By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
Spirulina...The ‘Pond Scum’ You May Want to Include in Your Diet!
Apparently, Oprah and Kate Middleton love spirulina. Reportedly, Middleton drinks a smoothie twice a day that contains kale, matcha, spinach, romaine, cilantro, blueberries and spirulina. And Oprah is said to have used a spirulina supplement to “level out her blood sugar while losing weight.”
So what exactly is spirulina?
Scientifically called arthrospira platensis, spirulina is a blue-green algae (also classified as cyanobacteria).
“‘Spirulina’ sounds so much better than ‘pond scum,’ but that's what the popular supplement really is,” according to this Live Science report.
“The Aztecs harvested Spirulina from Lake Texcoco in central Mexico, and it is still harvested from Lake Chad in west-central Africa and turned into dry cakes.”
In the United States, you can usually find spirulina, which is also considered a superfood, in tablet or powder form. You may also find spirulina in energy bars, as a popular ingredient at your local smoothie bar or you may even find it pop up in popcorn!
(Check out this spirulina herbal popcorn recipe).
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spirulina became famous after NASA used it as a dietary supplement for astronauts on space missions.
NASA reported that the "nutritional value of 1000 kg of fruits and vegetables equals to 1 kg of Spirulina,” according to one report.
And in 1992, WHO declared Spirulina as the best food in the future to redress malnutrition - especially in children.
Spirulina is nutrient-dense.
This superfood contains nutrients we all need to stay healthy such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, niacin (vitamin B3), additional B vitamins and iron. Perhaps what’s particularly noteworthy is spirulina’s protein content.
According to Harvard Health, spirulina contains a 60 percent protein content and is a richer source of protein compared to most vegetables. So for all the vegans and vegetarians out there, spirulina may be a great source of plant-based protein for you.
Now, let’s explore some of the potential health benefits of spirulina.
It is important to note that research regarding spirulina’s potential health powers is somewhat limited, however, there is some evidence out there which suggests that spirulina may be a great supplement to include in your diet.
Spirulina may help fight hypertension (high blood pressure).
An Italian study published in 2018 by the medical journal Hypertension suggested that consuming spirulina may help lower blood pressure (thus fighting hypertension). The researchers of the study found that spirulina contains a peptide called SP6 which appears to help reduce blood pressure by making the arteries relax (mice were used for testing in the study).
Relaxed arteries means improved blood flow, and improved circulation usually means that your heart does not have to pump as hard. When your heart does not have to pump as hard, this may reduce your blood pressure.
“Blood pressure is the force of blood as your heart pumps it through your arteries. When the blood pushes against your artery walls with more force than usual, you have high blood pressure. This makes your heart work harder to push blood through your body, and that extra work makes your heart bigger and weaker,” according to this source.
So you may want to discuss with your doctor or a competent healthcare professional incorporating spirulina into your diet to help prevent hypertension and heart disease.
Spirulina may help fight cancer.
Research published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found evidence that spirulina contains antioxidant and anti-proliferative (meaning that it could prevent the growth of cancer cells) properties. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage that over time could lead to cancer.
This particular research involved pancreatic cancer cells.
Spirulina may help with the management of diabetes.
One study involved 25 participants with type 2 diabetes. Some of the participants received a spirulina supplement of two grams per day for two months, and the other participants were not given any spirulina (the control group). Just two months of supplementing with spirulina resulted in lower fasting blood glucose levels and lower levels after a meal.
Spirulina may be great for your skin.
Because spirulina is full of essential vitamins and minerals and contains antioxidants, consuming it may help keep your skin looking radiant and youthful.
But some also swear by applying spirulina topically. Apparently, algae is now a trendy skincare ingredient. There are plenty of skincare products, including masks, scrubs and creams that contain spirulina. Some even suggest simply mixing spirulina powder with water to form a paste and then apply it to the face.
Potential benefits of applying spirulina topically include:
- Fighting acne
- Reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
- Reducing the appearance of dark circles
- Promoting cell turnover
- Helping the skin retain moisture
(Spirulina is also found in some hair care products, such as shampoo and conditioner, as it is also said to help promote healthy hair and hair growth).
(If you are really into alternative skincare, read here to learn about cryo facials).
Spirulina may help rid the body of candida.
“Candida is a fungus that aids with nutrient absorption and digestion and appears naturally in the body. But when it is left to grow unchecked (candida thrives on the processed sugars and carbs that make up a large portion of the Standard American Diet), it can release toxins into your blood system and upset your body's pH balance,” according to this report.
One study showed that when mice with systemic candidiasis were given spirulina it helped fight the fungus.
“Several animal studies show that it's an effective anti-microbial – especially for candida – which means that it slows the growth of and successfully eliminates harmful bacteria. And spirulina has also been shown to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut, which will keep candida in check long-term,” according to the report mentioned earlier.
Warnings & Risks?
As always, seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional before adding any new food or supplement to your diet. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people who are taking any medications and people with existing health issues. If you have an autoimmune condition, it is especially important to speak with your doctor before adding spirulina to your proactive healthcare regiment.
It is also important to be aware that spirulina and other algae contain an amino acid called phenylalanine. So people with phenylketonuria (PKU), which is a metabolic disorder in which the body cannot metabolize phenylalanine, should perhaps spirulina.
You also want to watch out for brands of spirulina that contain high amounts (maybe even toxic) levels of heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. It never hurts to be cautious and do your research. Speak with a competent healthcare professional about which spirulina powders and tablets are best. (You can also read here for more information on potential risks with the consumption of spirulina).
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.