risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and 75 percent less risk of developing a nuclear cataract. In another study with 5000 participants found high dietary lutein and zeaxanthin intake reduces the risk of developing a cortical cataract by 30%. Beta carotene has strong antioxidant effects, helps the body scavenge free radicals, therefore limiting the damage to cell membranes, DNA and protein structures in the cell. Findings from a number of studies suggest that beta-carotene containing foods avoid the initiation and progression of different cancers. Beta carotene stimulates a molecule that helps the immune system target and destroy cancer cells. It increases the number of receptors on white blood cells for a molecule known as major histocompatibility complex II. MHC II is integral in helping monocytes, a type of white blood cell, direct killer T cells to cancerous cells.
Spirulina promotes digestion and bowel function. These algae is 95 percent digestible because it has soft cell walls. Spirulina suppresses bad bacteria like Candida yeast and Escherichia coli and stimulates useful gut flora like lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. In a study reported in the journal Vegetos found that spirulina destroys fungal pathogens as well, including, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida albicans. A study in Japan demonstrated spirulina increased lactobacillus by 300% compared to a control group. Chlorophyll in spirulina helps to sanitize the bowel by detoxifying the colon and intestines. Also, the chlorophyll helps to coat the irritable stomach lining, thus aiding the alleviate symptoms of gastric ulcers and inhibit ulceration.
The main active component of spirulina is phycocyanobilin, which constitutes approximately 1% of spirulina by weight. This substance inhibits NADPH oxidase. Oxidative stress is one important source of inflammation, and in your brain, it can result in loss of dopamine neurons and lead to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. NADPH oxidase has been shown to play a role in these ailments.
A 2002 study by the Department of Animal Sciences at India’s University of Hyderabad from the US National Institutes of Health’s research data publication site, explains the process by which spirulina is able to inhibit the elevated levels of Cycloxygenase-2 associated with inflammation and cancer. 2002 study at Havana’s Ozone International Center demonstrated that phycocyanin from spirulina acted as an anti-inflammatory in protecting live mice which had been injected with arthritis-inducing Zymosan. The mice demonstrated no cartilage damage and an inhibited inflammatory response after receiving spirulina for 8 days following their Zymosan injections. Spirulina has preventive properties against brain damage caused by strokes, according to a study reported in the Sep 2010 edition of Journal of Neural Transmission. Also, Dr. Bickford and colleagues at found that, following induced strokes, rats which had been given diets supplemented with spirulina showed brains lesions 75% smaller than those of control group rats.
Preliminary study findings show that taking 1 g of spirulina fusiformis daily by mouth for 12 months reduces oral leukoplakia in individuals who chew tobacco. Indian researchers conducted the human study of spirulina-based cancer therapy in 1995. Researchers reported a complete regression of pre-cancerous mouth lesions in 45% of participants who were given spirulina for 12 months. According to a study reported in October 2005 in the Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology; spirulina develops the activity of white blood cells, stimulates antibodies and enhances the number of natural killer cells. A study performed by a Chinese scientists reported in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy in Oct 2009, show that a combination of selenium and Spirulina plantesis may have the effect to avoid human breast cancer.
Spirulina activates very of the several immune cells, including macrophages, T-cells, B-cells, and natural killer cells. Besides, activates the organs involved with immune function such as the spleen, liver, bone marrow, and thymus gland. Researchers discovered that it not just stimulates the immune system, also, improves the body’s ability to generate new blood cells. In vitro experiments found that spirulina had antiviral activity against cytomegalovirus, mumps, measles, influenza A viruses, HIV and herpes simplex. In 1996, researchers from the Laboratory of Viral Pathogenesis, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School announced on-going research, saying, “Water extract of Spirulina platensis inhibits HIV-1 replication in human derived T-cell lines and in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells. A concentration of 5-10 mg/ml was found to reduce viral production.”
Spirulina has a dark blue-green color, because it is rich in a brilliant blue polypeptide called phycocyanin, which affects the stem cells found in bone marrow. Chinese researchers documented phycocyanin as stimulating hematopoiesis, emulating the affect of the hormone erythropoetin (EPO). EPO is produced by healthful kidneys and regulates bone marrow stem cell production of red blood cells. Chinese researchers claim phycocyanin also regulates production of white blood cells, even when toxic chemicals or radiation damages bone marrow stem cells. Based on this property, spirulina is approved in Russia for treating radiation sickness. These algae was used to treat children suffering radiation sickness after the Chernobyl disaster. Their bone marrow is damaged, rendering them immunodeficient and unable to produce normal red or white blood cells. Children fed only 5 g of Spirulina tablets each day make impressive recoveries within 6 weeks. Children not given Spirulina remain diseased.
The general standard dose for spirulina is 4 to 6 500 mg tablets per day.
Individuals suffering from phenylketonuria, also called PKU, should not use spirulina. Spirulina can be contaminated with toxic substances called microcystins. These toxic substances are not produced by spirulina itself, however may occur as a result of contamination of spirulina batches with other, toxin-producing, blue-green algae . Microcystin contamination can cause renal failure, hepatotoxicity, and neurotoxicity.