Spirulina – the research and some tasty recipes!
The WHO (World Health Organisation) has called it one of the greatest super foods on earth and New Agers all over the world are rediscovering the wonders of spirulina. Here we will take a look at some of the research on spirulina and what makes this food so remarkable.
Spirulina is a potent, nutrient dense super food that is derived from a single-celled blue-green alga grown in temperate waters around the world. Spirulina boasts a high content of GLA[i][ii], chlorophyll and contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium potassium and zinc[iii]. Spirulina possesses the highest quantity of protein (65%) of any natural food, far superior to animal flesh which contains 15-25%[iv].
| What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants help us to protect ourselves from harmful free radicals that we encounter and produce daily. They accomplish this by quenching them (by donating an electron) and rendering them harmless so they can be expelled.
Spirulina contains beta-carotene, tocopherols, phenolic acids (phycocyanin)4 and chlorophyll, all of which exhibit antioxidant properties[v], though phycocyanin is thought to be the main component responsible for spirulina’s potent antioxidant activity[vi]. Phycocyanin scavenges peroxyl, hydroxyl and alkoxyl radicals (types of free radicals) in vitro (samples of a tissue/cell taken and tested); and may also reduce tumour necrosis factor-alpha and inhibit microsomal lipid peroxidation (oxidation of lipids forming harmful free radicals).
Further studies have shown the potential of spirulina to increase antioxidant enzymes to near normal levels where they have previously been reduced due to toxicity[vii].
Spirulina aids humoral and cellular mechanisms of the immune system[viii]; it achieves this via varied mechanisms, it stimulates the production of beneficial antibodies and cytokines, increases the level of natural killer cells (that attack tumour cells) and increases the activity of macrophages[ix] (a type of white blood cell that ingests foreign material). With these immunological functions being increased, spirulina may help to enhance disease resistance potential.
Mao et al (2005) carried out a study showing allergic patients consuming spirulina can decrease the allergic response. Spirulina accomplishes this by reducing the production of Interleukin-4 (causes B cells to make antibodies and increases the production of T cells) from phytohemagglutinin stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (type of blood cell) by 32%[x].
Spirulina is easily digested, as its cellular wall consists from mucopolysaccharides (no cellulose wall). Spirulina may also aid proliferation of intestinal lactobacilli thereby assisting gastrointestinal function[xi].
Spirulina boasts antioxidant and immune properties and also makes a great alternative to synthetically manufactured multivitamin supplements.
The quality (organic) and quantity in which you take spirulina will inevitably affect the results you obtain, consuming an amount equivalent to what you wish to address is most advisable. Numerous research trials have used a plethora of dosages in their studies; some trials used 800mg per kg of body weight, others up to 20g a day and everywhere in between depending on the situation. This indicates that a mere consumption of a few tablets would unlikely produce an affect (i.e. at minimum, 5x 1000mg tablets for a 65kg person).
Spirulina energy balls
1 cup ground almonds
1 tbsp Chia seeds
1 cup medjool dates, chopped fine
2 tbsp sultanas
1 tsp Spirulina powder (preferably organic)
2 tbsp Goji Berries
1 tsp lemon rind
1 tsp Agave syrup or honey
1 tbsp desiccated coconut
Add nuts into food processor and blend until chunky. Add all ingredients into the same food processor except the coconut. Once it comes away from the sides it is ready to roll into balls (if it doesn’t come away use a little water to form a dough), roll the balls in coconut.
Store in an airtight container. Refrigerate – will last 1 week.
1 tbsp spirulina
½ cup coconut water
¼ cup blueberries
1 slice of pineapple
Place all ingredients into a blender and process until smooth, then enjoy!
The information contained in this article is based on published nutritional research. It is in no way designed to diagnose or treat specific medical conditions. If you suffer from any chronic health problem; take prescription medication or are pregnant or lactating, please speak to your health professional.
[i] Karkos P.D, Leong S.C, et al (2011) Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications. Evidence-Based Comp and Alt Med; 2011: 1-4.
[ii] Sajilata M.G, Singhal R.S, Kamat M.Y (2008) Fractionation of lipids and purification of γ-linolenic acid (GLA) from Spirulinaplatensis. Food Chem; 109 (3): 580–586.
[iii] Burnett B (2005) Spirulina: aquatic water super-food. Alive: Can. J. Health Nutr.;274:50-55.
[iv] Chakdar H, Jadhav D et al (2012) Potential applications of blue green algae. J Sci Indust Res; 71: 13-20.
[v] Panyarachun B, Anupunpisit V, et al (2009) The Decrease of Rouleaux Formation of Red Blood Cells in Healthy Human by Water-Soluble Chlorophyll as Revealed by Scanning Electron Microscopy. Thai Pharm Health Sci J;4(4):450-455.
[vi] Pinero Estranda J, Bermejo Bescos P, Villar del Fresno A (2001) Antioxidant activity of different fractions of Spirulina platensis protean extract. Farmaco; 56(5-7): 497-500.
[vii] Sharma M, Sharma A, Kumar A, et al (2007) Spirulina fusiforms provides protection against mercuric chloride induced oxidative stress in Swiss albino mice. Food Chem. Toxicol.; 45(12): 2412-2419.
[viii] Pinero Estrada J.E, Bermejo Bescos P & Villar del Fresno, A.M. (2001) Antioxidant Activity of Different Fractions of Spirulina Platensis Protean Extract, Elsevier; 56: 497–500.
[ix] Khan Z, Bhadouria P & Bisen P (2005) Nutritional and therapeutic potential of Spirulina. Curr. Pharm. Biotechnol.; 6(5): 373-379.
[x] Mao T.K, Van de Water J & Gershwin M.E (2005) Effects of a Spirulina-Based Dietary Supplement on Cytokine Production from Allergic Rhinitis Patients, J of Med Food; 8(1): 27-30.
[xi] Dola Bhowmik, Jaishree Dubey and Sandeep Mehra (2009), Probiotic Efficiency of Spirulina platensis – Stimulating Growth of Lactic Acid Bacteria.World J of Dairy & Food Sciences; 4 (2): 160-163.
[xii] Beard, J.L (2001) Iron Biology in Immune Function, Muscle Metabolism and Neuronal Functioning. The J of Nutr; 131: 568-580.
[xiii] Ahlumalia N, Sun J, et al (2004) Immune Function is Impaired in Iron-deficient, homebound, older women. Am J Clin Nut; 79(3): 516-521.