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What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a single-cell blue-green spiral-shaped organism that occurs naturally in tropical and subtropical lakes. Amazingly this microscopic organism is over 65% protein and is densely packed with nutrients. Spirulina has been a vital food source in history and its nourishing properties are likely to be essential in the future. Spirulina use was recorded as early as the 9th Century and was a traditional food source of the Aztecs. In 1974 The United Nations World Food Conference lauded Spirulina as the 'best food for the future'. It grows so fast and can produce 20 times more protein per acre than soybeans. As such, Spirulina has also been proposed by both NASA (CELSS)1 and the European Space Agency (MELISSA)2 as one of the primary foods to be cultivated during long-term space missions.
It is legally approved as a food or food supplement in Europe, Japan, the United States and many other countries around the globe3.
What is the nutritional value of Spirulina?
Spirulina is a tiny organism tightly packed with good balanced nutrition, making it a highly energising food. Spirulina contains over 100 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, digestive enzymes and phytonutrients.
It is 65% protein. Proteins are composed of amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be manufactured in the body and must be supplied in the diet. Non-essential amino acids are needed too, but the body can synthesize them. Spirulina is a “complete” protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids. This easily digested protein can in itself give a boost, especially given the high prevalence of carbohydrate-rich diets.
Spirulina has the highest protein of any natural food: far more than animal and fish flesh (15-25%), soybeans (35%), peanuts (25%), eggs (12%), grains (8-14%) or whole milk (3%)4. One tablespoon (10 grams) of Spirulina contains only 1.3 mg of cholesterol and 36 calories. In contrast, a large egg yields about 300 mg of cholesterol and 80 calories, while providing only the same amount of protein5.
Spirulina has no cellulose in its cell walls, being composed of soft mucopolysaccharides. This makes it easily digested and assimilated. It is 85 to 95% digestible.
- Spirulina is Nature’s richest whole-food source of the entire anti-oxidant spectrum including: beta-carotene, vitamin E, selenium, methionine, cysteine, super oxide dismutase, glutathionine, peroxides, copper, manganese, zinc, B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5, and B-6. It is the only source of phycocyanin, an immune stimulant.
- Spirulina contains 58 times the amount of biochelated iron than raw spinach and 28 times richer than raw beef liver.
- Spirulina contains 3 times the amount of Vitamin E than raw wheat germ, and its action in the body is 49% greater than that of synthetic vitamin E.
- Spirulina is nature's richest source of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A). It's 25 times higher than raw carrots!
- Spirulina is nature's richest source of gamma linolenic acid (GLA). It's 3 times richer than evening primrose! The polyunsaturated oils in Spirulina contain 21% GLA (GLA is the active ingredient in evening primrose oil - evening primrose oil contains up to 10% GLA).
- Spirulina is a rich whole food source of chlorophyll - equal to that of alfalfa or wheat-grass.
- Normal, AL. Characterization of Spirulina biomass for CELSS diet potential. Alabama A&M University, 1988.
- Cornet J.F., Dubertret G. "The cyanobacterium Spirulina in the photosynthetic compartment of the MELISSA artificial ecosystem." Workshop on artificial ecological systems, DARA-CNES, Marseille, France, October 24-26, 1990
- FDA Talk Paper, No. 41,160, June 23, 1981, US Food and Drug Administration.
- Switzer, Larry. Spirulina, The Whole Food Revolution. Bantam, NY, 1982, p. 22.
Customers choose Spirulina Pacifica because of its superior nutritional profile, reliable supply, consistent quality and excellent value. The Hawaiian environment and unique technology set Spirulina Pacifica apart from the others.
Spirulina Pacifica® is a select strain of Athrospira platensis developed over many years of continuous cultivation in Hawaii. Dr. Gerald Cysewski’s founding team of biochemists and aqua-culturalists from the University of California state that the pristine environment of the Kona Coast of Hawaii is the ideal site for cultivating a superior strain of Spirulina. The Kona sun produces free radical compounds that cause attrition of weaker strains.
Spirulina Pacifica represents the oldest continuously cultivated and harvested Spirulina in the world. It grows faster, is bigger and naturally contains more than double the concentration of carotenoids found in other strains. Spirulina Pacifica has been extensively analysed by molecular biologists at the University of Hawaii who identified unique enzymes not found in other strains of Spirulina platensis.
It is cultured in shallow, open ponds (approximately 20 cm deep) adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. A combination of fresh water and supplemental deep ocean water is used to fill the ponds. Hawaii provides ultra-pure, mineral rich water from the world’s cleanest, deepest ocean. This deep water is a source of calcium, magnesium, and all the essential trace elements. No other Spirulina is grown with such a rich source of naturally occurring nutrients. Paddle wheels agitate the water, ensuring even exposure of the algae to the sun for optimal growth and nutritional value.
This state-of-the-art Hawaiian facility is the largest, most efficient farm in the world. Hawaiian Spirulina is pure, grade AAA Spirulina, free of heavy metal contaminates and is certified pesticide-free. Spirulina Pacifica is grown in water rich in baking soda, which ensures that no other, possibly harmful, algae contaminates the culture.
Hawaiian Spirulina is meticulously washed over stainless steel screens. Using pollution-free, 100% recycled process, all pond water is returned to the growing ponds for the next growing cycle. Prior to drying, Hawaiian Spirulina is rinsed three more time. Numerous fresh water rinses give Hawaiian Spirulina a mild, salt-free taste. Ocean Chill Drying was developed especially to eliminate the oxidation of carotenes and fatty acids that occurs in standard dryers. The process employs a closed system, which is kept at less than one percent oxygen by flushing with nitrogen and carbon dioxide. This is a patented process, unique to Hawaiian Spirulina, which relies on very cold deep ocean water to provide dehumidification.
How should I take Spirulina?
Powder or tablets?
Our tablets are 100% pure unadulterated Spirulina with no fillers, binders or other additives. There is no purity advantage in taking Spirulina powder. Powder is said to assimilate more quickly than tablets but many people do not find taking Spirulina powder easy or palatable. If you want to use powder but find it unpalatable, try mixing it with as little warm water as possible and downing it in one shot. Follow this with a glass of juice. Alternatively, mix it with natural yogurt. Spirulina powder can also be used externally, for example as a poultice, a dressing on a wound or ulcer or mixed with creams.
How much Spirulina should I take?
This site only advocates Spirulina as a food supplement and as part of a balanced diet.
Many people and many sites recommend different amounts of Spirulina. New users are generally recommended to start at a low dose and build up gradually.
It is said that a minimum of 3g a day (6 tablets or 1-2 teaspoons of powder) divided into two or more servings is needed to mobilise and remove toxins from the body. In addition, this allows for Spirulina to be combined with other supplements. For example, you could take 3g of Chlorella and some wheat grass as well.
It is easy to find those taking much more. One study concluded that a person would have to eat more than 77 g daily of the most heavily contaminated Spirulina to reach unsafe mercury and lead consumption levels. These researchers, however, go on to suggest that it is not prudent to eat more than 50 g of Spirulina daily1. Spirulina contains a high concentration of nucleic acids, substances related to DNA. When these are metabolised, they create uric acid, which could cause gout or kidney stones. This is of special concern to those who have already had uric acid stones or attacks of gout.
The safety of Spirulina in pregnant and nursing women, young children, and individuals with kidney or liver disease has not been determined and we therefore do not recommend these individuals start Spirulina.
We always recommend discussing nutritional supplements with your health practitioner.
- Slotton DG, Goldman CR, Franke A. Commercially grown spirulina found to contain low levels of mercury and lead. Nutr Rep Int. 1989;40:1165-117
When should I take Spirulina?
Again, the evidence and advice varies. This site only advocates Spirulina as a food supplement and as part of a balanced diet and therefore we recommend Spirulina be taken in divided doses about 30 minutes before meals and at bedtime.
However, other people have recommended different regimes depending on why you take Spirulina. We post them here for your information – they are not recommendations.
1. For the greatest detoxification effect take about 30 minutes before a meal.
This means that the Spirulina will be in the digestive tract ahead of the secretion of bile. As toxins recirculate in the bile this allows the Spirulina to bind the maximum amount for excretion. Some sources advise you not to take Vitamin C at the same time, so it is suggested that if you use Vitamin C you take that with or after your meal.
2. For appetite suppression take about 50-60 minutes before a meal.
There is no magic to this: you are having a highly nutritious “pre-meal” which can curb appetite and reduce cravings. Cravings can be caused by the body trying to obtain nutrients it needs. Improving the diet with nutrient rich foods can reduce cravings. Taking Spirulina can reduce snacking between meals.
In addition, Spirulina contains Phenylalanine, an amino acid. Phenylalanine is naturally present in body proteins and is a precursor of a substance found in the appetite control centre of the brain.
To assist the body’s regeneration cycle.
The body cleanses, repairs and regenerates during sleep. Taking Spirulina at bedtime helps provide the body with the resources for this.
Should I take it in conjunction with other supplements?
Spirulina is often taken with Chlorella. Spirulina and Chlorella compliment each other as dietary supplements. Spirulina contains more protein than Chlorella, but has less chlorophyll and, unlike Chlorella, has a soft digestible cell wall. Chlorella contains CGF. Spirulina is the only known source of phycocyanine.
What are the health benefits of Spirulina?
Hippocrates said: “Let you medicine be your food and food be your medicine”. Spirulina may be one perfect food.
Much research is underway investigating the many potential health benefits of Spirulina. The accumulating evidence is very exciting. However, what is without question is that Spirulina is one of the most concentrated natural sources of nutrition known. It contains all the essential amino acids, is rich in chlorophyll, beta-carotene and its co-factors, and other natural phytonutrients. This is the only green food rich in GLA essential fatty acid.
Spirulina is a good source of chlorophyll
Chlorophyll is the substance that gives plants their green pigmentation. Chlorophyll absorbs energy from the sun to facilitate photosynthesis in plants. It is vital for many metabolic functions of plants, including respiration and growth. Chlorophyll is chemically similar to haem, a complex of molecules that make up human red blood cells. In chlorophyll the central molecule is magnesium whereas in haem it is iron. Some studies suggest these two chemicals may be similar in properties.
Green leafy plants are the only obvious source of chlorophyll. Consumption of leafy vegetables rich in chlorophyll is associated with a reduction in certain types of cancers induced by free radicals. Much chlorophyll goodness is lost in cooking but Spirulina provides us with a naturally occurring no-cooking-needed nutritious supplement.
Chlorophyll inhibits dioxin absorption1 (dioxins are environmental pollutants, which enter the population almost exclusively from the ingestion of food). Dioxins are likely carcinogens and also threaten reproductive health, immune defenses and sexual development. Chlorophyllin, a water soluble form of chlorophyll has been shown to be an effective anticarcinogen in experimental models, including aflatoxin-induced hepatocarcinogenesis2. It is thought to form molecular complexes with carcinogens, thereby blocking their bioavailability.
Chlorophyll has also been used in chewing gun to prevent bad breath.
- Morita K et al. Chlorophyll derived from Chlorella inhibits dioxin absorption from the gastrointestinal tract and accelerates dioxin excretion in rats. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Mar;109(3):289-94.
- Egner PA, Muñoz A, Kensler TW. Chemoprevention with chlorophyllin in individuals exposed to dietary aflatoxin. Mutat Res. 2003 Feb-Mar;523-524:209-16.
Spirulina contains beta carotene
Spirulina is densely packed with carotenoids, including beta carotene. Spirulina contains 25 times more beta-carotene that raw carrots! Spirulina Pacifica has double the concentration of caroteoids found in other strains.
Carotenoids are natural fat-soluble pigments and provide the bright red, orange, or yellow colouration of many vegetables. Beta-carotene is one of the orange dyes found in most green leaves and in carrots. Beta-carotene is the most potent precursor to vitamin A (essential for healthy skin, hair, vision and immune function). About 10% of dietary carotenoids are converted to vitamin A in the body and contribute 25% of our total vitamin A. Carotenoids are antioxidants that protect cells against free radicals by neutralising them before they cause oxidative damage. Carotenoids may inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Spirulina may lower cholesterol and be cardioprotective
We are all aware of the need to keep the cholesterol level in our blood as low as possible to reduce the occurrence of heart disease and strokes. One way to do this is to lower your intake of saturated fats; the other is to eat cholesterol lowering foods such as bran. Preliminary research suggests Spirulina may also be one of these cholesterol-lowering foods1.
In a recent randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study (the highest level of evidence from a medical trial), 78 elderly people were given 8g a Spirulina a day for 16 weeks. The study showed Spirulina had favourable effects on lipid profiles (significantly lowering total cholesterol) and concluded it was suitable as a functional food2.
Another recent study in Mexico showed that LDL-cholesterol (the harmful cholesterol) was lowered in the 36 subjects who took 4.5 grams for 6 weeks only. It also lowered blood pressure3. A further small study in India showed that cholesterol was lowered in people with diabetes mellitus and that Spirulina also improved their glucose control4.
- Nakaya N, Homma Y, Goto Y. Cholesterol lowering effect of spirulina. Nutr Rep Int. 1988;37:1329-1337.
- Park HJ, et al. A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans. Ann Nutr Metab. 2008;52(4):322-8.
- Torres-Duran PV et al. Antihyperlipemic and antihypertensive effects of Spirulina maxima in an open sample of Mexican population: a preliminary report. Lipids Health Dis. 2007 Nov 26;6:33.
- Parikh P et al. Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. J Med Food 2001 Winter;4(4):193-199
Spirulina plays a role in boosting the immune system
Some argue that Spirulina's most powerful health benefits lie in its ability to stimulate and maintain immune system activity. In 2000 the Journal of Medicinal Food published a study that showed Spirulina can raise the level of cytokines in the body1. In 1994, the Second Asia-Pacific Conference on Algal Biotechnology concluded that polysaccharides of Spirulina platensis, at the dosage of 150-300 mg/kg by injection or taken orally, can increase the percentage of T-lymphocyte in the blood2. The results demonstrate that Spirulina polysaccharides can improve cellular and humoral immunity. Hayashi showed that Spirulina extract significantly enhanced interleukin-1 (IL-1) production from peritoneal macrophages3. These results suggest that Spirulina enhances the immune response, particularly the primary response, by stimulating macrophage functions, phagocytosis, and IL-1 production.
- Mao TK et al. Effect of spirulina on the secretion of cytokines from peripheral blood mononuclear cells. J Med Food 2000. Fall;3(3):135-40
- Nemoto-Kawamura C et al. Phycocyanin enhances secretary IgA antibody response and suppresses allergic IgE antibody response in mice immunized with antigen-entrapped biodegradable microparticles.J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2004 Apr;50(2):129-36.
- Hayashi O et al. Enhancement of antibody production in mice by dietary Spirulina platensis.
- J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 1994 Oct;40(5):431-41
Spirulina may have a role in cancer prevention
Very preliminary evidence hints that Spirulina may help prevent cancer. Cancer can be caused by damage to cell DNA. Laboratory studies show that Spirulina may enhance the body’s ability to repair DNA1-3.
- Schwartz J, Shklar G, Reid S, et al. Prevention of experimental oral cancer by extracts of Spirulina-Dunaliell algae. Nutr Cancer. 1988;11:127-134.
- Mathew B, Sankaranarayanan R, Nair PP, et al. Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis. Nutr Cancer. 1995;24:197-202.
- Mishima T, Murata J, Toyoshima M, et al . Inhibition of tumor invasion and metastasis by calcium spirulan (Ca-SP), a novel sulfated polysaccharide derived from a blue-green alga, Spirulina platensis.Clin Exp Metastasis. 1998;16:541-550.
Spirulina has anti-viral activity
In 1998 scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School found that an extract of Spirulina platensis significantly reduced viral replication of HIV-1 in the laboratory1. Another group of medical scientists in Japan has published new studies regarding a purified water extract unique to Spirulina named Calcium-Spirulan. It inhibits re plication of HIV-1, Herpes Simplex, Human Cytomegalovirus, Influenza A virus, Mumps virus and Measles virus in-vitro yet is very safe for human cells. It protects human and monkey cells from viral infection in cell culture2-3.
In addition, epidemiological studies have looked at the lifestyles of people living in areas where HIV is consistently low, in particular Chad. Possibly not coincidentally, one of the major tribal groups in Chad, eat 1-2 tablespoons of Spirulina daily. This led one scientist to question whether Spirulina could be an effective anti-viral agent4. Much more research is needed to investigate this amazing potential.
- Ayehunie S, et al. Inhibition of HIV-1 replication by an aqueous extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis). J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol 1998 May 1;18(1):7-11
- Hayashi K, Hayashi T, Kojima I. A natural sulfated polysaccharide, calcium spirulan, isolated from Spirulina platensis: in vitro and ex vivo evaluation of anti-herpes simplex virus and anti-human immunodeficiency virus activities. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 1996 Oct 10;12(15):1463-71.
- Hayashi T, Hayashi K, Maeda M, Kojima I. Calcium spirulan, an inhibitor of enveloped virus replication, from a blue-green alga Spirulina platensis. J Nat Prod. 1996 Jan;59(1):83-7.
- Teas J et al Algae -- a poor man's HAART? Med Hypothess 2004;62(4):507-10
Spirulina and Chernobyl
A group of children living in the radiation zones in the fall out from Chernobyl were given 5g of Spirulina for 45 days and were found to have lower levels of IgE in their blood, reducing allergic reactions. A Russian patent was awarded in 1994 for the use of Spirulina as a medical food to reduce allergic reactions from radiation sickness1.
- Evets, P. et. al. Means to normalize the levels of immunoglobulin E, using the food supplement spirulina. Grodenski State Medical Univ. Russian Fed Comm Patents and Trade. Patent (19)RU (11)2005486. Jan. 15, 1994.
Spirulina may aid weight loss
A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial investigated the possible weight loss effects of Spirulina1. However, while individuals taking 8.4 g of Spirulina daily lost weight, the difference between the Spirulina group and the placebo group was not statistically significant. Larger and longer studies are needed to establish whether Spirulina is indeed an effective treatment for obesity.
- Becker EW, Jakober B, Luft D, et al. Clinical and biochemical evaluations of the alga Spirulina with regard to its application in the treatment of obesity. A double-blind cross-over study. Nutr Rep Int. 1986;33:565-574.
Other potential benefits
Highly preliminary evidence suggests that Spirulina may counter allergic reactions, such as hay fever and hives, help protect the liver from toxic chemicals and reduce blood pressure. Other potential benefits of Spirulina include wound-healing, correction of anaemia, improving gut lactobacilli and stimulating prostaglandins. Spirulina Source has more information.
Where can I read more about Spirulina?
Since 1989, Earth Food Spirulina, by Robert Henrikson, has been called the definitive popular reference book about Spirulina. Now in its 4th edition it is available to read online at http://www.spirulinasource.com/earthfood.html
In addition, the website of our producers of Spirulina Pacifica has some further information: http://www.hawaiianspirulina.com/what_is.htm