The Health Benefits of Spirulina

Is It a Superfood?

green smoothies
Spirulina is an ingredient in green smoothies. Sharon Lapkin/Moment Open/Getty Images

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae said to treat a variety of health conditions and promote weight loss. However, few human studies have actually explored spirulina's health benefits, and there is insufficient evidence to show that it helps with weight loss.

Spirulina contains a number of nutrients, including B-complex 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.

Spirulina is often sold in powder form, but it's also available in capsules, tablets, and other natural products (including juices). The powder is often added to green smoothies.

Uses for Spirulina

Spirulina proponents claim that the benefits of spirulina include treatment and/or prevention of the following health problems: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cancer, fatigue, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and viral infections.

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

Health Benefits of Spirulina

To date, few human studies have explored spirulina's health benefits. However, test-tube studies and animal-based research suggest that spirulina may help with the following conditions:

1) Allergies

Spirulina holds some promise in the treatment of allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies), according to a research review published in 2009. Indeed, a previously published study of patients 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

2) 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 patients, a decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol.

Related: Natural Treatments For Diabetes

3) High Cholesterol

According to a small study published in Journal of Medical Case Reports, spirulina may lower cholesterol in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. For the study, people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were treated with 4.5 grams of spirulina daily for three months. At the end of the treatment period, researchers found that the patients experienced a decrease in cholesterol levels.

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'd consumed spirulina (compared to three of the 43 participants who'd been assigned to the placebo group).

5) Weight Loss

Despite widespread marketing claims that spirulina can suppress appetite, there is insufficient evidence to show that spirulina can boost weight loss.

Related: Natural Remedies For Weight Loss 

Side Effects

Although few adverse effects are associated with use of spirulina, consuming spirulina may cause headache, allergic reactions, muscle pain, sweating, and insomnia in some cases.

Given the lack of science behind spirulina's benefits, anyone considering the use of spirulina in treatment of a health condition should make sure to consult his/her physician before taking a spirulina supplement. As with all supplements, it's also important to consult your health-care provider before using spirulina in combination with other medications and/ or supplements.

Learn more about supplement safety.

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.

Ferreira-Hermosillo A1, Torres-Duran PV, Juarez-Oropeza MA. Hepatoprotective effects of Spirulina maxima in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a case series. J Med Case Rep. 2010 Apr 7;4:103. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-4-103.

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, Varghese C, Somanathan T, Amma BP, Amma NS, Nair MK. "Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis." Nutr Cancer. 1995;24(2):197-202.

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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