Spirulina widely known as a blue-green algae but, in actual fact, this organism is a special type of bacteria, known as cyanobacterium. In recent years, this ‘superfood’ has skyrocketed in popularity, becoming recognised as one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there! But what are the real health benefits attributed to this algae and does it really measure up to the hype? Today I do some sleuthing to find out more about this blue-green superfood!
Spirulina as a source of nutrients
One of the main benefits touted about spirulina is its nutritional properties. Boasting a high content of B vitamins, calcium, protein and essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and 6, spirulina is often said to be one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet, with just one tablespoon containing 4g of protein, 15% of your daily riboflavin (B2) intake and 11% of your recommended daily amount of iron. This isn’t even taking into account that spirulina also contains all of the essential amino acids as well as an impressive profile of minerals such as magnesium and calcium!
However, despite these incredible nutritional benefits, spirulina often gets misrepresented as being an amazing source of vitamin B12, which is why it’s often recommended for vegans and vegetarians. While spirulina does contain a form of B12, it’s not one that can be absorbed by humans and therefore is unlikely to help in cases of borderline deficiency.
Spirulina as an antioxidant
When it comes to antioxidant properties, spirulina more than ticks the box here. Containing a potent antioxidant known as ‘phycocyanin’ (which also has anti-inflammatory qualities too!) spirulina is more than capable of combatting free-radical damage and oxidative stress. In fact, it’s thought to have an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) of over 24000, four times that of the ultimate superfruit blueberries!
Spirulina for your cholesterol levels
One of the biggest claims levelled at spirulina is that this blue-green algae can help to lower high cholesterol levels. Given how widespread a problem cholesterol is here in the UK, this has undoubtedly contributed to spirulina’s popularity, but how accurate is this claim? Well, most of the evidence is based off an animal study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science, which involved feeding rabbits spirulina for an 8 week trial periods.
The results were that some of these rabbits, after weeks spent on a high cholesterol diet, found their levels of harmful LDL cholesterol reduced by up to 41% after consuming spirulina regularly. However, it’s important to note that this was an animal study. What works on animals doesn’t necessarily have the same results in humans so, while these results are promising, further human trials would be needed before this claim can be absolutely verified.
Spirulina for reducing your blood pressure
One health benefit that has been supported with human studies is spirulina’s effects on blood pressure. Although the test groups remain small, it has been found that a dose of 4.5g can help to reduce blood pressure levels in those with normal blood pressure.  Since high blood pressure is often tied to major cardiovascular diseases, the outlook is certainly positive although further studies are needed.
Spirulina for allergies
Interestingly, one of the more recent health claims made about spirulina is that it can help to ease symptoms of allergic rhinitis. This benefit is particular is largely attributed to spirulina’s anti-inflammatory properties as it’s thought that the algae may help to decrease inflammation in the mucous membranes of the nose, reducing symptoms such as congestion and sneezing. One study involved 127 people with allergic rhinitis and found that, after being given 2g of spirulina a day, their symptoms were reduced!
What can you take away from this?
Spirulina is an outstanding source of nutrients and antioxidants but it’s worth bearing in mind that many of the health claims made about the blue-green algae need further study. Most of the research conducted about spirulina revolves around animal experiments or only involve small test groups so these are naturally limited. More human studies with a wider range of participants might be needed before we can say for sure that spirulina can lower your cholesterol levels or enhance your muscle strength!
My thoughts on spirulina…
Personally, despite the problems with the health claims circulating about spirulina, I’m still a huge fan. Even if some of these benefits cannot be explicitly proven, the high nutritional content and antioxidant properties of this blue-green algae means that it’s definitely earned its status as a superfood. I often recommend it to customers that need a bit of a boost when it comes to their energy levels and overall wellbeing.
My brand of choice is always Golden Greens Organic Spirulina Powder. Not only is it gluten-free and cultivated without the use of GMO’s, it also provides almost 60% pure vegan protein! It’s also naturally rich in iron, which definitely makes it a popular choice for vegans and vegetarians. You can easily mix it into smoothies or add to baked goods such as energy balls. Some of my customers even just add a teaspoon to water and knock it back that way but I prefer to mix things up a bit!