The Benefits of Spirulina

Is It a Superfood?

green smoothies
Spirulina is sometimes added to smoothies and juices. Sharon Lapkin/Moment Open/Getty Images

A type of blue-green algae, spirulina contains a number of nutrients, including B vitamins, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. High in protein (it's often used as a vegan source of protein), spirulina also contains antioxidants, minerals, chlorophyll, and phycocyanobilin.

Uses for Spirulina

According to proponents, spirulina is said to help with the following health problems: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cancer, fatigue, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and viral infections.

Purported spirulina benefits also include weight loss, increased energy, and stimulation of the immune system.

The Benefits of Spirulina

To date, few human studies have explored spirulina's health benefits. However, preliminary studies suggest that spirulina holds promise for the following conditions:

1) High Cholesterol

Spirulina holds some promise for lipid disorders such as high cholesterol or high triglycerides, according to a study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. For the study, healthy, older adults consumed spirulina or a placebo. After four months, spirulina was associated with significant reductions in cholesterol.   

2) Allergies

Spirulina holds some promise in the treatment of allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies), according to a review published in 2009. Indeed, a previously published study of people with allergic rhinitis found several benefits for spirulina consumption (including improvement in symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion, and itching).

Related: Natural Remedies For Allergies

3) Diabetes

In a 2008 study involving 37 people with type 2 diabetes, researchers found that those assigned to 12 weeks of spirulina supplementation experienced a significant reduction in blood-fat levels. Spirulina benefits also included a decrease in inflammation and, for some people, a decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol.

Related: Natural Treatments For Diabetes

4) Oral Cancer

Spirulina may offer some protection against oral cancer, according to one small study of tobacco chewers with precancerous oral lesions. For 12 months, study members took either a daily dose of spirulina or a placebo. By the study's end, the lesions cleared up in 20 of the 44 participants who had consumed spirulina (compared to three of the 43 participants who had been assigned to the placebo group).

Possible Side Effects

Although few adverse effects are associated with use of spirulina, consuming spirulina may cause headaches, allergic reactions, muscle pain, sweating, and insomnia in some cases. People with allergies to seafood, seaweed, and other sea vegetables should avoid spirulina.

If you have a thyroid condition, an autoimmune disorder, gout, kidney stones, phenylketonuria (PKU), or are pregnant or nursing, spirulina may not be appropriate for you. You should check with your healthcare provider before taking it.

It's possible that spirulina grown in the wild can absorb toxins from water, such as microcystins (known to cause severe liver damage), pollutants, and heavy metals. Most spirulina sold in the United States is grown in laboratories.

As with all supplements, it's important to consult your health-care provider before using spirulina to discuss whether it's appropriate for you and whether it can be taken in combination with other medications and/ or supplements. Learn more about supplement safety.

Forms

Spirulina is often sold in powder form, but it's also available in capsules, tablets, and juices. The powder is sometimes added to smoothies.

Although there are a large number of blue-green algae species commonly referred to as "spirulina," most spirulina supplements contain Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Sprirulina maxima, and/or Spirulina platensis.

Sources:

Cingi C, Conk-Dalay M, Cakli H, Bal C. The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2008 265(10):1219-23.

Lee EH, Park JE, Choi YJ, Huh KB, Kim WY. A randomized study to establish the effects of spirulina in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients. Nutr Res Pract. 2008 2(4):295-300.

Man LX. Complementary and alternative medicine for allergic rhinitis. Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2009 17(3):226-31.

Mathew B, Sankaranarayanan R, Nair PP, et al. Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis. Nutr Cancer. 1995;24(2):197-202.

Miczke A, Szulińska M, Hansdorfer-Korzon R, et al. Effects of spirulina consumption on body weight, blood pressure, and endothelial function in overweight hypertensive Caucasians: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2016;20(1):150-6.

Park HJ, Lee YJ, Ryu HK, Kim MH, Chung HW, Kim WY. A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008;52(4):322-8. 

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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