Spirulina is a food supplement made from tiny bacteria that are found in abundance in East Africa. It has been used as a food supplement since ancient times, when Aztecs skimmed spirulina-rich algae from water sources and dried it into cake form. Spirulina is available in various formats, including as pills, powder and flakes, as well as in its whole-food form. Its attributes and health benefits are as follows:
Around sixty per cent of spirulina’s bulk is protein, which is extremely high. It includes all essential elements of protein, including amino acids and various other nutrients. Spirulina is therefore particularly valuable to vegetarians and vegans as a health supplement, as it contains all the nutrients that a meat- or animal product-free diet may lack. The iron content in spirulina means that it can guard against anaemia.
The same properties that make spirulina useful to vegatarians and vegans also make it important for athletes. Spirulina can boost energy and help to maintain stamina. The high protein content means that its particularly useful to weightlifters and boxers, and other athletes who need to be conscious of their weight while eating a diet that retains and boosts muscle tissue.
There is also some evidence to suggest that spirulina can be useful in reducing reactions to allergies and intolerances. Although anyone with a serious allergy should in no way rely on spirolina to ward of anaphylaxis or any other life-threatening reaction, some studies have shown that spirolina reduces the effects of common allergies, like hayfever.
Spirulina is also often recommended as being particularly suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as it replenishes their bodies at a time when nutrients are in particularly high demand. However, you should have a chat with your doctor or midwife before introducing any supplements into your diet during pregnancy.
Spirulina is also thought to have a role in reducing cholesterol and so reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers. It forms an important part of the diet in Japan, which has a much lower incidence of heart disease than in most Western countries – Japanese studies show that spirulina acts to lower harmful types of cholesterol in men.
There is an ongoing debate about whether or not spirulina supplements can help with weight loss, with some arguing that it doesn’t, and other sources maintaining that spirulina can boost the metabolism and suppress the appetite. While its extremely unlikely than spirulina on its own will have an effect on your waistline, it can form a part of a weight-loss regime as it helps to regulate blood-sugar levels and suppress cravings.
Possibly the most important health benefit of spirulina is that it works to stop HIV cells from replicating, and it has also been found to help children in the Third World, who are underweight and HIV positive, to gain weight and reduce the likelihood of anaemia. The health benefits of spirulina in the fight against HIV is yet to be fully explored, but it could potentially have an exciting role in the battle against this feared disease. If you are interested in finding out more, ask your doctor.
People with certain metabolic disorders that affects their ability to digest amino acids should avoid spirulina.
Spirulina is commercially farmed in many countries. It can be found in most health food shops.