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Perhaps you’re conquering the world, reaching your career, relationship, and financial goals. Still, it’s hard to feel invincible if you don’t have enough protein and iron in your diet. Without enough of these nutrients, you may be dragging yourself from task to task, tired and worn down. Here’s something for your inner superhero: Spirulina! Spirulina may look like a potion from a distant galaxy with its enchanting emerald-green hue, but its origins are far from modern. Spirulina has been used by people from all different times and places for centuries — from Aztecs to astronauts.   

What is Spirulina? 

Spirulina is a type of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that grows naturally in alkaline lakes and freshwater ponds in warm climates. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, known for its high protein content and rich array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s also a good source of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a balanced 1.5 to 1 ratio. [1][2] 

Spirulina is commonly consumed as a dietary supplement, often in powder or tablet form, and can be added to smoothies, juices, or other foods for an extra nutritional boost. It’s also used as a natural food coloring and ingredient in certain food products.  

Spirulina’s use as a protein source goes back centuries to the Aztecs in Mexico and the Lake Chad area of Africa. Its popularity continues today –NASA scientists even conducted research on it and found the microalgae could be grown in space as a food source for astronauts. [3] 

This “best food of the future” was then used on space missions to help astronauts stay healthy away from home.  

Spirulina and Iron 

Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies worldwide, and around 40% of working women in America are iron deficient. [4] Even with all the iron-fortified cereals, constant reminders to include iron-rich foods, and access to lots of leafy green vegetables, many of us are iron deficient. 

Iron does lots of work in the body, including its role as a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells. Hemoglobin brings oxygen to every organ in your body. It’s critical for achieving or maintaining optimal health. [5] 

What Can Iron Deficiency Lead to?

  • Low energy 
  • Anemia 
  • Brain fog 
  • Paleness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Leg cramps 
  • Restless leg syndrome 
  • Lowered immunity 

Did you know a tablespoon of spirulina has slightly more iron than an entire steak? Not a bad punch of iron for a tiny seaweed! Unlike other plant sources, the iron found in spirulina is highly bio-available, allowing for easy digestion and absorption. This makes spirulina an excellent food source of iron for vegans, vegetarians, and others who don’t eat a lot of meat! 

Spirulina and Protein 

Protein is a macronutrient that’s a critical part of the body’s daily needs. It’s been an essential piece of the USDA’s original food pyramid and now makes up a good portion of “MyPlate,” ensuring everyone knows it’s important to include it in the diet. It can be challenging to get enough protein if you’re trying to incorporate more plant-based meals for the antioxidants they provide.  

What Can Protein Deficiency Lead to?

  • Muscle loss or difficulty building muscle 
  • Brain fog 
  • Anxiety 
  • Bone weakness 

Ounce for ounce, spirulina packs quite a punch against meats for protein content. The tiny seaweed is 60-70% protein. It’s one of the best plant sources of protein and is helpful for those avoiding animal-based proteins. Spirulina has all the 9 essential amino acids which are needed for a whole protein. One tablespoon of spirulina has 4 grams of protein. [2] 

Health Benefits of Spirulina 

Not only is spirulina full of protein and iron, but it is also loaded with potassium and has decent amounts of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Some people even say it’s energizing. With all these benefits, you can see why we love spirulina. Here are some other potential health benefits of spirulina. 

A Great Source of Antioxidants  

Spirulina is full of antioxidants like phycocyanin and beta carotene that help fight free radicals and oxidative stress in the body. Because of its antioxidant effects, spirulina has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can benefit a wide range of health conditions. [6] 

Promotes Balanced Blood Sugar  

Spirulina is a rich source of protein, having all nine essential amino acids. Protein-rich foods like spirulina can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates from the diet. This can help prevent rapid spikes and dips in blood sugar levels after meals. Some studies suggest that spirulina supplementation may improve insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to better respond to insulin and take up glucose from the bloodstream. [7] This can help lower blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.  

Supports Healthy Blood Pressure Levels  

Phycocyanin is a pigment in spirulina that studies have found may help balance high blood pressure levels. [8] A 2021 review and meta-analysis found that those who took 1 to 8 grams of spirulina daily significantly reduced their systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. [9] Hypertension is one of the most significant risk factors for heart disease, so it’s important to know your numbers. 

Supports Healthy Cholesterol Balance 

Supplementing with spirulina has also been shown to reduce oxidative damage to LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, indicating healthy changes behind the scenes. Lipid peroxidation can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. [10] At the same time, it increases protective HDL (high-density lipoprotein) concentrations. [5] 

Triglycerides may be a more significant risk factor than total cholesterol when it comes to heart disease. The good news is that spirulina may also help keep triglycerides in check. [11] 

Has Antihistamine Properties  

Spirulina may also be helpful for allergic responses like allergic rhinitis (“allergies”). In a 2020 study, those taking 2 grams of spirulina daily over two months had greater improvement in their symptoms than those taking 10 grams of the drug cetirizine daily. [12] 

Supports Detoxification 

Spirulina has chlorophyll, which has been shown to help detoxify the body by binding to and removing toxins, heavy metals, and other harmful substances. This may support overall detoxification and liver health. [13][14]

More Spirulina Facts 

The most common names for spirulina used for supplements are spirulina platensis and spirulina arthrospira. The confusion arises from the fact that Spirulina was originally classified under the genus Arthrospira, and it is still referred to by this name in some contexts. So, there’s essentially no difference between Spirulina platensis and Spirulina arthrospira; they’re just alternative names for the same species. 

Spirulina may not be for everyone. Those with a condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot break down the amino acid phenylalanine, which is included in spirulina’s amino acid profile. [15] At this point, there’s not enough research to confirm spirulina is safe for pregnant or nursing mothers. So, if pregnant or breastfeeding, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding spirulina to your regimen. 

Ways to Include Spirulina in Your Diet 

Spirulina is beautiful emerald-green food, but if you find it in powder form, you’ll notice it tastes like pond water, so you have to be creative when incorporating it into your diet. Luckily, that tablespoon of spirulina powder goes a long way! 

However, you’ll do well to start slow to avoid side effects. Some people complain of gas, bloating, or diarrhea when starting spirulina. You don’t even necessarily need to add it to food. Spirulina supplements are available at your local health food store or online. Dietary supplements, in general, make it easier to make sure you get your nutrients every day. You can divvy them out a few days ahead and then take your supplement container on the go!

Spirulina and Nutrition Guidance

This food that can make you feel super can be found right here on Earth. You don’t need to go to Krypton to get it. As with any dietary supplement, choosing high-quality spirulina from reputable sources is critical. You’ll want to ensure you’re getting it from a good source. So, please do your research. For personalized nutrition guidance and comprehensive testing, contact one of our Wellness Way Clinics today!

References

  1. Spirulina in Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications – PMC (nih.gov)
  2. FoodData Central (usda.gov)
  3. 5 Health Benefits of Spirulina (clevelandclinic.org)
  4. The Prevalence of Anemia in Working Women – PMC (nih.gov)
  5. Anemia | MedlinePlus
  6. C-Phycocyanin-a novel protein from Spirulina platensis- In vivo toxicity, antioxidant and immunomodulatory studies – PMC (nih.gov)
  7. Spirulina maxima improves insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, and total antioxidant status in obese patients with well-treated hypertension: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study – PubMed (nih.gov)
  8. Phycocyanin prevents hypertension and low serum adiponectin level in a rat model of metabolic syndrome – PubMed (nih.gov)
  9. Effect of Spirulina Supplementation on Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials – PMC (nih.gov)
  10. The antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory activities of Spirulina: an overview – PubMed (nih.gov)
  11. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the impact of Spirulina supplementation on plasma lipid concentrations – PubMed (nih.gov)
  12. Clinical comparison of the efficacy of spirulina platensis and cetirizine for treatment of allergic rhinitis – PMC (nih.gov)
  13. Spirulina- An Edible Cyanobacterium with Potential Therapeutic Health Benefits and Toxicological Consequences – PubMed (nih.gov)
  14. Enhancing Health Benefits through Chlorophylls and Chlorophyll-Rich Agro-Food: A Comprehensive Review – PMC (nih.gov)
  15. Quantification of Phytochemicals from Commercial Spirulina Products and Their Antioxidant Activities – PMC (nih.gov)

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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