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What is Spirulina?


Spirulina is a one-celled bacterial organism that is, ironically, targeted for consumption by humans. Specifically, it’s a cyanobacteria, meaning that it generates energy via photosynthesis. Because the name for this designation is adapted from the Greek word kyanós, which means “blue,” spirulina is commonly called blue-green algae.


Prior to the Spanish occupation of the Americas, the spirulina species Arthrospira maxima was an important source of food for the indigenous peoples of El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Central Mexico. In fact, to the Aztecs, who knew the herb as tecuitlatl, it was a major source of protein.


In South America, Asia and Africa, the native species Arthrospira platensis was also used for food and medicine for centuries. The advantage of this species is its ability to thrive in lakes and ponds with a high pH and high concentration of salts. Minimal growth requirements makes the cultivation of this species of spirulina particularly economically and environmentally viable. Out of 25,000 species of algae, this is the species that is most often cultivated in a lab (to avoid contamination with other toxin-producing algae) and dried or freeze dried for use as a dietary supplement.


Why is Spirulina Called a Superfood?


In terms of nutrition, spirulina has 25 times more calcium than milk and as much protein as beef. Further, it’s a complete source of protein because it provides all of the essential amino acids. It’s also the most abundant food source of antioxidant carotenes, including yellow xanthophylls. Spirulina is also the richest food source of vitamin B-12, provides up to 70% of the minimum daily requirements for iron, four times the ORAC Value (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of blueberries and up to four times the minimum daily requirements for vitamins A, D and K. Although spirulina doesn’t contain vitamin C, it does help to extend its bioavailability in the body. It also encourages a healthy balance of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria in the gut, the beneficial bacteria that not only enhance digestion but that also inhibit Candida yeast and E. coli.


Spirulina is used as a “nutraceutical” to counter a variety of conditions ranging from inflammation to heavy metal toxicity and allergies to liver disorders. More research is needed to form any conclusion about its efficacy in treating such conditions, but preliminary research to date indicates that spirulina reduces precancerous lesions of the mouth, blocks the release of histamines and demonstrates activity against influenza, HIV and herpes, at least in vitro (test tube studies).


One thing that is established is the ability of spirulina to diminish the adverse effects of radiation exposure. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, affected children who were given a daily dose of 5 grams of spirulina for 45 days showed a dramatic increase in white blood cell counts that were previously low, greater regeneration of liver, spinal fluid and bone marrow cells and 50% fewer radionucleides in urine samples within the first 2o days. Of particular significance is the fact that these results occurred even though radiation exposure continued due to contaminated food and water. 


Safety Concerns


Because spirulina contains the amino acid phenylalanine and a high degree of vitamin K, people with phenylketonuria (PKU) or who take anticoagulation medications should not use this supplement without first consulting their physician. 



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