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Spirulina Benefits & How to Use
By Jordan Rubin
June 13, 2023
We can all afford to add more antioxidants and beneficial compounds to our diets, yet this isn’t always easy to do. When we lack nutritious foods in our meals, such as greens and a variety of other plants, “superfood” supplements can come in handy.
Why is spirulina, a type of algae, considered a superfood? Spirulina is nutrient-filled, typically containing chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and proteins. It’s an especially great source of the compound called phycocyanin, which has been shown to support healthy antioxidant status, immune system functions and more.
The best part? It’s super convenient to consume spirulina in powder form on a regular basis.
Below learn more about spirulina’s nutrition benefits, how to use it and where it’s found.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that grows in both fresh and saltwater environments. It's technically a microscopic single-celled organism that gets its name from its spiral structure, which can be viewed under a microscope.
Spirulina thrives in warm climates and high-saline alkaline water. It’s grown mostly in Central and South America, Africa and parts of Asia.
There are two species of spirulina that are most commonly used to make supplements: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima.
Another common name for spirulina is “green-blue algae” due to its colorful appearance.
Spirulina can appear as either blue or green, depending on the exact species.
Blue spirulina is actually a derivative of green spirulina. The blue color is the result of the extraction of phycocyanin, a pigment found in spirulina that’s also a protein generally known for its antioxidant properties and its ability to support a healthy response to inflammation. It's this phycocyanin that gives blue spirulina its vivid blue color. Blue spirulina is often used as a natural food coloring in addition to being taken as a supplement.
In comparison, green spirulina is simply the whole spirulina algae that has been dried and ground into a powder. This means it contains the full range of nutrients found in spirulina, including chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals.
When choosing between the two, it's important to remember that blue spirulina, while high in phycocyanin, lacks the other nutrients found in green spirulina. Green spirulina is considered a superfood due to its comprehensive nutrient profile, and, therefore, for overall nutritional benefits, green spirulina may be the better choice.
What are the benefits of taking spirulina? Here’s why you should consider adding this algae to your routine:
As mentioned above, spirulina is often dubbed as a superfood because it typically offers various nutrients, including:
Vitamins B1, B2, B3
Due to its vitamin and mineral content, blue-green algae can generally support healthy metabolic functions, healthy blood supply and circulation, and an overall healthy immune system. It can also assist in promoting cellular health, promoting a healthy response to oxidative stress, and supporting skin, reproductive, and heart health.
Does spirulina have vitamin B12? Spirulina does typically contain compounds structurally similar to vitamin B12 (cobalamin), known as pseudovitamin B12. However, these are not bioavailable forms that the human body can use, and it may even interfere with the absorption of true vitamin B12 in the diet.
Therefore, while spirulina has many other nutritional benefits, including providing protein and other B vitamins, it should not be relied upon as a source of vitamin B12. This is particularly important for vegetarians and vegans, who often look to plant-based sources for vitamin B12 (a nutrient found mostly in animal products).
Within spirulina, you’ll find many antioxidants that can generally help promote a healthy response to oxidative stress and promote cellular health. Increasing your intake of antioxidants is beneficial for overall health.
Spirulina, particularly green spirulina (made from whole algae) is known to contain these powerful antioxidants:
Phycocyanin: This is the main active compound in spirulina and also what gives spirulina its unique blue-green color. Phycocyanin can help fight free radicals and help to promote a healthy response to inflammation.
Beta-Carotene: Spirulina offers beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy vision, neurological function and healthy skin.
Chlorophyll: Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in all green plants and is responsible for converting light into energy during photosynthesis. It's also known to have strong antioxidant properties.
Zeaxanthin: This is an important carotenoid that has been linked to eye health.
Superoxide Dismutase: This is an enzyme that plays a key role in promoting overall cellular health and supporting a healthy response to oxidative stress.
Is spirulina good or bad for your liver? Spirulina is sometimes used to promote healthy, normal detoxification processes, mostly due to its antioxidants and healthy inflammation response-supporting properties.
It’s, therefore, potentially helpful for liver health, assuming you opt for a high-quality spirulina product that’s free of contaminants.
Spirulina is known to be a source of plant-based protein. The protein content of spirulina varies depending on how it’s cultivated, but overall, it’s one of the best protein sources for vegans and those who avoid animal products. This protein content is often significantly higher than most vegetables and grains, and even rivals that of certain meats.
A typical serving (about one tablespoon) of dried spirulina powder contains around four grams of protein.
In addition to having protein, the protein in spirulina is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own. This is relatively rare for plant foods, making spirulina a good source of protein for plant-based eaters.
Some research suggests that spirulina may promote healthy immune system function, possibly by promoting the normal production of antibodies and promoting the normal activity of natural killer cells. This can potentially help to promote and maintain overall health, such as in Chinese herbalism.
There’s evidence indicating that spirulina may support overall heart health by helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and promoting a healthy response to inflammation.
Because it supplies compounds that can help promote a healthy response to inflammation and support healthy immune system functions, spirulina may help to promote overall respiratory health.
Considering it offers iron, protein and B vitamins, it’s thought that spirulina can support muscle strength and endurance, potentially benefiting athletes or those with physically demanding jobs.
Spirulina can be consumed in various forms, including as a powder, tablets or capsules. Spirulina powder is among the most common type; it can be added to smoothies, juices or even foods (it will turn recipes a fun blue-green color).
The recommended daily serving of spirulina ranges from 1 to 3 grams per day, but higher doses have been used in some studies (stick to a lower dose unless working with a healthcare provider).
Also, always read and follow label directions for suggested use as well as consult your healthcare professional before beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen.
Yes, it is generally safe for most people to take spirulina every day, as long as they are not allergic to it, do not have any specific medical conditions, and don’t take medications that could interact with it.
Spirulina is a nutrient-filled food source that can contribute to a balanced diet. However, as mentioned, you should always read and follow label directions for use and consult with your healthcare professional prior to use.
While spirulina offers many nutrients, keep in mind that it should not replace a balanced and varied diet but should be part of it
One important concern with spirulina involves the quality of the product. Spirulina can absorb heavy metals from the water where it grows, so if it's grown in contaminated water, it can contain harmful levels of these toxins. It's crucial to purchase spirulina from a reputable source that tests for contaminants.
Among many other superfoods, you’ll find organic spirulina in Ancient Nutrition’s Organic Supergreens, which come in a variety of flavors.
What are supergreens exactly? Our Organic Supergreens powder is made with a delicious blend of dried nutritious greens, grasses, fruits, herbs and probiotics. Drinking a serving daily can help support healthy energy, detoxification, healthy digestive function and healthy gut microflora.
Try Organic Supergreens powder in DIY Detox Drinks Recipes, such as those made with ginger, lemon and coconut water. If you prefer, our Organic Supergreens are also available in tablet form for added convenience.
Spirulina is generally considered safe for most people. However, like any supplement, it can cause side effects and interact with certain medications. Always consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have a pre-existing condition or are on any medication.