You may have heard of spirulina, or even set eyes on the startling, blue-green color it produces in smoothies. But what exactly is this emerald superfood made of? Do the rumored spirulina benefits stand the tests of science?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Spirulina, a blue-green freshwater algae that grows in many exotic locales across the world from Mexico to Hawaii, is bursting with well-researched benefits.
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9 Spirulina Benefits
Even if you’re a well-seasoned spirulina consumer, some of the following benefits might still surprise you:
1. Spirulina Fights Candida
While candida, a type of microflora, is naturally found in the intestines of healthy adults, it can become problematic when it begins to overtake other species of microflora in our guts. Unfortunately, this occurs easily in individuals eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) due to its high sugar content, which feeds the spread of candida.
If you’re suffering from an imbalanced microflora, spirulina may be another weapon in your arsenal against the bacteria. In several studies, spirulina has been found to fight candida overgrowth by increasing the efficiency of the immune system and acting as an antimicrobial agent (1, 2).
2. Spirulina Improves Immunity
You may want to add some spirulina to that vitamin C-rich orange juice you typically sip on when you start to get sick.
In addition to containing a wide range of vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune system, spirulina contains immune-boosting polysaccharides, or complex carbohydrates, which lend our immunity an additional boost. It has also been found to stimulate the immune system by producing immune cytokines, which are signaled when the body begins to fight off an infection (3).
3. Spirulina Detoxes Heavy Metals
Heavy metals that are often found in drinking water, such as arsenic or lead, can have a detrimental effect on health. Just a few of these effects include hair loss, liver cirrhosis, and anemia (4).
Researchers looking for alternative treatments to heavy-metal poisoning (specifically arsenic, in this case), discovered that compared to patients receiving a placebo, those taking spirulina had a 47 percent decrease in arsenic levels (5).
4. Spirulina Lowers Cholesterol
Spirulina has also been shown to reduce high cholesterol levels.
A study of 30 participants with high cholesterol and hypertension revealed that just eight weeks of spirulina supplementation significantly reduced total serum cholesterol. The researchers also found this effect was even more pronounced in participants with the highest cholesterol levels, and that when supplementation was stopped, cholesterol levels returned to baseline (6).
One of the best aspects of this study? There were no adverse side effects of spirulina supplementation.
5. Spirulina Lowers Blood Pressure
In the same vein, researchers at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico discovered that spirulina intake decreases blood pressure and plasma lipid concentrations. This occurs due to its ability to help produce and release nitric oxide, which acts as a vasodilator, expanding the blood vessels. The study also suggested that spirulina decreases the release of a vasoconstrictor (a no-no when we talk about blood pressure, as vasoconstrictors further tighten blood vessels, thus increasing pressure) (7).
It seems spirulina is able to knock down blood pressure with a one-two combination of vasodilation and hindered vasoconstriction.
6. Spirulina Improves Allergies and Sinus Problems
If you’re experiencing the sniffling, itching, congestion, or discharge common with allergies, spirulina can possibly provide relief.
A 2005 study found patients given 2,000 mg of spirulina experienced protective effects against allergic rhinitis by lowering the immune reaction that is responsible for the above symptoms. In this case, spirulina supplementation reduced the activity of a particular cytokine present during reactions by 32 percent (8).
7. Spirulina is Anti-inflammatory
Inflammation can cause a host of problems, and it’s specifically dangerous when it comes to cardiovascular health. Spirulina works to fight this inflammation by protecting antioxidants and enzymes that play a role in lowering inflammation levels, such as glutathione peroxidase and selenium-dependent glutathione peroxidase (9).
Interestingly, studies show that spirulina “dose-dependently” inactivates free radicals that cause DNA damage and reduces inflammation levels, hinting that the more spirulina ingested, the greater its anti-inflammatory activity (10).
8. Spirulina Helps Prevent Aging
As we saw earlier, spirulina helps protect potent antioxidants, like glutathione, from the damaging effects of environmental damage and inflammation. However, spirulina is also rich in an array of antioxidants like as beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. These antioxidants, members of the carotenoid family of phytonutrients, are some of the most potent forms of antioxidants when it comes to protecting skin from DNA damage (11).
9. Spirulina Fights Cancer and HIV
Spirulina has clearly demonstrated its ability to boost the immune system, warding off viruses and bad bacterial overgrowth.
It turns out this ability may be so potent that it can even help prevent cancer. One study found that spirulina-treated pancreatic cells significantly decreased the spread of human pancreatic cancer cells in vitro (12). It also stated that this effect was dose dependent, meaning more could definitely mean better in terms of effects.
In addition, researchers have also found that HIV patients supplementing with spirulina experienced a significant increase in a form of white blood cells that fight infection. They also found that the spirulina essentially caused the immune system to stabilize rather than continue to degrade, as is commonly seen in HIV. Remarkably, longer-term supplementation over a 13-month period caused a lowering of the HIV viral load (13)!
As you can see, there are remarkable spirulina benefits. As a daily supplement, the sky really is the limit as to what beneficial effect this unassuming algae can give.
How to Eat Spirulina
Spirulina’s earthy taste might be off-putting to some if taken straight in powder form, but there are several other ways to sneakily incorporate this green.
- Add to sweet smoothies for an extra nutrient boost.
- Mix spirulina with water, fresh lemon juice, a dash of maple syrup, stevia, and a smidge of salt for a quick, post-workout recovery drink.
- Add spirulina as a healthy boost to homemade salad dressings and rich desserts like Paleo brownies.
Spirulina can also be taken in tablet form in you’re in a hurry. The bottom line remains: however you take this mighty algae, your body will thank you for it.
(Read This Next: Chlorella: What It Is & Health Benefits)