SPIRULINA - A Super Food to Optimise Health*
Spirulina is a micro salt-water plant, a spiral shaped algae, blue-green in colour, named from the helix or spiral shape of the algae. It is a genus of the algae Cyanobacteria.
It is cultivated world-wide, and is a rich food source. It is used as a whole food, and also as a nutritional supplement, available in tablet or powder form. The supplement is made primarily from two species of Cyanobacteria, Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira.
Nutrient Content of Spirulina, and Resultant Health Benefits
Spirulina is approximately 65-71% protein, depending on the growing conditions. The protein is biologically complete, meaning that it provides all the eight essential amino acids (those that have to be obtained from food, because the body is unable to synthesise them) in the proper ratios. The protein also contains 10 non-essential amino acids (amino acids are the building blocks of protein). The lack of hard cellular walls in spirulina means the protein is rapidly and easily assimilated by consuming organisms.
The amount of methionine, cysteine and lysine in spirulina is less than that found in meat eggs and milk. It is, however, superior to typical plant protein, such as that from legumes.
The amount of protein in spirulina (65-71%) is high when compared to the protein content of: soy beans (36%), beef (24-27%), chicken (24%), fish (18-29%) and wheat (13%).
- Vitamins in Spirulina
B vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin)
- Minerals in Spirulina
Spirulina's lipid content is about 7% by weight. It is rich in essential fatty acids including DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) both omega-3 and AA (arachidonic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid. These promote cholesterol normalisation.
It is also a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). This is an omega-6 essential fatty acid. GLA can help reduce inflammation, especially that associated with rheumatoid arthritis. It also helps regulate cholesterol and is beneficial in autoimmune disease. It helps regulate blood glucose levels and helps prevent cravings. It is also said to protect against heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
Spirulina contains very little starch or sugar. There is 10-15% carbohydrate in spirulina, primarily in the form of rhamnose and glycogen. These two polysaccharides are easily absorbed by human cells, requiring minimal insulin.
- Pigments and Phytochemicals
Spirulina contains many pigments and phytochemicals which may be health beneficial, and are bio-available. These include:
Carotenoids: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, xanthophyll and zeaxanthin.
Chlorophyll. This pigment gives the green colour to the algae. Chlorophyll aids in cleansing and detoxifying the body, it assists in the removal of heavy metals from the body, and it supports liver function, which further aids in the detoxification process.
Phycocyanin. This pigment gives the bluish colour to the algae. It is more abundant than chlorophyll, and is important to healthy liver function, as well as to the digestion of amino acids. It has anti-cancer properties.
Phytochemicals, in abundance. Phytochemicals are important to health and are described in detail in my January 2010 newsletter Phytochemicals.
From the above, it can be seen why spirulina is often described as a complete food. The American National Aeronautical and Space Agency included spirulina in their astronauts’ diet.
Other Health Benefits of Spirulina
The health benefits of spirulina come from the effects of the vitamins and minerals, the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA (omega-3) and GLA and AA (omega-6), the pigments chlorophyll and phycocyanin, the phytochemicals, especially the antioxidants that reduce and combat the damaging effects of free radicals, and the other nutrients found in spirulina. Various lists, often quite long, of the health benefits of spirulina have been set out by different authors, and will not be reproduced in this newsletter. With a knowledge of the benefits of all the vital nutrients in spirulina, you can arrive at your own list of health benefits.
It is worth while noting that spirulina helps accelerate the elimination of dioxins more effectively than any other whole food supplement. Dioxins are highly toxic chemical by-products of certain industrial processes and waste incineration. Dioxin pollution is inescapable, affecting everything in our environment from the air we breathe to our food and water supply. Dioxins are fat soluble and thus they accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that more than 90% of human exposure is via food, mainly meat and dairy. Dioxins, according to the WHO, cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer. Dioxins are another good reason to restrict animal products from the diet.
Spirulina is also a highly alkaline food and thus helps maintain a healthy pH in the body. The importance of this is covered in my September 2005 newsletter Acid / Alkaline Balance - The Ideal Diet.
Dosage of Spirulina
The dosage of spirulina for adults is 1-5 grams per day. This can be increased to 10 grams if needs be. It normally comes in 500mg tablets. It is suggested to start with 1 gram per day and build up the dose. A maintenance dose would be 3 grams per day.
Spirulina Verus Chlorella
Chlorella has been discussed in detail in my November 2012 newsletter Chlorella – A Super Food.
There is a great overlap between the two. Their commonality will not be listed here. However, here are some brief comparisons:
- A better source of chlorophyll, which makes it more detoxifying and cleansing
- It is especially good for those with liver disorders
- It good for those who suffer from degenerative disease or people who are frail
- It contains chlorella growth factor (CGF), which boosts the immune system
- CGF also helps repair nerve tissues, and so is excellent for treating degenerative brain and nerve disorders.
- A superior source of digestible protein, much more than beans or meat. There is however quite a cost differential to beans and meat, since spirulina is expensive.
- It is easier on the digestive system than chlorella, which can cause diarrhoea in sensitive individuals.
- It is the best source of GLA necessary for the human brain, proper heart function and other body systems.
- It contains phycocyanin, which is said to be a powerful anti-cancer phytochemical.
Both spirulina and chlorella offer a vast range of health benefits, and many of their strengths do overlap. Perhaps the best way forward is to consume both in substantial quantities. Many commercial preparations combine both spirulina and chlorella, as well as adding other ‘green foods’ like alfalfa.
*Copyright 2013: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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