Health Store Help! Volume 1: Spirulina

Health Store Help!
Volume 1: Spirulina

Ever wandered into your local health store, done a few dazed laps of the shelves, then staggered out again, completely overwhelmed by the possibilities?

How can one little store have so very many different bottles of pills and powders and potions?  What do they all do?  And what do I even need?

This blog series aims to demystify the health store, equip you with the knowledge to make smart choices, and highlight some of the products available that will give you the most bang for your buck.

Remember – naturopathic health care is all about what is right for you as an individual.  This is general advice, and all supplements should be checked with your naturopath or primary health care provider prior to starting use.



What is spirulina?
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that has been used as a source of food and nutrition since the Aztecs, coming to modern fame after it was used by NASA as a dietary supplement for astronauts on space missions [1].

Protein and iron increase energy and stamina
Spirulina is an incredibly rich source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – including absorbable iron.  It is 60-70% protein, providing nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and all of the essential amino acids [2].  This makes spirulina a complete protein, so is an excellent supplement to consider for increasing energy and stamina, particularly in active teens and adults.

Spirulina’s iron and protein content also make it ideal for vegetarians.

Antioxidants for anti-ageing, great skin, and eye health
Spirulina is packed with antioxidants like carotenoids, vitamin E, phycocyanin and chlorophyll [3].  The beta-carotene in spirulina is highly bioavailable for use in the body, and converts easily to vitamin A [4].  Vitamin A is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the skin, making spirulina a good option for acne treatment.

Spirulina is one of the highest natural sources of zeaxanthin at 74000 mcg/100g – cooked egg yolks are another good source of this antioxidant but contain only 587mcg/100g [4].  Along with lutein, which is abundant in green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, zeaxanthin is important for the development and maintenance of the retina.  Zeaxanthin is also the major component of the central macula.  This makes spirulina an obvious choice for keeping the eyes healthy and may reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration [4].

Anti-inflammatory actions that combat hayfever
Spirulina has been found to inhibit the release of histamine from mast-cells in the body, reducing the severity of symptoms in hayfever sufferers [1].  It also reduces pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-4, important for regulating IgE-mediated allergies, thereby demonstrating protective effects against hayfever [1].  In studies comparing spirulina to placebo, spirulina significantly improved the symptoms of hayfever including nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching [1].

Spirulina has also been found to enhance IgA production, suggesting it plays a pivotal role in strengthening the mucous membranes (such as those in the nose, mouth and throat) for increased mucosal immunity [4].

White blood cell support for anti-viral actions
As yet there are no human studies to investigate the anti-viral properties of spirulina.  However, in vitro studies suggest that the active components of spirulina may inhibit the replication of several enveloped viruses such as herpes simplex type 1 (cold sore virus), human cytomegalovirus, measles and mumps virus, influenza A virus, and HIV [1].

Cholesterol-lowering effects for reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes complications
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the most common cause of mortality in the western world, accounting for more than 50% of all deaths [5].  Spirulina has cholesterol-lowering effects, with studies showing that supplementation reduces total cholesterol and LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol), while increasing HDL (‘good’ cholesterol).  This demonstrates that spirulina can help protect against the development of atherosclerosis by lowering blood cholesterol levels [5].  The antioxidants of spirulina also protect the blood vessels from oxidative stress and subsequent damage, further protecting against CVD.

By protecting the blood vessels and cardiovascular system, spirulina also has an important role in reducing the vascular complications of diabetes, such as nephropathy (kidney disease) [6].

What form does it come in and how much do I need to take?
Spirulina is available in powder, tablet or capsule form.  Powder is great if you make daily juices or smoothies, otherwise tablets or capsules may be more convenient.

Most brands suggest 1-3 serves of spirulina per day to be an effective dose.
One serve equates to 1 teaspoon, or 6 small tablets.
Start at 1 serve per day, increasing to 2-3 serves during times of extra need (ie exams, sports training, illness, high stress etc).
The effects of spirulina are dose dependent – I personally noticed a big difference when I increased my dose from 1 to 3 serves per day (and yes – that’s 18 tablets!)

Not all spirulina is created equal, and can be influenced by production methods and storage techniques, so be sure to ask the staff at your local store for a brand recommendation.

Brands I like include:
Green Nutritionals:

What else do I need to consider?
Although spirulina is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, keep in mind you are only going to be taking 3-9g per day.  Even though it is very high in protein, most people need to be consuming over 50g of protein per day!  So while spirulina is a wonderful food to supplement your diet, it will never replace healthy, balanced eating.

The jury is out on the bioavailability of the vitamin B12 in spirulina – though at this stage it looks like the B12 is unlikely to be readily available for use in the body.  So vegans or people with B12 deficiencies should not rely on spirulina as their sole dietary source of B12.

Remember – this is general advice and should not be used without consultation with your naturopath or primary health care provider (such as your doctor), particularly if you suffer from chronic illness or severe nutritional deficiencies.

If you would like to know more about how spirulina and other natural supplements can benefit your health, Rebecca is a consulting naturopath practicing from Randwick in Sydney.

[1]    P.D. Karkos, S.C. Leong, C.D. Karkos, N. Sivaji, and D.A. Assimakopoulos, “Spirulina in clinical practice: evidence-based human applications”, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 8, 2011.
[2]    L.M. Moreira, A.S.R. Rocha, C.L.G. Ribeiro, R.S. Rodrigues, and L.A.S. Soares, “Nutritional evaluation of single-cell protein produced by Spirulina plantensis”, African Journal of Food Science, vol. 5, no. 15, pp. 799-805, 2011.
[3]    A.S. Gad, Y.A. Khadrawy, A.A. El-Nekeety, S.R. Mohamed, N.S. Hassan, and M.A. Abdel-Wahhab, “Antioxidant activity and hepatoprotective effects of whey protein and Spirulina in rats”, Nutrition, vol. 27, no. 5, pp. 582-589, 2011.
[4]    B. Yu, J. Wang, P.M. Suter, R.M. Russell, M.A. Grusak, Y. Wang, Z. Wang, S. Yin, and G. Tang, “Spirulina is an effective dietary source of zeaxanthin to humans”, British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 108, no. 4, pp. 611-619, 2012.
[5]    M.A. Muga, and J.C-J. Chao, “Effects of fish oil and spirulina on oxidative stress and inflammation in hypercholesterolemic hamsters”, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 14, pp. 470-480, 2014.
[6]    J. Zheng, T. Inoguchi, S. Sasaki, Y. Maeda, M.F. McCarty, M. Fujii, N. Ikeda, K. Kobayashi, N. Sonoda, and R. Takayanagi, “Phycocyanin and phycocyanobilin from Spirulina platensis protect against diabetic nephropathy by inhibiting oxidative stress”, American Journal of Physiology, vol. 304, no. 2, pp. R110-R120, 2013.

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