A few years ago if someone said spirulina I probably thought they were talking about an alcoholic drink that cowboys enjoyed in the Wild West. That changed when I wrote about spirulina a few months ago in one of my articles about the top protein sources for vegans.
It intrigued me since then and I always intended to do a more thorough investigation into this “superfood.” Well now is the time to look further into the spirulina benefits and what makes it so great.
What is Spirulina?
Before I get into the best spirulina benefits, let’s go over some of the basics and learn about what spirulina actually is.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) and is usually available in powdered form as a nutritional supplement. It grows in the wild but most of it’s harvested commercially. It gets it’s name because of it’s spiral shape when magnified.
It contains all the amino acids so it is considered a complete protein, but it has lower amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine. Even with the reduced levels of those aminos it is still one of, if not the best, source of plant-based protein.
One tablespoon (7 grams) has about 4 grams of protein, 20 calories, 2 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of fat. It is also filled with vitamins and minerals… some of which are listed below.
|Nutrients||Amount per tbsp (7 grams)||% Recommended Daily Value|
Spirulina also contains the fatty acid GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) which help support a healthy heart and joints.
The one potential downside to spirulina is that it can be contaminated by toxins that are in the environment. This makes it important to get spirulina from a source that you trust.
5 Most Impressive Spirulina Benefits
In addition to the nutritional info about spirulina, there are a lot of strong claims made about what spirulina can do. Some of them are limited to anecdotal evidence, but there are some that have been studied in a clinical setting.
Although the amount of research done on spirulina is not huge, some of these potential benefits do have some science to back them up. Let’s take a look at what I think are the most important spirulina benefits that are backed by evidence so you can decide for yourself if it is right for you.
Increases Strength and Endurance
Of the many claims about spirulina, this one seems the most intriguing. Strength is important to me so this my favorite spirulina benefit.
In a small 8-week study from India, the subjects who took spirulina and worked-out increased their strength more than those who only took spirulina or only worked out. This study showed an association with power output only and did not show an improvement in endurance.
However, 2 other studies did show a link with spirulina and a benefit to endurance. The first study suggested that spirulina slowed muscle damage which led to a delay in exhaustion. The other study found that spirulina improved the time to fatigue after a 2 hour run. It also found that spirulina increased fat oxidation.
All 3 of these studies were small sample sizes and more research is definitely needed but they do indicate that spirulina could help increase athletic performance and even help the all important top-end strength.
Oxidative stress from free radicals can lead to many diseases and may contribute to aging. Antioxidants reduce free radicals and oxidative stress. I previously wrote about foods that are high in antioxidants like cacao and goji berries. Spirulina is another food that you can add to that list.
A Korean study demonstrated that spirulina raised antioxidant capacity compared to the placebo group.
A different Korean study on type 2 diabetes patients also demonstrated an increase in antioxidant capacity.
One of the substances in spirulina that is responsible for it’s antioxidant properties is called C-phycocyanin. It has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and hepatoprotective effects, all of which are beneficial.
Improves Cholesterol and Triglycerides
Cholesterol is a tricky subject. It can definitely do some bad things, but it’s also not the demon that many people make it out to be. I go into more depth on my previous cholesterol article, but basically HDL is good and LDL can be bad. Triglycerides is the fat in the blood and too much of that can be bad also.
So how does spirulina relate to all this? Well one of the spirulina benefits is there is evidence that it can improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
In addition to the studies mentioned above, there are others that observed a reduction in triglyceride levels and LDL Cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol with spirulina.
The overall effect seemed stronger in unhealthy populations like those with fatty liver disease or metabolic syndrome. These results still suggest a good benefit to your blood profile and potential risk for heart disease.
This Mexican study showed decreases in LDL, Triglycerides and an increase in HDL. The researchers also noticed a decrease in blood pressure.
Another study from Mexico observed runners who are physically active for more than a year. Triglycerides were decreased and the younger runners seemed to have the best results.
A study from India evaluated the effects of spirulina on subjects with Type 2 Diabetes. Triglycerides were significantly lowered in the group that used spirulina. LDL saw a reduction and HDL was slightly increased.
A Greek study on patients with dyslipidaemia observed a decrease in triglycerides, LDL and total cholesterol. There was a slight increase in HDL and other things like weight and BMI remained the same.
A Mexican study performed on rats showed that they also benefited from spirulina. This study also reviewed previous tests in humans and also concluded that spirulina decreased blood pressure, LDL and triglycerides.
Lowers Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can lead to health problems such as a stroke. The good news is that spirulina may actually help to lower blood pressure.
More research is needed on this claim but the results look good so far.
Helps with Controlling Allergies
Many people suffer from allergies. Some common causes are dust, pollen and pet dander and symptoms include sneezing, itchy eyes and a runny nose. If these sound familiar to you, then spirulina may help.
There is only one study that has investigated this but the subjects did experience a significant improvement in their symptoms compared to the placebo group.
Once again, the research is limited but the indications are that spirulina could help with this as well.
If you are looking to add spirulina to your daily dose of supplements and are wondering how much you should take, most of the studies used daily amounts ranging between 1 and 5 grams. Other than potential contamination, there are no known side effects to spirulina.
I’ve had spirulina mixed in with different powders but have not tried it by itself. I hear the taste is not very good and is similar to pond scum. (I have not tasted pond scum or spirulina on its own so I can’t confirm if this is true.) It’s for this reason I recommend spirulina in tablet form so you don’t need to taste it.
You can add this to your daily tablets along with your multivitamins and fish oil, or if you are adventurous you can add a scoop of the powdered form it to a morning veggie smoothie.
Spirulina seems like a really healthy food supplement with a lot of vitamins and minerals as well as a bunch of other potential benefits and I have no problem adding to a list of great superfoods.