Spirulina has rapidly gained prominence as a healthy food. Possessing a wide range of vitamins and minerals, spirulina is often referred to as a “superfood” due to its numerous health benefits. But is it really as wonderful as they say, and does it carry any risks?
Health benefits of spirulina
First used by the Aztecs but popularised more recently by NASA astronauts, spirulina is essentially a single-celled algae, blue-green in colour, that flourishes in warm alkaline water. It is most often sold in powder form as a dietary supplement, ready to be mixed into drinks and recipes.
Spirulina provides significant amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, sodium, potassium, fibre, vitamins A and C, proteins, iron, calcium, zinc, phosphorus, selenium, vitamins B6 and B12 and magnesium.
Research suggests spirulina provides many health benefits, including:
- Heart health. Its Omega 6 fatty acid content helps reduce bad cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke-causing blood clots. In addition, its protein also reduces triglyceride levels, which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and pancreatitis. Furthermore, spirulina increases nitric oxide production which also helps to lower blood pressure and heart disease risk.
- Anti-cancer properties. Spirulina is rich in antioxidants, many of which have anti-inflammatory effects which help reduce the risks of cancer and other diseases. In addition, phycocyanin has been found to block tumor growth and kill cancer cells.
- Immune system. It is rich in a range of vitamins and minerals essential for maintaining a strong immune system, such as vitamins E, C, and B6. Spirulina also boosts the production of white blood cells and antibodies that fight viruses and bacteria.
- Obesity. Spirulina contains phenylalanine, an amino acid that causes a feeling of satiety.
- Endurance and revitalisation. Spirulina is also highly recommended for professional sportsmen and women with high physical demands.
Potential risks of spirulina
Because spirulina is so rich in nutrient activity, specific groups of people may have negative reactions to some of its contents, and thus should avoid consuming it altogether. Talk to your nutritionist to see if spirulina is right for you. Risks include:
- Allergies. Some people report allergies, headaches or trouble sleeping.
- Toxins. Spirulina harvested in the wild may be contaminated with heavy metals or bacteria. Because of this, spirulina is often not recommended for pregnant women and children.
- Bleeding disorders. Because spirulina helps reduce blood clotting, it should not be taken by people with haemorrhagic problems or alongside blood thinning medication.
- Amino acids. Due to its high protein content, people who are unable to process certain amino acids (such as phenylketonuria, homocystinuria or MSUD) should avoid spirulina.