With the rise in popularity of superfoods that claim to have exceptional healing properties and high nutritional value, Spirulina is definitely part of this group. The use of this microalgae dates back to the Aztec civilization when it was harvested from Lake Texcoco in Mexico and used for strength, endurance, and healing.
The Whole Health Organization (WHO) has recommended it as a treatment for malnutrition in undernourished people in the developing world. NASA has even proposed it be used as a dietary supplement by astronauts while on mission.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, which is a blue-green algae grown and harvested from various fresh water and salt water sources around the world. As a nutritionally potent supplement it is a great source of a variety of vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants. This greens product rich in chlorophyl promotes cellular health, detoxification, and helps to manage conditions such as hypertension, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol.
Spirulina Nutrition Facts
One tablespoon (7 grams) of dried Spirulina contains:
- Calories – 20
- Protein – 4.02g
- Carbohydrate – 1.67g
- Fat – 0.54g
- Iron -11% RDA
- Copper -21% RDA
- Vitamin B3 – 4%
- Vitamin B2 – 15%
- Vitamin B1 – 11%
It is also a source of vitamins including B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K. It contains electrolytes, minerals, and fatty acids including calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, zinc, potassium, sodium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, and GLA (gamma-linolenic acid).
Spirulina Health Benefits
Spirulina is a superfood that is gram for gram one of the most nutrient-dense foods. It is considered a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids and has a 65% protein content. For vegetarians and vegans it is a great plant-based protein source, high in vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and phytonutrients (1). As a natural multivitamin, it helps you stay nourished, promotes cellular repair, and wards off nutritional deficiencies.
2. Powerful Antioxidant
The main active compound in Spirulina is phycocyanin, which has potent antioxidant, anti- inflammatory, and immune supportive properties (2, 3). Antioxidants combat oxidative stress and protect cells and DNA from free radical damage, which contributes to illness and premature aging. The chlorophyll in Spirulina provides anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and wound healing
support. With its alkaline rich properties it removes toxins from the blood, maintains cellular health, and keeps the body in a state of balance.
3. Liver Detox
Spirulina can be used for detoxing toxins and heavy metals from the body. As a cyanobacteria it easily accumulates heavy metals due to its ion-binding properties, gently pulling them out of the body.
Spirulina’s high chlorophyll and antioxidant content assist the detox pathways in removing toxins from the blood, lymph, and liver. Spirulina has been shown to remove toxins including arsenic, fluoride, iron, lead, and mercury. When taken with zinc it can further boost removal of arsenic from the body (4). It is both a great detox support and nutrient replenisher, as it helps to avoid vitamin and mineral depletion that can commonly occur during detox.
4. Lipid Lowering
Spirulina has effective hypolipidemic effects on the body. Elevated cholesterol levels lead to increased risk of heart disease including atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke. Spirulina has been shown to lower total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides, while increasing HDL “good” cholesterol (5, 6).
These lipid lowering effects have also shown to be beneficial in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Spirulina appears to lower lipid levels as well as lower elevated liver enzymes in NAFLD, proving multiple beneficial metabolic effects.
5. Lower Blood Pressure
Spirulina can be beneficial in managing and lowering elevated blood pressure. High blood pressure is known to increase your risk for heart attack, stroke, and chronic kidney disease.
Spirulina increases nitric oxide production in the body, causing blood vessels to relax through vasodilation. This allows blood to flow more easily with less resistance. Studies show it helps to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure making it a potent antihypertensive agent (7).
6. Athletic Endurance
Spirulina with its high antioxidant and protein content makes it beneficial for athletic performance and recovery. Regular use of Spirulina by athletes increases fat oxidation for fuel during exercise, while decreasing glucose oxidation.
Spirulina reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress that contributes to muscle fatigue and damage. This is how Spirulina is able to increase exercise endurance, with longer time to fatigue. The effects of Spirulina at the cellular level make it a beneficial addition to your workout regimen.
7. Boost Weight Loss
Spirulina can be a useful addition to a weight loss program. This nutrient rich, high protein superfood contains only 20 calories per tablespoon. Spirulina is packed with vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes to support metabolic activity and cellular health.
It contains the amino acid l- phenylalanine, which stimulates cholecystokinin (CCK) release in the small intestine causing appetite suppression through reduction of hunger and cravings. Studies have shown a significant reduction in body weight with the use of Spirulina.
8. Relieve Allergies
Spirulina is a great option for allergy relief. It reduces inflammation that causes nasal congestion and other symptoms of allergic rhinitis. Allergy symptoms triggered by environmental allergens such as pollen, dust, and pet dander can benefit from Spirulina.
It decreases the pro-inflammatory cytokine marker IL-4, leading to improvement of symptoms. Studies show that regular and consistent use of Spirulina can significantly reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitis including nasal congestion, sneezing, nasal discharge, and itching.
9. Balance Blood Sugar
Spirulina is beneficial for long term blood sugar regulation. Elevated blood glucose levels increase the risk for insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes.
Studies have shown a reduction in blood glucose and hemoglobin A1c, a marker of long term blood glucose levels, in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes . Spirulina is a great overall metabolic support for Type 2 Diabetes as it can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce weight gain, and lower lipid levels.
10. Anti-inflammatory Support
Spirulina is a dietary source of plant-based essential fatty acids. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega 6 fatty acid with powerful anti-inflammatory effects. GLA is the precursor to prostaglandins, which are master hormones in the body with various functions.
This fatty acid has a nourishing and protective effect on hair, skin, nails, and joints. It is essential for skeletal, brain, and reproductive health. GLA has the ability to reduce inflammation that can contribute to chronic diseases including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
How to Use Spirulina
Spirulina is available in the form of
Suggested serving: 3 grams per day. Regular daily use of Spirulina is recommended to get the greatest health benefits.
- Add to fruit and vegetable juices.
- Sprinkle over popcorn.
- Mix into dips, soups, and salad dressings.
- Take it as a supplement in capsule or tablet form. Read product label and consult with your doctor for further directions.
1. Wild Blueberry Spirulina Smoothie
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1 banana
- 1 handful of spinach
- 1/2 cup wild blueberries
- 1 tsp Spirulina.
Blend and enjoy
2. Spirulina Energy Balls:
- 1 cup oats
- 1/4 cup nut butter
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup carob nibs
- 1/4 cup chopped dates
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds
- 1/8 cup sesame seeds
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1.5 Tbsp Spirulina
- 1/8 cup almond milk as needed.
Mix, roll into 10-12 balls, freeze for 1-2 hrs.
3. Spirulina Hummus:
1 cap chickpeas, 1 cloves garlic, 3 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp tahini, 2 Tbsp Spirulina powder, salt and pepper to taste. Blend in food processor and serve.
Precautions & Possible Side Effects
- Spirulina is considered a safe supplement with no reports of serious illness or toxicity.
- As an algae grown and harvested in bodies of water, there is the risk of contamination with toxins. To avoid this, choose companies that are organic, non-GMO, gluten-free since quality varies between brands.
- Spirulina contains the amino acid phenylalanine and should be avoided by people with phenylketonuria (PKU), who have difficulty metabolizing this amino acid.
- Consult with your doctor if taking blood thinners such as Warfarin and NSAIDs, as Spirulina may interfere with these medications.
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult with their medical doctor before starting any new supplements to ensure safety and prevent any complications.
- Check with your doctor before starting, especially if taking other supplements or medications to ensure no possible interactions.
About the Author:
Dr. Sierra Padmoroff is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, Lifestyle Transformation Coach, and Holistic Healer. She received her medical degree from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA, along with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology from University of British Columbia Okanagan. Following graduation, she completed a naturopathic residency program in primary care, utilizing integrative medical approaches.
During her training, she participated in clinical research on Parkinson’s Disease prevention at Bastyr University and was funded through the UBC Faculty of Medicine to participate in women’s health research at Kelowna General Hospital. She is passionate about teaching, inspiring, and empowering others to embrace their unlimited potential and to maintain health and wellbeing of body, mind, and soul. Dr. Sierra holds her naturopathic license in Washington State.
She is a current member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) and Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians (WANP).