The spirulina health benefits originate in its protein content which is a superior form of protein to that normally found in plants. The reason for this is that it contains all 22 essential amino acids, which not even legumes are able to provide. It is rich in gamma-linolenic acid and also contains alpha linolenic acid, linoleic acid and many more fatty acids good for your health.
Some of the health benefits offered by spirulina include:
- Protection against some allergies such as hay fever
- Reduces blood cholesterol levels
- Provides antioxidant properties
- provides anti-inflammatory properties
- One of the important Spirulina health benefits – HIV inhibition
- Cancer protection
A. Allergy Protection
The results of a 2005 study carried out on human subjects reported that spirulina helps to protect against hay fever, one of the most common allergies . Another study in 2008, where 150 patients suffering allergic rhinitis underwent double blind placebo testing (where neither subjects nor testers knew which subject was given the placebo and which the spirulina), found significant relief of symptoms in the spirulina subjects, and also a significant reduction in the secretion of interleukin-4, an inflammatory cytokine, in each of these same subjects .
This is a significant indication of the effect of spirulina in reducing the effects of allergies by moderating the production of inflammatory cytokines, particularly interleukin-4 that is responsible for many common allergic reactions.
B. Blood Cholesterol Reduction
In 2007, a study on 36 volunteers showed a significant reduction in their blood cholesterol levels after taking 4.5 grams spirulina daily for six weeks. In addition to a reduction in their total cholesterol levels, they also experienced an increase in HDL cholesterol (meaning a significant LDL cholesterol reduction) and a reduction in triglycerides. The same subjects also had a lower blood pressure at the end of the test period than at the start . However, there was no control group.
Nevertheless, the same type of result was achieved in a study on geriatric patients, but this time using a double blind test with a control group after 4 months of testing . What these two tests indicate is that spirulina is effective in reducing cholesterol levels, and may also have a useful side-effect in lowering your blood pressure.
C. Spirulina as an Antioxidant
Spirulina is able to reduce metabolic oxidation, caused by the generation of free radicals during extreme cellular respiration during exercise. BY taking a spirulina supplement it is possible to reduce the breakdown of muscle cells by free radical oxidation. An experimental group of geriatric patients was able to reduce the generation of creatine kinase (an enzyme produced when muscle tissue is broken down by oxidation) and they could continue with a treadmill exercise for an additional 52 seconds after taking the supplement.
This should not be a surprising result since spirulina is a free-floating form of cyanobacteria harvested from the surface of small ponds and lakes. Most green organisms offer antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties through their chlorophyll content. It also contains the antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E, and beta-carotene and selenium, two more powerful antioxidants.
D. Anti-inflammatory Spirulina Health Benefits
The substances mentioned above also possess anti-inflammatory properties, which also likely explain its allergy protection. It is believed to be useful in reducing the inflammation and pain of arthritis, although more tests are needed on this. Nevertheless, our knowledge of natural anti-inflammatories is increasing to the stage that identification of the constituents of natural remedies can provide information on their effectiveness.
The constituents of spirulina are both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, so the theory fits in with traditional use and also with the animal tests that have been carried out. Nevertheless, the theory does support the results obtained from human tests .
E. How Spirulina Inhibits HIV Replication
A study reported in 1998 indicated that an extract of spirulina can inhibit the replication of HIV in human T-cells and in peripheral blood mononuclear cells in addition to others. In fact, higher amounts of extract totally stopped replication .
Not only that, but another set of tests carried out by a different group of researchers has established that a form of aqueous spirulina extract known as Calcium-Spirulan also inhibits HIV-1 replication and also the replication of the viruses causing herpes simplex, influenza-A, measles virus and mumps virus in vitro and yet is extremely safe to human cells .
It thus appears to protect human cells from a number of viruses, although more work is likely necessary before this becomes universally accepted. Nevertheless this appears to be a viable treatment for AIDs patients particularly prone to infection from these types of virus.
F. Spirulina and Cancer
A number of studies have shown that spirulina extracts are able to inhibit, or even prevent, certain human cancers caused by damaged DNA strands. DNA can become damaged for a number of reasons, often due to free-radical oxidation, leading to the type of uncontrolled cell growth we know as cancer. Certain enzymes have been identified that promote the repair of these DNA strands, and so prevent the cells becoming cancerous.
However, if these enzymes are damaged or deactivated by exposure to toxins or radiation, the damage to the DNA is not repaired, and cancer can follow. Studies in vitro of the polysaccharides contained in spirulina have been found to possibly enhance the activity of these enzymes and so help prevent certain cancers from being initiated. This could be the explanation for animals and some smokers having been reported to experience a high level of cancer cell suppression when treated with an extract of spirulina or treated with aqueous extracts. .
The known spirulina health benefits discussed above are known rather than surmised, and have positive scientific bases behind them. Each of these benefits has been established after trials, mostly on humans, and the science explaining them is all theoretically valid. Spirulina is more than just another natural remedy with many unproven claims being made for it, but is a genuinely modern medical phenomenon that is deserving of further testing.
If you suffer any of the conditions described above, then it is worth testing the spirulina health benefits claimed of it since it has no known side effects and hence no reason why you should not try it when all else seems to have failed.
1. Mao TK et al. (Spring 2005). “Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients“. Journal of Medicinal Food. 8 (1): 27–30. doi:10.1089/jmf.2005.8.27. PMID 15857205.
2. Cingi, C., Conk-Dalay, M., Cakli, H., & Bal, C. (2008). “The effects of Spirulina on allergic rhinitis“. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Larynology 265 (10): 1219–1223
3. Park, H.; Lee, Y.; Ryu, H.; Kim, M.; Chung, H.; Kim, W. (2008). “A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans“. Annals of nutrition & metabolism 52 (4): 322–328
4. Torres-Duran, Ferreira-Hermosillo, & Juarez-Oropeza. (2007). Antihyperlipemic and antihypertensive effects of Spirulina maxima in an open sample of Mexican population: A preliminary report. Lipids in Health and Disease. 6, 33
5. Park, H.; Lee, Y.; Ryu, H.; Kim, M.; Chung, H.; Kim, W. (2008). “A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans“. Annals of nutrition & metabolism 52 (4): 322–328
6. Ayehunie, S. et al. “Inhibition of HIV-1 Replication by an Aqueous Extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis).” JAIDS: Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes & Human Retrovirology. 18, 1, May 1998: 7-12.