Spirulina’s a blue-green algae that grows in tropical locations like Hawaii and central Africa - anywhere reasonably close to the equator.
For many people, their knowledge of spirulina doesn’t extend beyond the fact that they like to order it in their smoothies. That doesn’t mean that there’s nothing interesting to know about the stuff, though - quite the contrary. Spirulina can revitalize and restore your body in a massive number of ways, and it’s been called by some the healthiest food product in the world.
Despite that, most people are astounded to find out that spirulina’s basically just pond scum. It’s a freshwater algae that grows atop the surface of lakes and ponds. Spirulina is actually a type of bacteria known as a cyanobacteria - a class of bacteria that get their energy through photosynthesis.
So, what can spirulina do for me?
Spirulina’s benefits can be truly remarkable. It can fight against cancer, it’s a great source of vegetarian protein, it has a massive antioxidant profile that can battle disease and improve the immune system. It’s recommended particularly for vegetarians because of its high iron content - something that many vegetarians are deficient in.
Spirulina has been the subject of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed articles. This is a huge amount of evidence in support of spirulina’s medicinal benefits.
Spirulina has been used - as far as we can tell - since the 14th century. The Aztecs and people from central Africa appreciated the plant, and speculated on its medicinal benefits - though these were not proven until much later. Still, since its very discovery, spirulina began to grow in popularity until it became as widely known and researched as it is today.
Spirulina is so potent of a health food that NASA uses it as a component for astronauts going into space. This was one of the main kickers that led to spirulina being recognized across the world as an incredibly strong superfood.
A few interesting facts about spirulina
A lot of people are apprehensive about eating spirulina once they find out that it’s an algae that grows on top of ponds. A lot of these apprehensive people find themselves dismantling that prejudice once they learn about how fascinating this plant is.
First off, spirulina is almost seventy percent protein. That’s an absurd ratio of protein - comparable to beef and chicken. Not only that, but spirulina comes packed with a whole bunch of vitamins and nutrients that you wouldn’t naturally obtain from eating meat. Most commercial meats won’t reach a protein content of even thirty percent. The quality of spirulina’s protein is also unmatchable - the plant contains all of the essential amino acids that the human body requires.
Spirulina is quite an interesting colour - a cross between blue and green that is rarely seen anywhere else in the plant kingdom. This peculiar shade is caused by phycocyanin, which is an uncommon pigment. Phycocyanin also happens to be responsible for a large portion of spirulina’s unique nutritional profile.
Spirulina’s packed with antioxidants, which help dispatch free radicals. Free radicals are the cause of a number of diseases, including cancer, and are formed when an atom is missing an electron from its outer shell. This atom will steal an electron from a nearby atom, causing instability and creating a destructive chain reaction.
Spirulina matches - or even beats - the top providers of calcium, vitamin E, and vitamin B12 - milk, wheat germ, and raw liver, respectively. The fact that one plant can overshadow so many other ‘superfoods’ makes spirulina very unique.
Spirulina can detoxify heavy metals - especially arsenic
Arsenic toxicity is a growing problem worldwide. The United States is finding its residents more frequently admitted to hospitals. The World Health Organization has identified a huge crisis of arsenic toxicity in the far east - countries like India, Taiwan, and Bangladesh are receiving a notorious reputation for arsenic consumption. Arsenic comes through the water these people drink, and many of them are already seeing the effects of arsenic toxicity.
Since arsenic toxicity has no official medical cure, researchers had to begin searching for other options. They were fortunate enough to stumble upon spirulina, which has proven at least as effective as other options used for treating metal poisoning.
In a study involving 24 patients with arsenic poisoning, subjects were given 250 milligram doses of spirulina twice daily. When compared with placebo, the spirulina decreased arsenic by up to 47%.
Conclusion: In countries where arsenic poisoning is a serious risk, people should definitely add spirulina to their diet. It’s been more effective at decreasing arsenic levels than even pharmaceuticals.
2. Spirulina helps your eyes stay strong and healthy
The leading cause of blindness is a type of degeneration known as age-related macular degeneration (ARMD.) ARMD takes place when the deterioration of your eye’s vision center - the macula - begins to affect vision.
The macula is made up of tissues known as xanthophylls - particularly lutein and zeaxanthin. These compounds defend against UV rays, preventing your eyes from being prematurely damaged by the sun’s light.
Spirulina contains up to 6,000 micrograms of zeaxanthin per serving. Compared to eggs, a source of zeaxanthin that comes up as a close second, that only have 200 micrograms of the compound per yolk - it’s clear the spirulina takes the cake.
Conclusion: Spirulina can help build and strengthen the tissues in your eye that are responsible for maintaining vision.
3. Spirulina fights against type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes has become a huge problem in North America. Diabetes arises during a combination of symptoms - a body developing a resistance to its own insulin, being overweight, or having high blood pressure or blood sugar.
Spirulina is an anti-inflammatory agent. The body has been shown to develop immunity to insulin based on inflammation around the pancreas or in the cardiovascular system. Insulin is crucial for diabetics, because it modulates how carbohydrates are metabolized and ensures that the sugars they are converted to go to good use. Insulin resistance means that your insulin won’t do its job properly, and you’ll end up with blood sugar spikes.
Conclusion: If you’re having bad luck fighting your diabetes with traditional medicine, you might want to try spirulina. It’s shown to help regulate blood sugar and limit inflammation that can cause insulin resistance.
4. Spirulina can fight and eliminate Candida
Candida is a yeast that is typically a normal part of the intestinal bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. However, when a person develops an imbalance in their natural bacteria, they become more vulnerable to disease. Candida can become a dangerous infection. Things like leaky gut syndrome can also be attributed to unbalanced microbial flora in the gut.
In recent years, infections like Candida have become much more widespread. The average diet includes much more sugar than ever before, which can throw off the balance of our microbial flora. There has also been widespread development of resistance to anti-fungals and anti-microbials.
If you’re not having success with antifungal agents, spirulina is shown to help eliminate Candida. Spirulina works by restoring health and function to the bacteria in our intestine, which can make it more difficult for infections like Candida to thrive. On top of that, spirulina is a potent immune system booster. This will help your body be better at fighting many diseases, not just Candida.
Conclusion: For those who are resistant to anti-fungals and anti-microbials, spirulina might be a lifesaver. It helps restore balance to the body’s natural intestinal flora, making it difficult for yeasts and infections to thrive.
5. Spirulina is effective at fighting HIV and AIDS
The first indication that algae like spirulina might be protective against HIV and AIDS came from Asia. The rates of HIV and AIDS in Japan and Korea are extremely low - and there is speculation that it might be because people from these cultures consume algae more so than other countries.
A study was done on HIV patients to test the efficacy of spirulina and other aquatic foods in fighting the diseases. The group was split - a third of the group was fed seaweed, a third was fed spirulina, and the last group was fed a mixture of the both. The results were that the blood cells responsible for regulating HIV remained stable, whereas in untreated patients, the blood cells are not in proper alignment. One participant decided to continue the treatment, and saw significant improvements in his disease.
Conclusion: If you suffer from HIV or AIDS, try spirulina supplementation. Studies have shown that it can be as effective as some medicinal treatment in reducing symptoms for the diseases.
6. Spirulina can fight against cancer
Cancer is one of the most debilitating, widespread, and dangerous diseases on the face of the planet. Cancer is caused by a certain type of mutagens, known as carcinogens. Mutagens are compounds or substances that can damage, or mutate, DNA. Mutagens that cause cancer are called carcinogens.
The action of cancer is caused by toxic cellular distribution. Usually, DNA regulates the cells in the body and puts limits on their ability to reproduce. For example, cells in young infants grow at a much faster rate than those in an adult. During adulthood, cells typically reproduce to replace old or dying cells.
In the average, healthy cell, structural damage to the DNA will result in the cell either dying, or the damage being repaired by the DNA. However, cancerous cells act a bit differently - they don’t die. Instead, they reproduce, creating more cells that are born with the exact DNA damage.
Antioxidants are shown to reduce damage to cells, and eliminate free radicals (another type of mutagen that can cause cancer to spread rapidly.) Spirulina, in particular, has been studied extensively to show its benefits that fight against cancer cells.
Spirulina’s antioxidants slow the proliferation of cancerous cells, which helps prevent the spread of cancer throughout the body. When spirulina was tested against cancer of the pancreas, it consistently demonstrated that it was effective at slowing their reproduction.
Conclusion: There are enough studies done on spirulina for it to be apparent that it helps fight against cancer. It may yet be one of the healthiest, most effective methods at fighting cancer without destroying the rest of your body like chemotherapy. On top of that, it’ll help your body battle a huge number of other diseases.
7. Spirulina is effective at lowering blood pressure in humans
Have you ever heard of phycocyanin? It’s a compound found in the makeup of spirulina. Studies have shown that phycocyanin helps regulate and limit high blood pressure.
High blood pressure can be caused by a number of things. It can be caused by cholesterol blocking the flow of veins and arteries, from an overactive heartbeat, or from inflammation and disease. High blood pressure amplifies the chance of getting heart disease or having strokes.
Spirulina improves the cardiovascular system’s elasticity, allowing the veins and arteries to be more incorporating of different stimuli. It also helps fight cholesterol, removing blockages from arteries.
Phycocyanin is largely responsible for most - but not all - of spirulina’s effects on blood pressure. Phycocyanin slows the pancreas’s ability to metabolize triglycerides. Triglycerides are produced to store fat in your body for later use - but having too many triglycerides creates problems like high blood pressure.
Some antioxidants in spirulina are also effective at inhibiting glucose-related blood pressure spikes. This shows tremendous potential, since diseases caused by cardiovascular issues like blood pressure are becoming one of the highest causes of death in the world - particularly in the West.
Conclusion: High blood pressure is a damaging condition that can be tricky to fix without making extreme changes to your diet. Fortunately, spirulina has a number of different ways to fight back against high blood pressure - even without changing your diet!
8. Spirulina helps your liver in a number of ways
Spirulina can have a positive effect on your liver, due to a couple of different mechanisms. It’s a protectant due to its massive variety of antioxidants. It also helps produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a molecular compound that has a number of effects on the cardiovascular system and many other areas of the body. Of particular interest, it helps the liver develop. Studies done on those deficient in nitric oxide showed that their livers didn’t develop as quickly or work as efficiently as those who produced enough nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide’s effects on the cardio system can reduce blood pressure, which allows for a great flow of enzymes and nutrients to and from the liver. This allows the liver to work less hard and produce better results.
Furthermore, spirulina ability to reduce triglycerides is helpful for the liver. It’s also a potent anti-inflammatory, which can take strain off an inflamed liver.
The liver is responsible in many ways for removing toxins from the body. For those exposed to heavy metals like arsenic or lead, the liver must put out a great amount of effort in removing these chemicals effectively. Adding spirulina to your diet can take some of the stress off your liver.
Conclusion: The liver is a very important organ, responsible for a lot of tasks. With this responsibility comes a lot of effort, and the liver can get overworked. Spirulina helps the liver do its job more efficiently by removing toxins from the blood and by allowing the liver to focus more on its intended tasks.
9. Spirulina is great at reducing cholesterol
As briefly mentioned earlier, spirulina is great at reducing LDL cholesterol. In a particular study done on the effects of cholesterol and spirulina in rabbits, spirulina proved to be quite effective. The trial took place over eight weeks, and the levels of LDL cholesterol were lowered significantly in the group consuming spirulina.
The effects seem to stack with increased consumption of spirulina. The group that added one percent of spirulina to their diet saw an increase of 26%, whereas a group consuming 5% dietary spirulina saw their LDL levels drop by up to 41%.
Conclusion: Spirulina is an effective modulator of cholesterol, lowering risk of heart disease.
10. Spirulina lowers your chances of having a stroke
This goes hand-in-hand with any substance that has a potent effect on limiting cholesterol. The study was done on a group that was still consuming high cholesterol on the regular. Not only was cholesterol prevented from building up, but spirulina demonstrated ability to reverse damage that was already done from eating unhealthily.
Diets high in antioxidants have been shown to limit the chance of having a stroke. Spirulina has repeatedly shown to reduce platelet aggregation - a condition that can cause cardiovascular illnesses.
In a controlled study done on rodents that were made to have induced strokes, spirulina again showed its benefit. The size of the lesions left in the brain after having a stroke were up to 75% smaller than the ones left in the brains of rats who didn’t eat spirulina.
Conclusion: Spirulina contains enough antioxidants to be an effective measure when used to prevent strokes. Furthermore - in those who are unfortunate enough to have a stroke anyways, the lasting damage might be significantly less if that individual consumes spirulina regularly.
10. Spirulina helps your immune system function better
For those who have frequent or recurring health problems, spirulina might be a godsend. By limiting and even preventing the proliferation of viruses, spirulina can bolster the immune system.
Of particular note is spirulina’s effect on the white blood cells in the human body. Phycocyanin - the chemical responsible for the decrease in cardiovascular disease - also helps the body produce white blood cells. White blood cells are a crucial part of your immune system’s ability to function. They produce antibodies - compounds that fight against foreign viruses or dangerous bacteria that can enter your body.
Another important component of spirulina is gamma-linolenic acid. Spirulina quite possibly has the highest content of GLA in any food source available. GLA helps the body produce chemicals that are used to modulate and protect the body against damage. They also regulate the responses to inflammation and ensure the immune system functions properly.
Conclusion: For those who are frequently riddled with illness, spirulina might change their life. It has a number of compounds and mechanisms which help bolster the immune system’s ability to fight against disease. It also helps eliminate other symptoms that can put excess strain on the immune system.
11. Spirulina can boost intelligence and general brain function
Spirulina has been shown to be an effective neuroprotectant. This means that it works to protect the cells in the brain from damage, and helps them communicate among each other more effectively. It was tested against blueberries and spinach, two other foods known for their extremely effective antioxidant capacity. Spirulina was shown to be the best out of these three foods in terms of its neuroprotection.
There are several ways it could do this. Spirulina is good at destroying free radicals, which can damage cells and prevent effective communication between neurons. It also reduces inflammation in the body and brain, which can also lead to cellular damage. Animals were studied to observe the effects of spirulina on inflammation of the brain. It consistently showed that it prevented the death of neurons, which can lead to diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
A lot of cellular damage can be caused by oxidation - so, naturally, the high antioxidant capacity will help prevent this. Oxidation can result in the creation of free radicals, which can rapidly spread and damage nearby cells creating a chain reaction. This could even lead to brain cancer.
Conclusion: Spirulina is shown to be more effective than two of the leading foods in terms of its neuroprotective ability. It has a number of components that reliably fight brain damage and can prevent diseases of the brain.
12. Spirulina can fight allergies and sinus infections
Spirulina is effective at limiting inflammation. Inflammation can cause sinus issues. Spirulina has been pitted against placebo numerous times, and is far more reliable at limiting the itchy, drippy, congested feelings that come along with allergies..
Conclusion: Got hay fever? Try adding a couple spoonfuls of spirulina to your diet - you might find all your symptoms eliminated.
13. Spirulina’s amazing nutritional profile can help every part of your body
Spirulina has actually been claimed as the world’s healthiest food. It packs more nutrients per gram than anything else that we’ve studied. Check out the specs that spirulina boasts:
Spirulina has the densest protein content of any food. Yes, even more than animal meat. Its protein is 100% complete, containing every single amino acid that is necessary for the human body. Nothing else can brag about that. It contains around sixty percent protein, which is very impressive.
It contains large amounts of vitamin B1, also known as thiamin. Thiamin helps the body metabolize protein and fat, leading to more effective distribution of these compounds. Effective digestion of fat also prevents cholesterol buildup and cardiovascular disease, preventing strokes and heart attacks. Vitamin B1 also helps the body produce energy and allows for the brain to communicate with the body more efficiently.
Spirulina has tons of iron. This makes it particularly useful for vegetarians, since their diets are often limited in iron. Iron can be a difficult nutrient to get sufficient amounts of from plants. The iron content of spirulina is more readily absorbed than iron from meat, because of its unbeatable amino acid and antioxidant capacity.
Spirulina has a huge amount of calcium - over 25 times more than milk. That makes it a far superior supplement for bolstering the health of your bones and teeth, and preventing diseases like osteoporosis.
It also contains fairly significant amounts of vitamin B2, vitamin B3, and copper. There are also notable amounts of vitamins B-3, B-6, B-9, vitamin C, D, A, and E, and a good source of the minerals potassium, chromium, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc.
All these nutrients protein come at the insane cost of only 20 calories, making spirulina ideal for anyone counting calories. Oh - and this unbeatable nutritional profile is only part of spirulina’s amazing benefits. It contains a huge variety of antioxidants and other pigments and nutrients that can help the body develop quickly and fight disease.
Conclusion: Spirulina has more nutrition than any other food, hands down. Everyone should consider supplementing their diet with it. It can fight tons of diseases, amp up the body’s ability to fight illness, and help your cells, bones, and tissues develop properly.
A lot of spirulina’s studies were done on animals. This shows that it can also help your cat or dog! Be it by boosting their immune system or helping them metabolize food faster, animals also reap a huge amount of benefit from spirulina. It even freshens your breath - making you smell nice to go along with your nice health.
Spirulina is incredibly healthy. What do you do with it?
Spirulina isn’t touted for having the best flavour. A lot of people find it passable at best, when it's mixed in with smoothies or other foods where the taste can be hidden.
You can simply buy spirulina supplements, if you don’t want to cook with it. Since spirulina is so efficient at helping your body absorb its nutrients, the supplements lose very little of their value. Spirulina is often included in protein bars or powders because of its highly absorbent variety of protein.
Spirulina is quite bitter. It can be mixed with dark chocolate to enhance the richness. Some find it to have a savory sea-like flavour, which can be difficult to implement into meals - particularly for vegetarians. Regardless, there are ways to prepare your spirulina and enjoy it. Once you’ve purchased your spirulina powder, make sure you store it in the refrigerator. It is sensitive to oxygen, and leaving it out in the open can have a detrimental effect on its nutrients.
For those curious about introducing this superfood into their diet, I’ve taken the time to research some recipes. Here are a few that use spirulina as an ingredient, and have been positively received by critics and family cooks alike. Included are some entrees, some desserts, and some appetizers - so you’ll be able to whip up some spirulina-centered meals for any occasion.
This pizza packs an amazing nutritional punch. It calls for a lot of vegetables, and all of them should be organic. This can make the ingredients a bit expensive to buy, though - but the health benefits are worth it. You can replace the organics with non-organic if you’d like to save a few bucks.
You will need:
GMO-free corn meal crust, pre-made
Half a head of broccoli
A cup of green beans
A quarter head of cauliflower
A tablespoon of spirulina
While your oven is preheating to 400 degrees, you can prep your vegetables. Dice your tomatoes, and chop your broccoli and cauliflower into small florets. If the green beans are big, slice them horizontally so they are easier to work with. Grate the cheese - or do this directly over the pizza crust when you get it ready.
Spread everything on the pizza crust - except for the spirulina. Bake the pizza for fifteen to twenty minutes. When the cheese begins to bubble, your pizza’s ready. Take it out of the oven and sprinkle the spirulina overtop. Once it’s cooled, eat it!
The sweetness of the apples in this meal can counter the bitterness of the spirulina. It’s a quick prep, but the recipe only serves two (though it’s easy to make enough for more.) Not that spirulina needs any help in healing your body, but the addition of apples and goji berries further adds nutritional benefit to the snack. Fortunately, the ingredients are few - but the combination makes this an unbeatable health snack. Make sure all the ingredients you purchase are organic.
You will need
A tablespoon of peanut/almond/cashew butter
A quarter teaspoon of spirulina
A teaspoon of cacao nibs
A tablespoon of goji berries
This recipe couldn’t be simpler. After your apples are cleaned, take out the core. Slice the apple into rings of about a quarter inch each. Mix your butter with the spirulina and spread it evenly on a single side of the slices. Put your cacao nibs and goji berries on top of this and enjoy!
You can also bake these if you like a crispier snack.
These healthy power bars pack a punch. They have large amounts of protein, the incredible nutrients of spirulina plus the nutrition of apples, ginger, and potent flavourings like nutmeg and vanilla. They can be eaten on the go, making them a useful snack to carry with you to work or for after your workout. Again, ensure as many ingredients as possible are organic.The recipe will taste great even if they aren’t, but - you’re here for the health benefits, right?
You will need
Two cups of oats
A cup of flour
A tablespoon of spirulina
Three tablespoons of peanut butter, creamed
One and a half cups of vegetarian (soy or almond) milk
Three teaspoons of cinnamon
Two teaspoons of ginger
A teaspoon of ground nutmeg
A teaspoon of vanilla extract
A tablespoon of honey
While your oven is preheating to 375 degrees fahrenheit, prep your ingredients. Dice your banana and your apple. Mix all the dry ingredients together, and in a separate bowl, combine all the wet ones. When they’re mixed, combine the two separate mixtures and make sure they are well-mixed.
Line an 8 by 8 baking pan with parchment, or lightly oil/grease it. Pour the mixture into the pan and let it baked for forty minutes - or until the tops are nicely browned and crispy.
Remove from the oven, and let cool. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles and serve, or save them for on-the-go snacks.
As if spirulina wasn’t already an incredible source of protein, this tasty meal uses chicken as a staple. Funny enough - the spirulina provides comparable amounts of protein as the chicken. The recipe makes enough for four servings, and has enough nutritional value to keep your body happy for a long time. Ensure as many ingredients as possible are organic, that the chicken was grass-fed, and the spices are sourced well. The list of ingredients is fairly small and the recipe is easy to cook.
You will need
Three cups of chicken, pre-cooked rotisserie style.
Two stalks of celery
A cup of dried raisins or cranberries
Two tablespoons of Dijon mustard
A tablespoon of pepper
A teaspoon of spirulina
Lettuce greens for a base
This recipe really couldn’t be simpler. Since the chicken’s precooked, all you need to do is shred it and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. Chill it in the oven for at least half an hour so it marinates in the ingredients, and serve on top of greens. For an alternative taste, you can put the salad on toast or make a sandwich with it.
This is a pretty cool recipe. The flavour of spirulina mixes nicely (or is covered by - depending on your personal tastes) with the rest of the ingredients. The spirulina also adds a whopping amount of nutrition to an already-healthy recipe, making this pesto an incredible addition to salads, entrees, or even as a topping on toast. It makes an amazing dip, too - and is appropriate for vegetarians. The recipe makes enough sauce for roughly four servings, and goes particularly well with pasta and gnocchi.
You will need
A cup of pine nuts
Half a cup of nutritional yeast
Three handfuls of basic
A clove of garlic
A tablespoon of olive oil
A tablespoon of spirulina
The juice from a lemon
If you aren’t able to get toasted pine nuts, make sure you toast them prior to the preparation of this recipe. This can be done by throwing them in the oven for a few minutes at 375 fahrenheit.
Blend the garlic and basil in a processor on pulse. Add the nuts and oil, then continue pulsing until the mixture is smooth.
Add the lemon juice, yeast, and spirulina, continually stirring. Season with cracked pepper or salt - or whatever other spices you think could make a nice addition to a pesto. If it’s too thick, you can add more oil - if it’s too thin, blend up some more nuts and pulse them into the mixture.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.