People have been eating spirulina for centuries as a source of nutrition and (alleged) health benefits, but is it really that special? Read on to find out.
“Superfood” is a brilliant piece of marketing.
It’s a simple and evocative label that can be used to elevate any food thought to be healthy above its peers in both perception and price.
And oh how it’s working!
Foods commonly anointed as “super” include spirulina, blueberries, salmon, kale, acai and goji berries, and chia seeds.
The problem with the superfood craze isn’t with the foods themselves. They’re perfectly nutritious.
The problem is there’s no set criteria for determining what qualifies as a “superfood” and what doesn’t, so it’s left to the tender mercies of food marketers.
And I think you know what that means: high jinks, shenanigans, and buffoonery.
Basically, any food that’s remotely nutritious has been branded a superfood, which drives up demand and prices.
Well, realize that there is no food group for “superfoods.”
Strawberries, asparagus, and white potato are just as “super” as blueberries, kale, and sweet potato in that all are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, and various phytonutrients.
So, the reality is there are many foods you can eat to meet your body’s nutritional needs, and a large number don’t appear on any superfood listicles.
Here’s how Alison Hornby, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), put it:
“All unprocessed food from the major food groups could be considered ‘super’. All these foods are useful as part of a balanced diet.”
What does this mean for spirulina, then?
It’s definitely benefiting from the mainstream superfood orgy, but it actually does deserve a fair amount of the praise it receives.
For example, in 1974, the United Nations named spirulina as one of the most promising foods for the future and scientists from the US space program at NASA have studied spirulina as a potential food source for space travel due to its beneficial nutrient profile.
What is spirulina, though, and why is it so popular? What are its reported benefits and what does the scientific research say? Is it really a worthwhile addition to your supplementation regimen?
Let’s find out.
- What is Spirulina?
- Why Do People Supplement With Spirulina?
- What Are the Benefits of Spirulina?
- What Is the Clinically Effective Dosage of Spirulina?
- What Types of Results Should I Expect From Taking Spirulina?
- Does Spirulina Have Any Side Effects?
- The Best Spirulina Supplements
- The Bottom Line on Spirulina
- What's your take on spirulina? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Table of Contents
Spirulina is a blue-green algae (a type of bacteria that uses photosynthesis to generate energy and stay alive) that grows in freshwater lakes and ponds around the world.
This is why people often joke that you’re paying a pretty penny just to eat pond scum.
It was once a primary source of protein for the ancient Aztec and African populations, and chemical analysis shows why–it’s an excellent source of a number of different macro– and micronutrients, including protein, essential amino acids, vitamins, and essential fatty acids.
Spirulina contains several other compounds that scientists have isolated as beneficial to our health.
The main one is phycocyanobilin, which makes up about 1% of spirulina by weight.
This compound mimics a compound the body produces called bilirubin, which inhibits enzymes that can cause oxidative damage and inflammation in the body. In this way, phycocyanobilin has both anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects.
There are fifteen species of spirulina, but three (Spirulina platensis, Spirulina maxima, and Spirulina fusiformis) have received the most scientific attention due to their high nutritional value and reported health benefits.
Spirulina is commonly used as a vegan source of protein and various nutrients, including vitamin B12.
Well, it’s between 55 and 70% protein by weight, it has a better amino acid profile than many other plant foods, and it’s highly nutritious, but it isn’t a good source of vitamin B12.
The reason for this is spirulina contains very little of the type of B12 that our bodies can actually use. Instead, it contains large amounts of “pseudovitamin B12,” which is similar to what our bodies need but biologically inactive in humans.
The concentrations of biologically active B12 contained in spirulina vary between different strains, but it’s low enough in all to rule it out as a reliable source of this vital micronutrient.
That said, spirulina is rich in numerous other vitamins and minerals including:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
If that’s not all that exciting to you, I understand.
Most people know that vitamins and minerals “matter,” but they don’t realize how important they really are.
The reality is if your diet doesn’t provide you with adequate levels of the two-dozen-plus essential vitamins and minerals that your body requires, you’ll never reach peak levels of health, vitality, and general well-being.
Vitamin B1 has a number of benefits including promoting energy production and brain function.
Other benefits include: maintaining optimal functioning of the nervous and digestive systems, ensuring proper cardiac functioning, improving memory, and producing red blood cells.
Vitamin B2 also boosts energy production and helps in the production of red blood cells.
In addition, it helps regulate thyroid activity in the body, aids in maintaining healthy eyes and skin, increases mineral absorption in the body, and supports immune and nervous health.
As you would expect from another vitamin in the B family, vitamin B3 plays a role in regulating energy production.
It also promotes healthy functioning of the digestive and nervous systems, helps to normalize blood lipid levels, promotes cardiovascular health, and improves skin health.
Copper is a mineral that’s essential for the production and function of red blood cells.
It also plays a role in maintaining healthy blood vessels, nerves, immune function, and bones.
Iron is a mineral that the body needs to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, and myoglobin, a protein that provides oxygen to muscles.
Your body also needs iron to make some hormones and connective tissue.
Remarkably, the calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in spirulina occur at similar levels to those found in milk, which makes it especially valuable to people who can’t or don’t consume milk.
Spirulina also contains each of these minerals in balanced proportions, minimizing the extent to which they compete for absorption in the body.
The high potassium content in spirulina is another huge benefit worth calling out.
Most people don’t realize how much potassium the body needs to function optimally (at least 4.7 grams per day) and how few foods are high in potassium.
Given spirulina’s illustrious history and impressive nutritional profile, it’s no surprise that it has been the focus of a fair amount of human research.
It’s also no surprise that it does indeed confer a variety of health benefits.
The precise mechanisms underlying these effects are still being investigated but nevertheless the exercise-related benefits of spirulina are well established in the research literature.
Research shows that spirulina is also effective in reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels and is a promising anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory, which helps explain why it can improve allergies.
It even has anti-microbial properties and thus helps you fight off infections.
The doses used in studies of spirulina vary considerably, ranging from 1 to 8 grams per day.
Here’s how it shakes out:
- For improving muscle performance, you want to take 2 to 7.5 grams per day.
- For improving blood glucose control, mild effects have been observed with 2 grams per day.
- For reducing cholesterol levels, doses should be in the range of 1 to 8 grams per day.
- For lowering blood pressure, doses of 3.5 to 4.5 grams per day have shown benefit.
- For fatty liver, benefits have been seen at doses of 4.5 grams per day.
Like all natural supplements, don’t pin unrealistically high expectations on spirulina.
Remember that supplements don’t build great and healthy physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.
That said, spirulina can help you achieve both your health and fitness goals. Here’s what you can reasonably expect from spirulina supplementation…
- Increased muscle strength and endurance.
- Improved cardiovascular endurance.
- Reduction in blood pressure.
- Improvement in cholesterol profile.
- Lessening of allergy symptoms.
- Increased resistance to illness.
However, as with any supplement, some people do experience negative reactions, which can include…
- Elevated temperature
- Slight dizziness (usually only when taken in excess)
- Thirst and constipation (can be alleviated by drinking plenty of water)
- Stomach ache
- Skin itch or slight body rash
These side effects are very uncommon, though.
One other thing of note is spirulina contains iodine, which some people are allergic or sensitive to. This is why those taking prescription medications should check with their doctor before supplementing with spirulina.
Spirulina is mostly sold as a standalone supplement and included in greens supplements, and now you know why.
It’s one of the best single supplements you can take for improving you overall health and well-being.
Remember, though, that the dosage matters. If you want to get most of what spirulina has to offer, you want to take about 5 grams per day.
This is easily done if you buy pure spirulina powder or tablets, but most greens supplements are poor sources because they almost always contain small dosages.
The reason for the under-dosing is obvious: cost.
High-quality spirulina–one that’s free from toxins, herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals, radiation, and other harmful chemicals–is expensive and including a significant amount in a supplement is expensive.
Thus, many supplement companies choose to cut corners and use small, ineffective doses (usually ranging in milligrams, not grams) that increase the perceived value of the product but don’t do much healthwise.
That’s why my greens supplement GENESIS contains a full clinically effective dosage of 5 grams of the highest-quality spirulina per serving.
It also contains clinically effective dosages of several other ingredients that improve general immunity, heart and circulatory health, energy levels, libido, mood, overall well-being, and more:
Greens Blend of Spinach, Kale, and Dandelion Leaf
We chose these plants because each is considered a “leafy green” vegetable and is high in one particular molecule of concern: nitrate.
Dietary nitrates are found most commonly in leafy greens and beets, which accounts for their ergogenic and circulatory benefits, and a diet high in nitrates is conducive to long-term heart and circulatory health.
We chose the combination of spinach, kale, and dandelion leaf rather than simply using a large dose of lettuce or rocket, because spinach and kale have other beneficial compounds in them such as isothiocyanates, which are known to confer a variety of health benefits.
Dandelion is also high in dietary potassium, which is by far the most common nutrient deficiency and not one that can be easily solved with supplements.
Reishi mushroom, or Ganoderma lucidum, has been used for medicinal purposes for at least 2,000 years.
It contains a large number of bioactive molecules and was known to the ancients as “the mushroom of immortality,” and it has been used historically to treat a variety of conditions ranging from insulin resistance to immune deficiencies to fatigue to cancer.
Modern Western science is now catching up with and validating this Eastern traditional wisdom. Specifically, reishi doesn’t seem promising as a first-line treatment for disease, but it does boast an impressive list of benefits that extend to healthy individuals.
Research shows that supplementation with reishi mushroom…
- Improves subjective sense of well-being
- Helps protect liver health
- Reduces feelings of anxiety and fatigue
- Protects DNA from oxidant damage, which is a major factor in aging
- Inhibits the creation of new fat cells
- Reduces the time it takes to fall asleep
- Helps protect brain health
- Improves blood glucose control
- Raises “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels
- Boosts and balances the immune system
- Helps protect kidney health
- Exerts anticancer effects
Astragalus membranaceus is one of the 50 fundamental herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and it has long been used to increase stamina, vitality, and longevity and to treat colds and flu.
Astragalus contains a variety of beneficial molecules such as flavanoids and polysaccharides, but one of the more notable components is “astragaloside IV,” which is a type of compound found in many plants known as saponins.
Research shows that supplementation with astragalus membranaceus…
There’s also animal research suggesting that astragalus promotes longevity, but this has yet to be explored in human studies.
For centuries, the natives of Northern India have known the many benefits of the moringa tree.
Virtually every part is useful and it grows quickly, can survive droughts, is highly nutritious, and can even help produce clean water.
The leaves have long been a part of India’s medicinal traditions, and research confirms just how extraordinary their nutrient profile really is.
Gram for gram, moringa leaves contain four times the calcium and two times the protein in milk, three times the potassium in bananas, four times the vitamin A in carrots, and seven times the vitamin C in oranges.
We chose to include moringa for two reasons:
- Its high potassium content, which most people can benefit from due to inadequate potassium intake.
- Its large amount of various types of isothiocyanates, which are thought to be responsible for many of the health benefits of moringa.
Research shows that supplementation with moringa…
Maca a is plant native to Peru that’s grown for its fleshy root, and its cultivation goes back thousands of years as it was an integral part of the diet and commerce of the ancient Incan civilization.
Historically, maca has been used as an energy and libido enhancer and for improving hormonal function.
Knowledge of its special properties all but disappeared, but thanks to German and North American scientists studying the “lost crops of the Andes,” maca was reintroduced to the world in the 1960s and again in the 1980s.
Research shows that supplementation with maca…
- Improves subjective sense of well-being
- Improves sexual function in men and women
- Improves sperm production and health
- Improves libido in men and women
- Helps preserve joint health
- Can reduce feelings of anxiety and non-clincial depression
And what you won’t find in GENESIS is equally special:
- No artificial sweeteners or flavors.
- No artificial food dyes.
- No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.
The bottom line is if you want to supplement your diet with additional vegetable intake as well as other plant-based nutrients proven to improve health, mood, physical performance, immunity, and longevity…then you want to try GENESIS today.
Spirulina is one of the few supplements that may actually deserve the title of “superfood.”
It’s highly nutritious and has numerous health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improving the functioning of the immune system, improving glucose metabolism, helping to fight infections, and reducing allergy symptoms.
It has also been shown to improve muscle strength, fat oxidation, and exercise performance.
That’s why I think it’s an ideal supplement for people looking to improve both their health and fitness and a worthwhile addition to your supplementation regimen.