From stronger muscles to immunity, here’s what Spirulina does to your body!

Spirulina is a dietary supplement made from a form of algae. It is very good for diabetes and anemia. Read on to know more
A green plant with long leaves
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae, that grows in warm, alkaline water bodies. Image courtesy: Freepik
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 26 May 2024, 12:00 pm IST
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Spirulina is a popular dietary supplement. An algae that thrive in both fresh and saltwater, spirulina has been consumed for centuries. It is rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, and is touted to be extremely healthy. The benefits of spirulina include supporting the immune system, strengthening our muscles, as well as promoting heart health. Read on to know learn more about spirulina, its benefits and how to consume it.

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, that thrives in warm, alkaline water bodies, including both fresh and saltwater. Due to its dense nutrient content, it has surfaced again as a new-age supplement fad. “It is rich in proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making it a popular dietary supplement worldwide. Its cultivation is environmentally sustainable, and it’s available in various forms such as powder, tablets, and capsules,” explains dietitian Veena V.

Spirulina Nutrition

Here is the nutritional information of one tablespoon or 7 grams of dried spirulina powder, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

Protein: 4 g
Fat: 0.54g
Protein: 4.02g
Carbohydrate: 1.67g
Fiber: 0.2g

What are the health benefits of spirulina?

1. Nutrient-rich

Spirulina is rich in nutrition. It is composed of about 60-70 percent protein by weight, containing all essential amino acids. Additionally, it provides vitamins such as A (beta-carotene), B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6, B9 (folic acid), C, D, and E. Important minerals include iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and zinc, which support various bodily functions. The protein quantity is enough to provide all the essential amino acids to the body.

2. Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory

Spirulina’s high concentration of antioxidants, particularly phycocyanin, helps combat oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, reducing the risk of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. According to a study, published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, phycocyanin helps to fight oxidative stress by stopping inflammation.

Spirulina tablets
Spirulina can be had as tablets or powders. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Immune system support

Spirulina may enhance the immune response by increasing the production of antibodies, cytokines, and other cells that fight infections. It may improve resistance to infections, making it a beneficial supplement during flu season. A study, published in ACTA Otorhinolaryngology, claims that spirulina is more effective than the popular antihistamine cetirizine in giving relief when suffering from allergic rhinitis.

4. Improves muscle strength and endurance

Due to its high protein content and antioxidant properties, spirulina helps in muscle repair and growth. Athletes and individuals who engage in regular physical activities may experience improved endurance, reduced muscle fatigue, and quicker recovery times. In a study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, it was seen that spirulina supplements increased oxygen levels during an arm cycling exercise, thereby enhancing the athlete’s performance.

5. Heart health

Spirulina may help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It has been shown to decrease LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides while increasing HDL (good cholesterol). A review of five studies was published in Nutrients, which stated that up to 8 g of spirulina per day can reduce blood pressure and is useful for people suffering from high blood pressure.

6. Blood sugar control

Spirulina can help regulate blood sugar levels, which can be beneficial for people with diabetes or those at risk of developing the condition. Animal research, published in Cambridge Open Access, suggests that spirulina impacts insulin secretion and can help lower blood sugar levels. Another study, published in the Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders, suggests that 0.8-8g of spirulina can help reduce fasting blood sugar levels and can be used in patients with type 2 diabetes.

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7. Anaemia treatment

Spirulina can be useful in fighting against anaemia, which can lead to a lot of fatigue. A study, published in the International Journal of Caring, observes how Spirulina can help control anaemia in pregnant women, during the second trimester. It can also treat iron deficiency in young children.

What are the risks associated with spirulina?

While spirulina has a lot of benefits, there are a few risks associated with it as well.

1. Contamination

If spirulina is harvested from polluted waters or improperly processed, it can be contaminated with toxins such as heavy metals (like lead, mercury, and arsenic), harmful bacteria, or microcystins. These contaminants can cause liver damage and other health issues.

2. Allergic reactions

Although rare, another side effect of spirulina is that some individuals might experience allergic reactions to spirulina, which can manifest as skin rashes, itching, swelling, or respiratory issues. It’s essential to start with a small dose to test for any adverse reactions.

3. Digestive issues

Spirulina can cause minor digestive disturbances in some people, including nausea, bloating, diarrhoea, or stomach cramps. These symptoms are usually mild and can be managed by starting with a lower dose and gradually increasing it.

4. Interference with medications

Spirulina may interact with certain medications, particularly immunosuppressive drugs used by individuals with autoimmune diseases or organ transplants. It can also affect the efficacy of anticoagulants (blood thinners) due to its high vitamin K content.

What does spirulina do to the body?

Spirulina enhances overall health and well-being by providing a concentrated source of nutrients that support various bodily functions. It boosts energy levels due to its high protein and vitamin B content, which are essential for energy production. “The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds help protect cells from damage, support the immune system, and promote healthy ageing. Additionally, spirulina aids in detoxification by binding to heavy metals and toxins in the body, facilitating their elimination,” says Veena. It also supports gut health by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, contributing to improved digestion and nutrient absorption.

A green powder in a bowl with two cups of green coloured liquid.
Spirulina powder can be added in a variety of foods as well. Image courtesy: Freepik

Can you take spirulina every day?

Yes, spirulina can be taken daily as part of a balanced diet. “The recommended dosage varies, but typical doses range from 1 to 3 grams per day,” says Veena. It’s important to start with a lower dose to monitor any adverse reactions and gradually increase it as tolerated. Daily consumption can help maintain consistent nutrient intake and provide ongoing health benefits.

Who should not take spirulina?

Certain individuals should avoid spirulina. These include:

  • Those with autoimmune diseases: Spirulina can stimulate the immune system, which might exacerbate symptoms in people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or other autoimmune diseases.
  • Individuals with Phenylketonuria (PKU): Spirulina contains phenylalanine, which individuals with PKU cannot metabolize properly.
  • Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: There is insufficient evidence to ensure the safety of spirulina for pregnant or breastfeeding women, so it’s best to avoid it unless recommended by a healthcare provider.
  • People with Seafood or Iodine Allergies: Those allergic to seafood or iodine should avoid spirulina due to potential allergic reactions.
  • Individuals on Certain Medications: People taking immunosuppressive drugs or anticoagulants should consult their doctor before taking spirulina, as it can interfere with these medications.

How to take spirulina?

Spirulina is versatile and can be incorporated into the diet in several ways:

  • Powder form: Spirulina powder can be mixed into smoothies, juices, or water. It can also be sprinkled over salads, soups, or yoghurt.
  • Tablets or capsules: For convenience, spirulina is available in tablet or capsule form, which can be taken with water.
  • In Foods: Spirulina can be added to energy bars, baked goods, or other recipes to boost their nutritional content.

Summary

Spirulina comes with a host of benefits such as better heart health, a treatment for diabetes and anaemia, as well as a medication for colds and coughs. However, you must consult a healthcare expert before starting any dosage. It can also lead to allergic reactions and digestive issues.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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