The food commonly known as spirulina is neither a plant, nor an algae, nor even a representative of the genus Spirulina in the current sense. Spirulina is a product based on cyanobacteria of the genus Arthrospira,microscopic blue-green photosynthetic bacteria, usually dried and crushed. Traditionally, this food was eaten in cakes but the Aztecs also made a kind of cheese.
Spirulina was rediscovered in thetwentieth century as a dietary supplement, and its commercialization developed in the 1970s by industrialized countries. The most frequently offered species on the market is Arthrospira platensis,grown mainly in China, the United States (California and Hawaii), France as well as Africa.
Phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins
Spirulina contains vitamins A, E, D, B1, B2, B3, B6, B8, K, beta-carotene, minerals and trace elements such as calcium,phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, chromium, sodium, potassium and selenium.
Spirulina is very rich in chlorophyll and phycocyanin which are pigments that are also found in plants. It is the latter that give spirulina a blue-green color. It also contains enzymes, the most important of which is superoxide dismutase (SOD) which contains iron.
Spirulina also contains omega 6 essential fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid. It is a highly assimilable source of iron. Regarding vitamin A, 5 g of spirulina covers 100% of the recommended nutritional intake.
Rich in antioxidant molecules (gamma-linolenic acid, phycocyanin, tocopherol, carotene, selenium and zinc), it is also used in cosmetology.
Finally, spirulina has a very high digestibility because its wall is composed of murein which is much more digestible compared to conventional pecto-cellulosic walls.
Possible Health Benefits of Spirulina
The scientific evidence is still insufficient to recommend a spirulina supplement. More research is needed to clarify whether consumption brings measurable health benefits. The administration of spirulina has been studied as a way to control glucose in people with diabetes, but the European Food Safety Authority rejected these claims in 2013.
However, since the use of spirulina has spread, many studies have taken place to find out the precise effects on the body. The results of recent studies tend to show that spirulina could play an anti-inflammatory role, especially on the stomach area. In addition to its effects on the inflammatory process, spirulina would improve immune activity more generally.
Spirulina also has defense mechanisms to fight against pathogenic bacteria. Indeed, in vitro studies of spirulina extracts on the bacteria E. coli and S. aureus have made it possible to observe an antimicrobial potential. Spirulina also has antiviral properties. At low concentrations, it is able to reduce viral replication. At higher concentrations, spirulina would be able to block it without being toxic to human cells.
In vivo and in vitro studies have also shown the antioxidant effects of spirulina provided by various molecules such as C-phycocyanin, β-carotenes, tocopherol, C-linolenic acid and phenolic compounds. These antioxidant compounds produced by cyanobacteria can prevent or delay oxidative damage by reducing the accumulation of free radicals. In addition, spirulina exerts a protective effect against oxidative stress caused by acetate produced in the liver and kidney in rats.
An animal study showed that ingestion of spirulina and Dunaliella extract chemically inhibited carcinogenesis in the oral cavity. The anti-cancer effects of spirulina are not yet well known but could be due to β-carotenes (especially in the prevention of skin cancer) and Spirulane-calcium. Indeed, the latter is responsible for inhibiting tumor invasion and metastases.
In sports, spirulina has the effect of delaying the production of lactic acid
Source: Wikipedia, Journal of Medicine, Passeport Santé
As a precautionary measure, spirulina is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. This precaution also applies to people suffering from gout, kidney stones or high levels of uric acid in the blood.
Like all protein-rich foods, spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine that should be avoided by people with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine which then accumulates in the brain causing damage.