Spirulina is one of the oldest known living microorganisms on our planet. This microalgae appeared on earth 3 billion years ago. It is one of the first forms of life on the planet. From its Latin name (Arthrospira platensis or spirulina platensis), spirulina is a freshwater green blue algae of the Cyanophyceae family. Before the introduction of spirulina cultivation, blue-green algae grows mainly in lakes of volcanic origin, in Central America and Africa. The two main species of spirulina refer to these two geographical areas, arthrospira platensis or spirulina platensis being originally established in the region of Chad, and spirulina maxima, in that of Mexico but arthrospira platensis had also been discovered in Latin America, India, Asia, etc.. If the Kanembu peoples(lake Chad) of the Sahara were already harvesting spirulina, thousands of years ago, to feed on it, it was in Central America that Europeans first discovered the blue-green algae. The Aztecs also harvested blue algae (Spirulina) for its high nutritional value and health benefits.
The past few years, the discoveries about the health benefits of the Spirulina had multiplied due to the richness of this amazing little micro-algae.
Fatigue, difficult sleep, iron deficiency, problems with concentration… are the daily lives of thousands of people, often due to a stressful lifestyle and poor eating habits. Our organism are in deficiency, so it is essential to provide the necessary nutrients. Thanks to its nutritional richness, spirulina is an ally of choice.
Enzymes, Vitamins, minerals and trace elements will help in the fight against fatigue and depleted bodies. Phycocyanin is an excellent booster of immunity and as for chlorophyll, it will promote the absorption of iron. Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) is an antioxidant that will fight against free radicals.
Spirulina is indicated during certain diets (vegetarian, vegan, slimming…) to avoid deficiencies. Attention for vegan diets, vitamin B12 in spirulina may not be a substitute for animal vitamin B12.
The intake of spirulina can be interesting in some elderly people suffering from loss of appetite who therefore quickly find themselves deficient.
For athletes, spirulina improves endurance and physical performance, promotes muscle recovery, reduces cramps, muscle tears and fatigue, but it has also been observed an increase in VO2 max and enzymes fighting oxidative stress.
Phycocyanin stimulates an endogenous enzyme lactate dehydrogenase. It will prevent the accumulation of lactic acid so feared by athletes because it’s responsible for cramps and muscle tears. This pigment also has anti-inflammatory activity (anti-COX2). Glycogen will help delay the onset of muscle fatigue.
The diet low in antioxidant, is directly linked to the resurgence of many pathologies. Spirulina is an excellent source of antioxidant like chlorophyll, beta carotene, phycocyanin, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, superoxide dismutase(SOD), etc…
Tests showed very satisfactory results on allergic phenomena such as asthma, atopic eczema, allergic rhinitis. They suggest that spirulina stimulates immune defenses, inhibits histamine release by mast cells, and reduces the production of arachidonic acid responsible for the formation of leukotrienes that trigger bronchospasm.
A randomized, double-blind, 6-month study with 2g/day of spirulina versus placebo in patients prone to allergic rhinitis concluded that spirulina was clinically effective in combating allergic rhinitis.
Spirulina offers a truly appealing range of characteristics, which have long attracted researchers, private companies and organisations. It is impressively rich in proteins, rare essential lipids, and numerous minerals and vitamins. It has a phenomenal growth rate in totally mineral media. Not having any cellulose surfaces, it is perfectly digestible in both its raw and dried forms. Numerous nutritional tests have demonstrated the high bioavailability of its micronutrients.
A packed table of contents
- Exceptionally high protein content (between 50 and 70% of its dry weight, a level almost twice as high as for soya)
- Exceptionally high provitamin A – beta-carotene content (one gram of spirulina covers the daily requirements of vitamin A for an adult)
- Exceptionally high vitamin B12 content(four times higher than raw liver)
- Exceptionally high iron content and a high content of minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium and iodine
- Excellent source of zinc, when produced in growth tanks to which zinc has been added
- Very high content gamma-linolenic acid (GLA content). GLA is the precursor to anti-inflammatory and immune mediators, and is the second richest source of this nutrient after breast milk.
- Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B8 and B9, vitamin D, vitamin E and vitamin K
- The eight essential amino acids which the body cannot synthesise: isoleucine (required for optimal growth); leucine (stimulator of brain functions), lysine (necessary for producing antibodies, enzymes and hormones), methionine (rich in sulphur, has antioxidant properties), phenylalanine (required by the thyroid gland), threonine (improves intestinal and digestive functions), tryptophan (regulates serotonin) and valine (naturally stimulates mental and physical capacities).
- Some 15 pigments, including chlorophyll and phycocyanin, which have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antitumour properties.
Learn more: Spirulina: Nutritional Aspects, J. Falquet and J.-P. Hurni, Antenna Technologies, 2006
In addition to its nutritional aspects, spirulina is also rich in therapeutic properties. Several of the molecules found in spirulina have been studied for their biological activities. Its immunostimulants and antivirals in particular are of great interest in the field of malnutrition, which weakens the immune defences of a malnourished child.
Significant potential for spirulina in malnourished patients infected with HIV in Africa.
A study conducted in Cameroon, published on 2 May 2011 in Nutrition and Metabolic Insights , is now showing its nutritional efficiency in terms of weight gain in malnourished people infected with HIV. This study also shows a revival of immunity-markers and a decrease in viral load, linked to the additional therapeutic properties of spirulina, which is a clinical observation of particular interest. The authors conclude that this new study “confirms the interest in considering this alga routinely for nutritional rehabilitation among this type of patients”.
Nutritional care of people living with HIV/AIDS remains a serious problem in Africa, partly due to the fact that malnutrition and HIV mutually reinforce each other. Spirulina, on the basis of its micronutrient composition, its health benefits and the fact that it is grown locally, demonstrates important advantages in the fight against malnutrition. In addition to its specific nutritional properties, spirulina also has therapeutic properties of particular interest in this type of patient, including antiviral and immunostimulatory properties.
Clinical studies have evaluated the effectiveness of an spirulina-based approach on the evolution of anthropometric, biological and nutritional parameters in malnourished patients infected with HIV in Africa. In Burkina Faso, a pioneering study of nutritional rehabilitation on 170 children showed a particularly favourable impact on the re-nutrition of HIV-infected children with locally produced spirulina.
This study was conducted with spirulina in 52 malnourished HIV-positive adults, naive to antiretroviral treatment. The randomised single-blind study compared a group of patients supplemented with spirulina with a group receiving soya beans, a standard nutritional rehabilitation supplement.
The biological parameters of patients were measured at baseline and after 12 weeks follow-up. At the endline of 12 weeks, weight and body mass index (BMI) were significantly increased in both groups (P = 0.01). In both groups, CD4 markers of immunological activity had also increased significantly (P <0.001). However, the increase was significantly larger in the group receiving spirulina (P = 0.02). Similarly, in both groups, the HIV viral load was significantly reduced. The decrease was significantly greater among patients receiving spirulina (P=0.02).
Article by M. Azabji-Kenfack and team: Potential of Spirulina Platensis as a Nutritional Supplement in Malnourished HIV-Infected Adults in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Randomised, Single-Blind Study. Nutrition and Metabolic Insights 2011:4 29–37.