The Health Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that contains a number of nutrients, including B vitamins, beta-carotene, and vitamin E. Spirulina also contains antioxidants, minerals, chlorophyll, and phycocyanobilin and is commonly used as a source of vegan protein.
According to proponents, spirulina is said to help with the following health problems: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cancer, fatigue, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and viral infections.
Purported spirulina benefits also include weight loss, increased energy, and stimulation of the immune system.
To date, few human studies have explored spirulina’s health benefits. However, preliminary studies suggest that spirulina holds promise for the following conditions:
Spirulina holds some promise for lipid disorders such as high cholesterol or high triglycerides, according to a study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. For the study, healthy, older adults consumed spirulina or a placebo. After four months, spirulina was associated with significant reductions in cholesterol.1
Spirulina holds some promise in the treatment of allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies), according to a review published in 2009.2 Indeed, a previously published study of people with allergic rhinitis found several benefits for spirulina consumption (including improvement in symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, congestion, and itching).3
In a 2008 study involving 37 people with type 2 diabetes, researchers found that those assigned to 12 weeks of spirulina supplementation experienced a significant reduction in blood-fat levels. Spirulina benefits also included a decrease in inflammation and, for some people, a decrease in blood pressure and cholesterol.4
Spirulina may offer some protection against oral cancer, according to one small study of tobacco chewers with precancerous oral lesions. For 12 months, study members took either a daily dose of spirulina or a placebo. By the study’s end, the lesions cleared up in 20 of the 44 participants who had consumed spirulina (compared to three of the 43 participants who had been assigned to the placebo group).5
Although few adverse effects are associated with the use of spirulina, consuming spirulina may cause headaches, allergic reactions, muscle pain, sweating, and insomnia in some cases. People with allergies to seafood, seaweed, and other sea vegetables should avoid spirulina.
If you have a thyroid condition, an autoimmune disorder, gout, kidney stones, phenylketonuria (PKU), or are pregnant or nursing, spirulina may not be appropriate for you. You should check with your healthcare provider before taking it.
It’s possible that spirulina grown in the wild can absorb toxins from water, such as microcystins (known to cause severe liver damage), pollutants, and heavy metals. Most spirulina sold in the United States is grown in laboratories.
As with all supplements, it’s important to consult your health-care provider before using spirulina to discuss whether it’s appropriate for you and whether it can be taken in combination with other medications and/ or supplements.
Dosage and Preparation
There is not enough scientific data to provide a recommended dose of spirulina. Various doses of spirulina have been used in research.
For example, in several studies examining the benefits of spirulina for high cholesterol, doses of 1-8 grams daily for four weeks to six months has been used. To learn about its effects on hypertension, a dose of spirulina blue-green algae of 4.5 grams daily for six weeks was used.6 And in a study with type 2 diabetes patients, a product containing one gram twice daily for two months was used.7
The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.
What to Look For
Spirulina is often sold in powder form, but it’s also available in capsules, tablets, and juices. The powder is sometimes added to smoothies.
Although there are a large number of blue-green algae species commonly referred to as “spirulina,” most spirulina supplements contain Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Spirulina maxima, and/or Spirulina platensis.
As with all supplements, it is important to examine the Supplement Facts label on any product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients that might be in the product.
Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product’s safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.