Spirulina- Super-food or Seaweed?
Spirulina is microalgae (blue-green algae), scientifically known as Arthrospira platensis. The other two species are Arthrospira fusiformis, Arthrospira maxima. It is a single-cell protein consumed by animals and humans too. Single-cell proteins are referred to as proteins derived from the cells of microorganisms such as yeast, fungi, algae, and bacteria. The consumption of spirulina dates back to the 16th century where the spirulina was dried, turned into patties, and eaten with any grains for energy during long travels. The world’s largest producer and leading consumer of spirulina are China. Some research suggests that spirulina was once considered to be a plant because of its rich plant pigments and also because of its ability to photosynthesis. The biochemical composition of spirulina is protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and photosynthetic pigments. Do you know why spirulina got its attention? It is due to the mineral makeup, especially iron level being 12 times higher than any other food, and its use by NASA astronauts as a dietary supplement on their space missions. 😃
Is spirulina a super-food?
- Spirulina supplements can be used in treating many diseases and have been proved effective in reducing blood lipid levels and improving immunological functions.
- It is rich in high-quality proteins, vitamins, minerals, and many biologically active substances.
- Spirulina contains high concentrations of essential polyunsaturated fatty acids. 10g of spirulina powder provides almost 100mg of γ-linolenic acid which helps in the treatment of arthritis, heart disease, obesity, and zinc deficiency.
- Further studies on spirulina showed that it has more assimilable iron and that is more absorbed than any other iron supplement. It is very effective against preventing anemia.
- The important component found in spirulina is called phycocyanin, which acts as a powerful antioxidant and it is responsible to give spirulina its blue-green color.
- Spirulina transformed into a powder can provide the basis for a variety of foods like soups, sauces, pasta, and instant drinks. Furthermore, extraction methods could provide a yellow-white de-colored spirulina powder that can have widespread uses.
- It is also used as a natural fertilizer which is just one-third of the cost of chemical fertilizer and acts as a natural nitrogen source.
- It is also used as a colorant and protein supplement in poultry and livestock feeds.
Minor drawbacks of spirulina:
Although spirulina is generally considered safe, it might have few drawbacks or side effects especially for certain people with health conditions. When spirulina is harvested in wild it poses a risk of severe contamination. Microcystins are produced by blue-green algae in defense mechanisms against predators, when consumed in high amounts they are toxic to the liver. Microcystin-contaminated spirulina is not good for human or animal consumption. As spirulina helps in immune-boosting, it may worsen the auto-immune disorders in which the immune system attacks your body. If you have any auto-immune condition it is best recommended to avoid spirulina and other algal supplements. Few studies show that people on blood thinners must avoid taking spirulina as it has an anti-coagulatory effect. Further evidence or research is required to strongly support the same. so as very little is known it is best to avoid when on blood thinners. Some people may be allergic to spirulina and in some, it can also be fatal. People with phenylketonuria are rare inherited diseases, people with this condition must avoid compound phenylalanine that is found in spirulina and other algae.
Some minor side effects of spirulina include nausea, insomnia, and headaches. To avoid these side effects, purchasing from trusted brands that have been tested by U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), Consumer lab, NSF international can be helpful. This supplement is widely considered safe as most people experience no side effects. It indeed is a super-food than just a seaweed. Awareness and more research are required to understand its true nature and importance in certain groups of the population.