I don’t like using the term superfood, though it could certainly be applied to Spirulina. Though not technically an herb (actually an cyanobacteria), it boasts its fair share of health promoting properties. It is rich in in Chlorophyll, and like plants, gets its energy from the sun.
What is it?Spirulina is a natural “algae” (cyanbacteria) powder that is incredible high in protein and nutrients. When harvested correctly from non-contaminated ponds and bodies of water, it is one of the most potent nutrient sources available. It is largely made up of protein and essential amino acids, and I typically recommend it to clients who decide to remain vegetarian for its high natural iron content. It is often touted for its high B-12 content, though there is a lot of debate about if this particular form is a complete and absorbable form of B-12 and I don’t recommend it completely in place of animal products.
The high concentration of protein and iron also makes it idea during pregnancy, after surgery or anytime the immune system needs a boost.
Health Properties:Though it does taste like pond scum, Spirulina has some great health-boosting qualities:
- Spirulina is 65% protein and amino acids including the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which has gotten a lot of attention for its anti-inflammatory properties, especially when taken with other quality Omega-3 supplements like Fermented Cod Liver Oil. (I suspect that the benefits of GLA in Spirulina are even more than what the studies have found since these studies often use vegetable oils for their GLA source, and the other inflammatory compounds in vegetable oils can interfere with the anti-inflammatory ability.) It contains all essential amino acids.
- Spirulina contains Omega 3-,6 and 9s and is especially high in Omega-3s.
- Spirulina is extremely high in Chlorophyll, which helps remove toxins from the blood and boost the immune system.
- Spirulina has a very high concentration of bio-available iron and is excellent during pregnancy and for those with anemia and will not cause constipation.
- Spirulina is a great source of other nutrients including (according to Wikipedia): “Spirulina contains vitamins B-1(thiamine), B-2 (riboflavin), B-3(nicotinamide), B-6 (pyridoxine), B-9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin A and vitamin E. It is also a source of potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc. Spirulina contains many pigments which may be beneficial and bioavailable”
- This Spirulina (from Mountain Rose Herbs) was tested be an independent laboratory and found to have an ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of over 24,000 which is 4x the ORAC score of blueberries. The ORAC score is generally used to measure antioxidant ability and concentration in different foods.
- Spirulina is also incredibly high in calcium with over 26 times the calcium in milk, making it excellent for children, the elderly and during pregnancy.
- Some research has suggested that Spirulina may be helpful in allergies and allergic reactions.
- Spirulina’s phosphorus content makes it helpful as part of a tooth remineralization regimen.
- Emerging evidence suggests that it binds with radioactive isotopes and may be useful for radioactivity exposure or radiation therapy.
- The protein in Spirulina is highly usable and has a net protein utilization rate of between 50-61%
- Spirulina can bind with heavy metals in the body and help remove them.
- Spirulina can increase fat burning during exercise.
How To TakeWhen choosing Spirulina, make sure to choose one that is organic, as others can have nitrate compounds as additives. The best one I’ve found is from Mountain Rose Herbs and it is also the cheapest organic Spirulina I’ve seen. It does taste like pond water though, so many people prefer supplements. I’ve tried Now Spirulina and found them to be good quality, though they are more expensive than the plain powder. (I haven’t tried this brand, but it seems to be a great deal for 1,000 500mg capsules for under $30). You can also get Spirulina powder in a 4-pound canister.
I always add Spirulina to my veggie smoothies each day and take extra during pregnancy. It is best to get in about 2 teaspoons per day, and 2 or more tablespoons during illness, after radiation exposure or during pregnancy. It does taste horrible though! You can also mix into water and drink straight, though many people have trouble with this. The phosphorous makes it useful for the tooth remineralizing regimen, and it is best taken with an Omega-3 source like fermented cod liver oil. It’s anti-inflammatory properties have been helpful to some of my clients with joint pain or other types of inflammation.
Those with PKU should consult with a doctor before taking, as it does contain that amino acid. Those on any type of anti-coagulation medicine should consult with a doctor before beginning (or stopping) taking Spirulina.