Back in 1974, acknowledging spirulina health benefits, United Nations declared it ‘possibly the best food for future’. Though spirulina health benefits are well-acknowledged, the food itself is not yet known all over. It is a blue green algae whose existence can be traced to a period much back in evolution when plant and animal kingdoms differentiated . Spirulina is known to be grown in 22 countries and consumed in 77 countries. Out of the available varieties, Spirulina maxima and Spirulinaplatensis are most popular. Spirulina lives in warm tropical and sub-tropical climate and prefer alkaline water even though fresh water may work too and is then turned into paste and sun-dried.
Why is Spirulina beneficial ?
Spirulina health benefits are manifold because nutrients are present in spirulina in high concentration and in easily assimilable form such as amino acids, rhamnose sugars, chelated minerals, enzymes and trace elements . It contains B-vitamins, iron, beta-carotene, vitamin E, gamma linolenic acid which is an essential fatty acid etc . Spirulina is said to be 65-71 per cent complete protein with a perfect balance of all the essential amino acids . It is one of the few plant foods that contain vitamin B12 which is otherwise found only in animal tissues. Cultivation of spirulina is highly advocated from a point of view of sustainable development.
Spirulina health benefits
Spirulina health benefits were recognized even in ancient times. Spirulina is considered a super-food and a food for the future . A few of the several spirulina health benefits are described here.
Boosts immunity : According to animal and test tube studies, production of immunity improving constituents such as antibodies, proteins which fight infection, and other cells is increased by consumption of spirulina. This improved immunity helps in preventing many diseases ranging from infection to chronic illnesses like cancer. Test tube studies also suggest that spirulina is effective against infection related diseases such as HIV, herpes and influenza.
Protects against allergic reactions : Release of histamines which are substances associated with symptoms of allergies such as watery eyes, runny nose, soft tissue swelling, hives etc. are stopped by spirulina. Preliminary studies suggest that spirulina can thus help people by providing protection against allergies.
Protects against antibiotic-associated illnesses : Antibiotics not only kill the bad organisms but also can destroy the good bacteria inside the body called probiotics, and this can lead to diarrhea. According to test tube studies spirulina boosts the growth of probiotics thus soothing the reaction from antibiotics.
Treats oral cancer : A placebo controlled study suggests that spirulina has the capacity to reduce leukoplasia or the precancerous lesion caused by chewing tobacco.
Treats liver disorders : Going by the preliminary evidence, spirulina helps people suffering from chronic hepatitis by providing protection against liver cirrhosis and liver damage.
Enhances exercise performance : A study which compared placebo and spirulina effects during exercise showed that for people who consumed spirulina regularly, oxidation rate of carbohydrates was decreased by 10 per cent, fat burning rate was increased by 11 per cent and time exercised before fatigue was much longer.
Cleanses blood : Spirulina being a rich source of chlorophyll has the ability to cleanse blood. This is made possible by chlorophyll’s ability to oxygenate the blood stream and to remove the organic toxins.
Benefits to eyes : Spirulina is a very rich source of antioxidants in the form of carotenoids. Carotenoids improve overall eye health and also provide good vision.
Benefits to skin : Spirulina is the best known source of SOD or superoxide dismutase, an antioxidant most effective against superoxide molecule which causes most damage for the tissues in the body. This in combination with carotenoids makes spirulina very effective in skin care by working against age spot, acne, rashes and eczema.
Helpful in diabetes : Spirulina can help diabetic people control their cravings for food. This in turn helps decrease the intake of insulin. Gamma linolenic acid, zinc and magnesium helps promote natural insulin synthesis.
Radioprotective benefits : Spirulina can detoxify the whole body including all areas and organs in cases where exposure to harmful radiation has occurred. If the body has taken in food contaminated by radiation, spirulina can decrease that radioactive load.
Increases energy : Spirulina can help increase the energy level of body owing to the presence of vitamin B12, a nutrient that is essential for the health of nerves.
Anti-ageing : Spirulina contains many anti-ageing nutrients such as vitamin E, beta carotene, Gamma linolenic acid, superoxide dismutase etc. They help in preventing damage caused by free radicals and also prevent conditions such as hyperlipemia, gonad degeneration, arteriosclerosis etc thus effectively slowing down ageing.
Benefits to heart : Spirulina has the ability to decrease blood pressure, blood glutinousness, and maintain blood vessel softness because of the presence of chlorophyll, vitamin B6 etc. spirulina contains gamma linolenic acid that lowers blood cholesterol. All these together help prevent stroke and other heart diseases.
Benefits to stomach : Spirulina can regenerate and rebuild alimentary tract epithelium and thus help gastric ulcer and diseases caused from excess of gastric acid. Spirulina can also relieve habitual constipation.
Anti-anemic : Iron in spirulina is 45 times more concentrated than that in spinach. Iron provides more oxygen to cells and prevents anemia.
Helps lose weight : A substance called phonylanine in spirulina helps satiate more easily thus making the eaters end up consuming less food. It is high in protein but low in fat and sugar and contains zero cholesterol. Spirulina helps in losing weight without losing energy.
Usage, selection and storage
Make Spirulina Salad !
Spirulina is available as pills, powder and flakes . It can be added to a variety of foods or if crunchy, can be eaten as snack . The recommended daily intake of spirulina is 1 to 5 grams though it can be more than that if needed.
Selecting spirulina grown under controlled conditions is safer. If opting for the naturally grown ones there is a chance of contamination from microorganism or heavy metals and hence only the products which have been tested and found to be free from contaminants should be used . Spirulina has an ability to withstand high temperatures and hence it has a unique capacity to retain most of the nutritional content through processing as well as through shelf storage .
When not to use Spirulina
Those who are pregnant or breast feeding must consult a doctor before consuming spirulina as it may have potential side effects or medicine interactions. People suffering from phenylketonuria, a condition in which ability to metabolize phenylalanine amino acid is lost, should not take spirulina as it is rich in amino acids. Also people suffering from autoimmune diseases should avoid spirulina as it can stimulate immune system making the conditions worse.
NASA said in a statement that the nutritional value of 1 kg spirulina is equal to that of 1,000 kgs of assorted fruits and vegetables . This sustainable super food is a great option for vegans as well. Also easily available commercially, make sure it forms part of your daily diet considering the many spirulina health benefits.