Spirulina: The protein packed algae

Monday, March 20, 2017. Author Tyler Breedlove

What was the fish’s least favorite subject in school?

Algae-bra!

So… there’s no coming back from that intro. Let’s talk about algae! 

So, what is Spirulina?

Spirulina, also known as Arthrospira, is a blue-green algae or “cyanobacterium.” It gets its name from the helical or “spiral” nature of its filaments. Though you may have not heard of Spirulina, it has a long history of use as food. There are reports that it was used for food by Mexicans during the Aztec civilization, dating back over 1000 years. In the 1940s, a French Phycologist by the name of Dangeard found it to be used as food by the Kanembu tribe in the Lake Chad area of the Republic of Chad. Locals would consume Spirulina as a dried cake they called “Dihé.” This is still a practice that continues today.

Spirulina can grow in a number of different habitats, from the Pacific Ocean near Japan and Hawaii to large freshwater lakes, like Klamath Lake in North America, Lake Texcoco in Mexico, Lake Titikaka in South America and the previously mentioned Lake Chad in Africa. Interestingly, this algae is typically found in many alkaline lakes with very high pH levels, sometimes reaching a pH of 11. This very high level of pH usually prevents the growth of most other algae.

Spirulina has been commercially produced for the last 30 years, mostly in large outdoor ponds maintained in controlled conditions, but some companies produce directly from natural lakes. The current worldwide production is estimated to be around 3000 metric tons! That’s a lot of algae!

Healthy Bites

So what’s so great about Spirulina?

Research suggests that it may have the ability to:

  • Reduce cholesterol levels
  • Protect against cancer
  • Positively boost the immune system
  • Improve digestion and absorption of foods
  • Protect the digestive system from infection
  • Reduce or prevent high blood pressure
  • Aid in weight loss
  • Decrease blood glucose levels
  • Protect and support kidney function 

It’s important to note that though Spirulina has been consumed by humans for up to 1000 years, many of the studies suggesting these health benefits were in cases of animal research, with the exception being weight loss in human trials with obese subjects.

Nutritional Value

Spirulina is typically dried after being “harvested” and importantly, protein makes up 60-70% of its dry weight. It is an incredibly rich source of Vitamin B6, Vitamin A, Iron and a host of phytochemicals. It also happens to be one of the few sources of dietary γ-linolenic acid (GLA).

You might not find Spirulina at your average grocery store, so you may need to visit a local whole food or specialty food shop or website where you’ll find it in capsules or in powder form. Based on data from the University of Maryland Medical Center, a typical daily consumption of Spirulina is around 2-3 grams (2,000-3,000 mg), broken into 4 to 6 portions of 0.5 grams (500 mg) each. Additionally, it is recommended that you avoid this algae if you have phenylketonuria or an autoimmune disorder.

Radioactive Protection

There are apparently unpublished reports from Russian scientists and doctors about the radioprotective effects of Spirulina. This comes from experiments conducted on victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. A study in Beryozovka involved 49 children between the ages of 3 to 7 years of age, who were administered dosages of Spirulina for 45 days. The results showed an increase in T-cell suppressors and beneficial hormones. Additionally, the radioactivity of urine decreased in 83% of the children. These findings were discussed in a report by T. Belookaya, Chairman of the Byelorussian Committee of “Children of Chernobyl.”

The Genetics

Now, understanding your genetics can play a key role in knowing if and how you would benefit from the consumption of Spirulina. This becomes very relevant when we look at certain genes:

So now you know the many health benefits of spirulina, we're in no doubt you'll be wondering how you can add it to your diet. Well wonder no more with this post-workout spirulina smoothie. Simple to make, and packed full of nutrients!

If you enjoyed this article, please see my other healthy FitnessGenes food blogs to see what other ingredients are most suitable for your genotype: pears, celeriac, brussels sprouts, eggplant, ginger, apples, turmeric, cinnamon, green beans, grits, pears, pumpkin, buckwheat, dark chocolate, oats, and broccoli.

 

References: 

Belay, A., Ota, Y., Miyakawa, K., & Shimamatsu, H. (1993). Current knowledge on potential health benefits of Spirulina. Journal of Applied Phycology, 5(2), 235-241.

Belay, A. (2002). The potential application of Spirulina (Arthrospira) as a nutritional and therapeutic supplement in health management. Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, 5, 26-48.

Spirulina. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/spirulina

Kulshreshtha, A., Jarouliya, U., Bhadauriya, P., Prasad, G. B. K. S., & Bisen, P. S. (2008). Spirulina in health care management. Current pharmaceutical biotechnology, 9(5), 400-405.

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