Understanding the Buzz Around Spirulina

Looking around for an immune booster or weight loss supplement? Chances are, your friends or the internet may have recommended spirulina. It is, after all, one of the most easily available nutritional supplements. Named after the spiral shapes in which it arranges itself as it grows, this blue-green algae has attained superstar status for its many medicinal properties. But keep in mind that spirulina has not been tested by the FDA for safety and effectiveness, given that it is mostly marketed as a dietary supplement. The FDA also hasn’t assessed it as a treatment for any medical condition. Spirulina has been tested on animals, but clinical trials on humans are few and far between. Despite the lack of a clean chit, the algae are popular among consumers seeking a holistic, non-traditional, plant-based supplement.

Where is spirulina cultivated?

A type of blue-green micro-algae, it grows wild in Africa and the salty lakes of Mexico. Easy to harvest, it was supposedly used by the Aztecs and Kanembu community of Central Africa as a food source. Most of the spirulina sold in the United States is cultivated in a laboratory.

What does spirulina contain?

– Various B vitamins

 – Beta-carotene and other carotenoids

 – Calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and iron

 – Protein: Dried spirulina contains almost 70% protein by weight

 – Vitamin B12

 – Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)

 Though a rich source of protein, you would have to pop a large number of spirulina capsules to gain a large dose of protein. Also, the B12 cannot be absorbed by your colon, and therefore, not utilized effectively by your body.

Can the micro-algae help you lose weight?

To understand how spirulina aids weight loss, let’s get a perspective about GI or Glycaemic Index. GI is basically a measure of how quickly blood glucose levels rise after consuming a particular type of carbohydrate-containing food. Based on their effect on blood glucose levels, foods can be ranked on their GI. Low GI foods break down into sugars slowly and do not cause a quick increase in blood sugar, which can trigger a rise in insulin, in turn lowering blood sugar and producing a food craving. As a rich source of GLA, spirulina regulates blood sugar levels to keep cravings at bay. However, by itself, it cannot help you maintain a consistently healthy weight. You must supplement spirulina with an appropriate meal plan and exercise regimen.

A look at other spirulina benefits

Animal tests suggest that phycocyanin in spirulina increases lymphocyte activity and boosts blood production. Its complex sugars increase the production of antibodies and infection-fighting proteins.

The phytonutrients in spirulina accelerate detoxification and remove the heavy metals creating a toxic environment in our kidneys. Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment (Yablokov, B. Nesterenko, and V. Nesterenko; Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 1181) states that spirulina was one among the food supplements used to stimulate immunity and support the decrease of radionuclide levels in the bodies of individuals affected by the Chernobyl disaster in the contaminated territories of Ukraine, Belarus and European Russia.

Spirulina side-effects and precautionary measures

While spirulina itself is non-toxic, it can be contaminated with microcystins, which are highly toxic, liver-poisoning substances. It is best to buy the supplement from a brand/seller of repute. Individuals with phenylketonuria must avoid consuming spirulina in any form. As there isn’t much information on how spirulina interacts with medications, it makes sense to talk to your physician before buying the dietary supplement.