Spirulina refers to a family of blue-green algae which is usually found in warm and alkaline waters. This tiny aquatic plant has been eaten by some Mexican and African people groups since prehistoric times. However, because of its amazing characteristics it has now gained importance worldwide and is recognized as a “Super food”.
Nutritionally, spirulina contains approximately 65 to 70 percent of biologically complete proteins. It provides all the required amino acids in a form that is much easier to digest than meat or soy protein. It roughly supplies 10 to 15 percent carbohydrates, in the form of rhamnose and glycogen and 7 percent of fat, most of it in the form of essential fatty acids .While the protein, carbohydrate and fat value of Spirulina is impressive, this minute plant is an excellent source of vitamin A. Spirulina is also rich in B-complex vitamins, phycocyanin, chlorophyll, porphyrin vitamin E, and numerous minerals. Spirulina has small amounts of sodium.
Because of its amazing nutritional content, Spirulina promotes health in many ways. It has been found to significantly reduce the fasting blood sugar levels in the body after 6 to 8 weeks of intake, thus helping in management of diabetes. Spirulina has also been very promising in managing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It is said to contain gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that is vital to promote heart health in general. Spirulina has shown to enhance immune function. It appears to increase production of anti-inflammatory factors that consequently decrease or prevent some allergic responses during an allergic reaction. It also exhibits anticancer effects due to its antioxidant and immune-enhancing properties. Another way that Spirulina is known to help fight cancer is by promoting the release of a chemical in the body that attacks tumor cells.
Chlorophyll in Spirulina soothes the body tissues and heals them. It also stops the multiplication of harmful bacteria in the body. Phycocyanin present in spirulina aids in healthy liver function and digestion of amino acids. Another important pigment in spirulina, porphyrin, is found to be essential for formation of healthy red blood cells. Also, Spirulina contains beta-carotene, tocopherols and phenolic acids, which are proven to exhibit antioxidant properties.
Due to all these overwhelming benefits, Spirulina dietary supplements have grown in popularity. Spirulina is available in capsules and powder. The recommended daily intake is 1-5 grams. Spirulina powder can be added to fruit or vegetable juices or to dishes to enhance nutritional content. It is tasty in soups, salads, pasta, or mixed with yoghurt. Although Spirulina is a natural food, a few side effects have been reported. The most frequently reported adverse effects are headache, muscle pain, flushing of the face, sweating, and difficulty in concentrating. Also, individuals with PKU should use caution when taking Spirulina.