More Than Just An Algae -Spirulina: Superfood or Health Fad?

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It is a
dietary supplement. It is a food to be eaten on its own as well. And on top of
it all, it is a cyanobacterium: commonly known as blue-green algae – which is a misnomer as it is a really a bacteria
which creates its own food through photosynthesis, not an algae.  

Spirulina has
been around for centuries. It was used as a food source by the Aztecs as far
back as the 13th century, valued for its high protein content. It
was easily harvested as it thrives in abundance in subtropical and tropical
lakes, mainly in Central and South America, Asia and Africa. Recently, it has
gained popularity again as a health supplement, touted to help many illnesses,
from diabetes, high cholesterol, mental and emotional issues, weight loss, and
even pre-menstrual symptoms!

Remarkably
simple in structure, Spirulina is made up of free-floating, filamentous
single-celled bacteria, grouped together in cylindrical helixes. Cyanobacteria occur virtually everywhere on
earth, but the edible ones called Spirulina belong to 2 species: Arthrospiraplatensis and Arthrospira
maxima
.

What makes this single-cell organism
so sought after?

As a whole
food, is that spirulina is very nutritious: Dried spirulina is made up of about
60% protein and 7% lipids by weight. The lipids are mainly Omega 3 and Omega 6
fatswith a good Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio, conferring anti-inflammatory effects
which may promote heart health.

Sprirulina is
rich in many vitamins: A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacinamide), B5
(panthotenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), C, E. It It is also
loaded with trace elements: potassium, calcium, chromium, iron, manganese,
magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, and zinc. On top of all these, spirulina
contains many anti-oxidants, including beta-carotene, and chlorophyll pigments.

Numerous
studies have shown spirulina to have beneficial effects on health. These
include protection against cancer and heart disease lowering of bad cholesterol
levels in the blood, improved muscle recovery after exercise. Studies have also
shown that spirulina improves the immune system response by increasing the
number and activity of NK (natural killers) cells, and modulating cytokine
activity. Most (if not all) of these studies, however, are relatively small
scaled, and hence, although promising, more research will be needed to
determine if spirulina is really as magical as it is made out to be.

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Safety Issues to Take Note Of

Spirulina, by
itself, is very safe, even in large doses and in babies. However, commercial
production of the supplement has raised some safety issues. Spirulina can
become contaminated with toxins called microcystins, produced by some
cyanobacterium, if quality control is poor. Microcystins, if consumed
chronically, can increase the risk of cancer. Heavy metal (mercury, lead,
arsenic) contamination is yet another problem: this is especially a concern
with spirulina supplements from China.

So Should I Take It?

In our
opinion, yes!

Spirulina is
a supplement worth going for. Although studies are still small scaled, its
benefits are much better documented then many other supplements out there.
Antioxidant properties aside, it is a rick source of vitamins: and it costs a
fraction most other vitamin supplements out in the market.

Be extra
careful if you are on anti-coagulant therapy (e.g. e.g aspirin, warfarin) or
immunosuppressive therapy. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is better to
avoid the supplement for the time being. Finally, if you suffer from phenylketonuria,
sripulina may aggravate you condition: remember to seek your doctor’s advice
before deciding to take take it.

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