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Spirulina tablets

Spirulina is a microscopic blue-green algae in the shape of a perfect spiral coil living both in sea and fresh water which is the common name for human and animal food supplements produced primarily from two species of cyanobacteria: Arthrospira platensis, and Arthrospira maxima. These and other Arthrospira species were once classified in the genus Spirulina. There is now agreement that they are a distinct genus, and that the food species belong to Arthrospira; nonetheless, the older term Spirulina remains the popular name. Arthrospira is cultivated around the world, and is used as a human dietary supplement as well as a whole food and is available in tablet, flake, and powder form. It is also used as a feed supplement in the aquaculture, aquarium, and poultry industries.[1]



Arthrospira are free-floating filamentous cyanobacteria characterized by cylindrical, multicellular trichomes in an open left-hand helix. Spirulina occurs naturally in tropical and subtropical lakes with high pH and high concentrations of carbonate and bicarbonate. Arthrospira platensis occurs in Africa, Asia and South America, whereas Arthrospira maxima is confined to Central America.[1]


An illustration from the Florentine Codex showing how the Aztecs harvested Spirulina off lakes by skimming the surface with ropes and then drying the algae into square cakes which would be eaten as a nourishing condiment.

Spirulina is believed to have been a food source for the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans until the 16th-century; its harvesting from Lake Texcoco and subsequent sale as cakes is described by one of Cortés' soldiers.[2] The Aztecs called it Tecuitlatl, meaning stone's excrement. Spirulina was found in abundance at the lake by French researchers in the 1960s, but there is no reference to its use there as a daily food source after the 16th century. The first large-scale Spirulina production plant, run by Sosa Texcoco, was established there in the early 1970s.[1]

Leo Szilard postulated the development of algae-based food supplements (which he called "Amruss") in his 1961 short story, The Voice of the Dolphins.

Spirulina may have an even longer history in Chad, as far back as the 9th century Kanem Empire. It is still in daily use today, dried into cakes called Dihé, which are used to make broths for meals, and also sold in markets. The Spirulina is harvested from small lakes and ponds around Lake Chad.[3]


Most cultivated spirulina is produced in open-channel raceway ponds, with paddle-wheels used to agitate the water. The largest commercial producers of spirulina are located in the United States, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Pakistan and Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar).[1]

Nutrients and other chemicals


Spirulina contains an unusually high amount of protein, between 55% and 77% by dry weight, depending upon the source. It is a complete protein,[4] containing all essential amino acids, though with reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine when compared to the proteins of meat, eggs, and milk. It is, however, superior to typical plant protein, such as that from legumes.[5][6]

Essential fatty acids

Spirulina is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and also provides alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and arachidonic acid (AA).[6][7]


Spirulina contains vitamin B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E.[6][7]


The bioavailability of vitamin B12 in Spirulina is in dispute. Several biological assays have been used to test for the presence of vitamin B12.[8] The most popular is the US Pharmacopeia method using the Lactobacillus leichmannii assay. Studies using this method have shown Spirulina to be a minimal source of bioavailable vitamin B12.[9] However, this assay does not differentiate between true B12 (cobalamin) and similar compounds (corrinoids) that cannot be used in human metabolism. Cyanotech, a grower of spirulina, claims to have done a more recent assay, which has shown Spirulina to be a significant source of cobalamin. However, the assay is not published for scientific review and so the validity of this assay is in doubt.[10] The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada in their position paper on vegetarian diets state that spirulina can not be counted on as a reliable source of active vitamin B12. [11]


Spirulina is a rich source of potassium, and also contains calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium, and zinc.[6][7]

Photosynthetic pigments

Spirulina contains many pigments including chlorophyll-a, xanthophyll, beta-carotene, echinenone, myxoxanthophyll, zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin, diatoxanthin, 3'-hydroxyechinenone, beta-cryptoxanthin, oscillaxanthin, plus the phycobiliproteins c-phycocyanin and allophycocyanin.[1]

Considerations and Potential Dangers

Spirulina contains phenylalanine, which should be avoided by people who have the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria, where the body cannot metabolize this amino acid and it builds up in the brain causing damage. [12] Because Spirulina is a dietary supplement, the United States Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the production and quality of the product. Although rare, cyanobacteria like Spirulina may contain toxins called microcystins, which accumulate in the liver and can potentially cause cancer or other liver diseases. Currently, no standard exists to regulate the safety of Spirulina. [13]

Evidence of health and healing effects

Despite existing research supporting Spirulina's health and healing properties, detractors claim that these are frequently overstated by Spirulina advocates. Conversely, Spirulina advocates have accused health food detractors of dismissing all such claims without acknowledging this research. Many positive claims are based on research done on individual nutrients that Spirulina contains, such as GLA, various antioxidants, etc., rather than on direct research using Spirulina. What follows is research on the health and healing effects of Spirulina. In vitro research (e.g., studying cells in a petri dish) may suggest the possibility of similar results in humans but, due to the drastically different conditions of the research, provides only hints at the potential for human effects. Animal research can also provide evidence of potential human effects. Human research focuses on actual effects in humans - however, the validity and reliability of the research depends on the design of the study. The strongest evidence comes from well designed and controlled clinical trials, which are one type of human research study.

In vitro research

Spirulina extract inhibits HIV replication in human T-cells, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), and Langerhans cells.[14]

An in vitro study in 2008 concluded that Spirulina may possess iron chelating properties. Human neuroblastoma cells were treated with a toxic amount of iron and then treated with Spirulina. When treated, the iron-induced oxidative stress was reduced. [15]

Animal research

Spirulina helps prevent heart damage caused by chemotherapy using Doxorubicin, without interfering with its anti-tumor activity.[16] Spirulina reduces the severity of strokes and improves recovery of movement after a stroke;[17] reverses age-related declines in memory and learning;[18] and prevents and treats hay fever.[19]

A study on the metabolism of mice indicates that it has little effect on their metabolism, and therefore probably that of humans too.[20]

A study with diabetic rats concluded that Spirulina maxima was effective in correcting the abnormal carbohydrate and lipid metabolisms caused by excess fructose within the body. [21]

Human Research

Spirulina has been found to improve weight-gain and correct anemia in both HIV-infected and HIV-negative undernourished children;[22] because of its excellent nutritional quality. Spirulina is effective for the clinical improvement of melanosis and keratosis due to chronic arsenic poisoning.;[23]

A study in 2005 found that Spirulina protects against hay fever.[24]. A more recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2008 concerning 150 allergic rhinitis patients found that Spirulina platensis significantly reduced the secretion of pro-inflammatory interleukin-4 by 32% and the patients experienced symptomatic relief. [25] Furthermore, Spirulina was found to reduce the inflammation involved in arthritis in geriatric patients by stimulating the secretion of interleukin-2, which helps in regulating the inflammatory response. [26]

A 2007 study [27] found that 36 volunteers taking 4.5 grams of spirulina per day, over a six week period, exhibited significant changes in cholesterol and blood pressure: (1) lowered total cholesterol; (2) increased HDL cholesterol; (3) lowered triglycerides; and (4) lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure. However, as this study did not contain a control group, researchers can not be confident that the changes observed are due totally - or even partially - to the effects of the Spirulina maxima as opposed to other confounding variables (i.e., history effects, maturation effects, demand characteristics). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention study involving geriatric patients determined that Spirulina helped significantly reduce the low density lipoprotein to high density lipoprotein ratio after four months of supplementation. [26]

A 2007 study concluded that Spirulina improved the antioxidant potential of many geriatric patients who were administered Spirulina for 16 weeks. The plasma of these patients showed a measured increased level of total antioxidant status. [26] A double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 2006 found that Spirulina supplementation decreased the amount of creatine kinase, an indicator of muscular breakdown, in individuals after exercise. Furthermore, the experimental group's time to exhaustion during all out treadmill exercise increased by 52 seconds. These effects were thought to be due to Spirulina's antioxidant potential.[28]

Organic Certification

Until recently, much spirulina was certified organic. In 2002, the USDA's National Organic Standards Board voted to disallow the use of Chilean nitrate. They granted a three-year window to spirulina producers, which expired in 2006. As a result, leading spirulina manufacturers have stopped labelling their spirulina as organic, citing safety concerns of nitrate alternatives[29]. However a company based in India, Parry Nutraceuticals[30], started producing organic Spirulina meeting revised USDA requirements as of March 2006, using a vegetarian source of nitrogen and phosphorous[citation needed]


The United Nations World Food Conference in 1974 lauded Spirulina as the 'best food for the future'. Recognizing the inherent potential of Spirulina in the sustainable development agenda, several Member States of the United Nations came together to form an intergovernmental organization by the name of IIMSAM, the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition.[31] IIMSAM aspires to build a consensus with the UN Member States, international community and other stakeholders to make Spirulina a key driver to eradicate malnutrition, achieve food security and bridge the health divide throughout the world.

Spirulina has been proposed by both NASA (CELSS)[32] and the European Space Agency (MELISSA)[33] as one of the primary foods to be cultivated during long-term space missions.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Vonshak, A. (ed.). Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira): Physiology, Cell-biology and Biotechnology. London: Taylor & Francis, 1997.
  2. ^ Diaz Del Castillo, B. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517-1521. London: Routledge, 1928, p. 300.
  3. ^ Abdulqader, G., Barsanti, L., Tredici, M. "Harvest of Arthrospira platensis from Lake Kossorom (Chad) and its household usage among the Kanembu." Journal of Applied Phychology. 12: 493-498. 2000.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Ciferri, O. "Spirulina, the Edible Microorganism." Microbiological Reviews. 47, 4, Dec. 1983.
  6. ^ a b c d Babadzhanov, A.S., et al. "Chemical Composition of Spirulina Platensis Cultivated in Uzbekistan." Chemistry of Natural Compounds. 40, 3, 2004.
  7. ^ a b c Tokusoglu, O., Unal, M.K. "Biomass Nutrient Profiles of Three Microalgae: Spirulina platensis, Chlorella vulgaris, and Isochrisis galbana." Journal of Food Science. 68, 4, 2003.
  8. ^ Variations in the Growth Response of Four Different Vitamin B12 Assay Microorganisms to the Same Tissue and Standard Preparations. Elizabeth A. Cook and Lillian N. Ellis. Appl Microbiol. 1968 December; 16(12): 1831–1840.
  9. ^ Watanabe, F. et al. "Characterization and bioavailability of vitamin B12-compounds from edible algae." Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology, Oct. 2002, 48 (5):325-331.
  10. ^ Spirulina Pacifica as a Source of Cobalamin Vitamin B-12. Jan. 1999.
  11. ^ Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets
  12. ^ Robb-Nicholson, C. (2006). "By the way, doctor". Harvard Women's Health Watch 8. 
  13. ^ Gilroy, D., Kauffman, K., Hall, D., Huang, X., & Chu, F.. "Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements". Environmental Health Perspectives 108 (5): 435-439. 
  14. ^ Ayehunie, S. et al. "Inhibition of HIV-1 Replication by an Aqueous Extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis)." JAIDS: Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes & Human Retrovirology. 18, 1, May 1998: 7-12.
  15. ^ Barmejo-Bescós, P., Piñero-Estrada, E., &Villar del Fresno, A.. "Neuroprotection by Spirulina platensis protean extract and phycocyanin against iron-induced toxicity in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells". Toxicology in Vitro 22: 1496-1502. doi:10.1016/j.tiv.2008.05.004. 
  16. ^ Khan, M., et al. "Protective effect of Spirulina against doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity." Phytotherapy Research. 2005 Dec;19(12):1030-7.
  17. ^ Wang, Y., et al. "Dietary supplementation with blueberries, spinach, or spirulina reduces ischemic brain damage." Experimental Neurology. May, 2005 ;193(1):75-84.
  18. ^ Gemma, C., et al. "Diets enriched in foods with high antioxidant activity reverse age-induced decreases in cerebellar beta-adrenergic function and increases in proinflammatory cytokines." Experimental Neurology. July 15, 2002; 22(14):6114-20.
  19. ^ Chen, LL, et al. "Experimental study of spirulina platensis in treating allergic rhinitis in rats." 中南大学学报(医学版) = Journal of Central South University (Medical Sciences). Feb. 2005. 30(1):96-8.
  20. ^ Yin, J; Zuberi, A; Gao, Z; Liu, D; Liu, Z; Cefalu, WT; Ye, J (Jul 2008). "Effect of Shilianhua extract and its fractions on body weight of obese mice". Metabolism: clinical and experimental 57 (7 Suppl 1): S47–51. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.03.004. ISSN 0026-0495. PMID 18555854. 
  21. ^ Kulshreshtha, A., Zacharia, J., Jarouliya, U.,Bhadauriya, P., Prasad, G.B.K.S., & Bisen, P.S. (2008). "Spirulina in Health Care Management". Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology 9: 400-405. 
  22. ^ Simpore, J., et al. "Nutrition Rehabilitation of HIV-Infected and HIV-Negative Undernourished Children Utilizing Spirulina." Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. 49, 2005: 373-380.
  23. ^ Mir Misbahuddin, AZM Maidul Islam, Salamat Khandker, Ifthaker-Al-Mahmud, Nazrul Islam and Anjumanara. Efficacy of spirulina extract plus zinc in patients of chronic arsenic poisoning: a randomized placebo-controlled study. (Risk factors ). Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology. 44.2 (March 2006): p135(7).
  24. ^ Mao, TK, et al. "Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients." Journal of Medicinal Food. Spring 2005;8(1):27-30.
  25. ^ Cingi, C., Conk-Dalay, M., Cakli, H., & Bal, C.. "The effects of Spirulina on allergic rhinitis". European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Larynology 265 (10). doi:10.1007/s00405-008-0642-8. 
  26. ^ a b c Park, H.; Lee, Y.; Ryu, H.; Kim, M.; Chung, H.; Kim, W. (2008). "A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans". Annals of nutrition & metabolism 52 (4): 322–328. doi:10.1159/000151486. PMID 18714150.  edit
  27. ^ Torres-Duran, Ferreira-Hermosillo, & Juarez-Oropeza. (2007). Antihyperlipemic and antihypertensive effects of Spirulina maxima in an open sample of mexican population: A preliminary report. Lipids in Health and Disease. 6, 33
  28. ^ Lu, H.K., Hsieh, C.C. Hsu, J.J., Yang, Y.K., & Chou, H.N.. "Preventative effects of Spirulina platensis on skeletal muscle damage under exercise induced oxidative stress". European Journal of Applied Physiology 98: 220-226. doi:10.1007/s00421-006-0263-0. 
  29. ^ Organic standards spark spirulina row
  30. ^ Parry Nutraceuticals
  31. ^ IIMSAM, Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition
  32. ^ Characterization of Spirulina biomass for CELSS diet potential. Normal, Al.: Alabama A&M University, 1988.
  33. ^ Cornet J.F., Dubertret G. "The cyanobacterium Spirulina in the photosynthetic compartment of the MELISSA artificial ecosystem." Workshop on artificial ecological systems, DARA-CNES, Marseille, France, October 24-26, 1990

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