Spirulina is emerging as a popular topic in health food circles, but it’s still largely unknown to most of America. Spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in both fresh and salt water.
The technical name is cyanobacterium, which has the ability to produce energy from sunlight, much like chlorophyll reactions in photosynthesis. In recent years, spirulina gained some popularity when NASA suggested using it for astronauts and even growing it in space.
There are more than 1,200 pieces of peer-reviewed research that discuss the health benefits of spirulina, which almost exclusively focus on its nutrient denseness.
Nutrients in Spirulina
Spirulina could be considered the most nutrient dense food on earth, with an ounce of the powder containing protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and significant amounts of copper, riboflavin, iron, thiamin, manganese, niacin, magnesium, potassium, pantothenic acid, vitamin K, vitamin E, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and zinc.
The superfood benefits of spirulina are derived both from the amount of nutrients it contains but also the antioxidant properties.
Spirulina is available in powder or capsule form, and can be taken daily for the best results. The only people who should not take it are those who are pregnant or who have PKU, but it’s always the safest idea to run all supplements by your doctor.
12 Health Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina has many reputed health benefits, but the following 12 are the ones best supported by research.
1. Rich in Antioxidants, Fights Inflammation
Inflammation is meant to be a health-protective response within the body to direct healing efforts at areas that need it. Unfortunately, when inflammation becomes chronic, the body can break down in response to the constant attack.
Oxidation is also a process that happens in the body that leads to inflammation and damage; similar to the effects of rust on metal. Both oxidative damage and inflammation can harm DNA and cells.
When these processes are left unchecked, they can result in cancer, autoimmune disease, and other breakdowns in organs or tissues. Spirulina is rich in antioxidants that help to combat inflammatory damage and which can scavenge free radicals.
2. Protects Against Oxidized LDL Cholesterol
While cholesterol was previously blamed for causing heart disease, recent research has linked sugar, not fat, to the inflammatory processes that cause this breakdown.
Still, a certain type of cholesterol, oxidized LDL cholesterol, has been linked to arterial damage and cardiovascular disease. While a total cholesterol level, and even individual HDL and LDL numbers may be overblown, managing oxidized LDL levels is critical to overall health.
The antioxidants found in spirulina can target the specific form of oxidation that occurs with LDL cholesterol, making it one of the ultimate heart-protective superfoods.
3. Reduces Triglycerides
Speaking of heart health: heart disease is the world’s number one killer. Oxidized LDL isn’t the only factor that needs mentioned, but also triglyceride levels.
Spirulina has been shown by research to reduce triglyceride levels, which can rapidly increase in response to sugar, refined foods, and trans fats in the diet, and to reduce oxidation and inflammation throughout the body.
One study showed that it could reduce triglycerides by more than 16 percent in a relatively short amount of time.
4. Protects Against Cancer
We live in an age of constant search for a cure for cancer, but nearly equal focus is given to preventing cancer. Some research has shown that spirulina can help to fight against the development of cancer and reduce the size of tumors that do form.
The most studied form of cancer associated with spirulina is oral cancer, with 45 percent experiencing a full regression of mouth tumors while taking spirulina daily for a year.
After discontinuing, the tumors returned in nearly half of the cases. In other research, spirulina proved more effective than the pharmaceutical drug used to treat the actual condition.
Beyond that, spirulina helps to boost production of antibodies, which can help to fight cancer cells and destroy them before they form. In fact, more than 70 articles with peer-reviewed credibility have looked at the ability of spirulina to have a strong affect on how cancer cells form and work in the body.
Spirulina has also been shown by research to suppress reproduction of pancreatic cancer cells. More research is needed to show how it affects other types of cancer.
5. Reduces Blood Pressure
Chronic blood pressure problems affects one out of every three adults in America, according to the CDC. The mechanisms behind this can lead to chronic disease, like cardiovascular problems, stroke, kidney disorders, and ultimately, heart attacks.
Therapeutic doses of spirulina, at 4.5 grams daily, have been shown in some studies to reduce blood pressure and provide relief throughout the body by signaling increased production of nitric oxide, which helps tell the blood vessels to relax and dilate more than they are.
Spirulina also contains a pigment known as phycocyanin, which can also help lead to decreased blood pressure and also has therapeutic uses for metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, and type 2 diabetes.
6. Helps Fight Anemia
While there are many different forms of anemia, including iron-deficient anemia and pernicious anemia (where the body is short on or can’t absorb vitamin B12), most forms of anemia are characterized by too few red blood cells or low levels of hemoglobin, which is responsible for helping to oxygenate the blood.
Anemia can be common in older people, women of reproductive age, and people who have recently had surgery. It can lead to feelings of extreme exhaustion and fatigue, as well as a depressed mood.
It can also influence thyroid health since iron is required for production and conversion of thyroid hormones. Research has shown that spirulina can help to improve hemoglobin and red blood cell counts, while also supporting a balanced immune system.
7. Helps Control Blood Sugar
When blood sugar gets high, it can eventually lead to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. While dietary changes are instrumental in balancing blood sugar, spirulina can help to lower levels and promote a healthier response to insulin.
In some research, spirulina has even proven more effective than metformin, the most popular pharmaceutic intervention for excessive blood sugar. Spirulina can also be effective at reducing long-term glucose levels, as it can help decrease hemoglobin A1c, which shows an average glucose level over the space of three months and is also tied to inflammatory responses in the body.
Even a one percent reduction in hemoglobin A1c can reduce the risk of death by diabetes complication by 21 percent.
8. Helps Promote Natural Detox
We accumulate toxins and heavy metals throughout our daily lives because we live in an increasingly polluted environment. Still, once we take these into our bodies, they need to be removed via the detox system.
Heavy metals like arsenic can be harder to eliminate than other forms of toxins, but the potent antioxidants in spirulina can help latch onto these toxins and promote elimination.
Even if you consider yourself to live a toxin-free life, arsenic and other heavy metals are primarily introduced through drinking water, pharmaceutical medications, and even food sources like large fish.
When spirulina is combined with zinc, it can even relieve symptoms of chronic arsenic poisoning in nearly half of the cases.
9. Fights Candida and Other Fungal Imbalances
Candida is an organism that lives in most bodies, but can quickly become off balanced, leading to unpleasant symptoms, including recurrent yeast infections.
Other gut bacterial balances walk a fine line, and when the bad bacteria outnumber the good, digestive symptoms and other chronic disorders can rapidly develop. Symptoms of candida overgrowth can range from feeling like a mild flu to being so severe as to be nearly as life-altering as cancer.
You don’t even have to have a primary candida imbalance to suffer from it—it is a common side effect of leaky gut, autoimmune disease, cancer, and other chronic disorders. It can even result as a side effect from pharmaceutical treatments that kill off beneficial and “friendly” bacteria within the body.
Candida thrives on sugar, refined carbs, and other nutrient-poor foods—so basically, every part of the modern diet. Spirulina can not only fight candida thanks to its antimicrobial properties, but can also help to fight the inflammatory processes within the body that erupt in response to out of whack gut bacteria.
Spirulina can also foster the right environment to lead to a rebalancing of good gut bacteria in the intestines, as well as the vaginal tract. Because spirulina boosts the immune system’s ability to target invaders, it can also resensitize it to candida’s presence and help eradicate it in overgrown areas.
10. Helps Improve Muscle Strength and Stamina
While being out of shape can lead to exercise-induced fatigue, there are other causes, too. Even though exercise is healthy, it can lead to oxidative damage int he body that can lead to muscle fatigue and breakdown.
Antioxidants can combat this process and boost athletic and exercise performance. Spirulina has beneficial effects for exercise and endurance stamina, without having negative side effects.
Research has shown that spirulina can boost the body’s ability to perform longer, while decreasing the level of fatigue experienced after exertion. Spirulina has also been shown by some studies to boost muscle strength and increase the body’s ability to burn fat during exercise.
It can also prevent excess breakdown of muscle and even lead to a healthy ability to build muscle, without the negative effects of bodybuilding supplements.
11. Improves Rhinitis and Other Allergies
Allergic rhinitis and other types of allergies are characterized by inflammation in the nasal passage, airways, throat, and even lungs. This can be triggered from environmental sources of allergens, like pollen, pet dander, dust from crops, grass, and even dust in general.
Allergic rhinitis can result in constantly watering eyes, sneezing, coughing, and a never-ending supply of mucus production. It can feel life altering for people living through it, and antihistamine and other medications that fight it can come with hefty side effects, especially feelings of drowsiness.
Research has found that spirulina, when taken in doses of 2 grams per day or higher, can help to alleviate the inflammatory symptoms of rhinitis and other environmental allergens, like sneezing, runny nose, congestion, and itching in the eyes, throat, and elsewhere.
12. Reduces Chance of Stroke and Protects Against Neurodegenerative Disease
Heart disease and stroke are two major threatening episodes that can forever change the course of someone’s life. Fighting the potential of these by living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle and boosting the body’s antioxidant stores are essential for prevention.
Research has found that spirulina can reduce stress on the aorta, which might lead to prevention of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. While the research is far from conclusive, the protective effects were seen in a study that still include a high-carb diet filled with refined junk foods.
If spirulina can have such a protective effect in light of a poor diet, imagine what it could do when given a healthy diet with regular spirulina supplementation.
Spirulina has also been shown to protect the brain from degenerative diseases and conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even dementia, which has at times been referred to as “type 3 diabetes” or “diabetes of the brain.” It can even improve memory function and cognitive awareness.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that has numerous health benefits, most of them stemming from anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to scavenge free radicals.
It comes with minimal side effects, although before starting any supplement regiment it’s best to ask your doctor for personalized advice. Spirulina is available in powder or tablet form, in health food stores and online.
It has a slightly grassy, slightly fishy taste, but can be blended into things like smoothies or smoothie bowls, making it a feasible part of a daily wellness routine. While research continues to explore the benefits of spirulina, it’s pretty clear so far: spirulina is a superfood that even astronauts rely on.
Aimee McNew, MNT, CNTP, is a certified nutritionist who specializes in women’s health, thyroid problems, infertility, and digestive wellness. She ate her way back to health using a Paleo diet, lost 80 pounds, and had a healthy baby after numerous miscarriages. She focuses on simple nutrition practices that promote long-lasting results.