Spirulina is a highly nutritional blue-green algae. The name comes from the spiral characteristics of its filaments. Spirulina has been consumed by many cultures throughout history and is currently used as a highly nutritional food to combat starvation and malnutrition in the world. Also, it is touted as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory with possible cholesterol-lowering and anti-viral abilities. Available dried in pills, powder or flakes, spirulina is a healthy supplement you can use in a variety of dishes.
Source of Protein
Dried spirulina contains a variety of concentrated nutrients, although the percent of each will vary according to the manufacturer. A predominant nutrient present in spirulina is protein. The protein in spirulina is a high-quality, complete protein present as 50 to 70 percent of its dry weight. This is an exceptional level of protein content. As a complete protein, spirulina provides all eight of the essential amino acids your body must obtain from dietary sources. Your body uses amino acids for a variety of functions in metabolism.
Just 1 teaspoon of dried spirulina can contain 100 percent of your daily allowance of vitamin A, which helps your vision and immune system. Spirulina is also rich in B-complex vitamins thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6. One cup of dried spirulina has 242 percent of the daily value of riboflavin. The Intergovernmental Institute for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition promotes the use of spirulina to prevent deficiencies of vitamin A and vitamin B-complex in undernourished areas. Spirulina also contains vitamins C, E and K.
Spirulina contains most of the minerals your body requires, but is especially high in iron, calcium, phosphorus and potassium. Many women have low iron, and spirulina provides 580 to 1,800 milligrams of iron per kilogram of weight. Adult women need to consume 18 milligrams per day; pregnancy increases your iron needs to 27 milligrams per day. One teaspoon of dried spirulina contains 7 milligrams of calcium and 40 milligrams of potassium. Even essential trace minerals, such as zinc, copper and manganese, can be found in spirulina.
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Activity
Spirulina has antioxidant activity. Antioxidants fight cellular damage inside your body. Both vitamins A and E in spirulina can function as antioxidants to protect your cells. Another antioxidant present in spirulina is known as phycocyanin. Also, these blue-green algae contains essential fatty acids. Spirulina is one of the best known sources of the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, or GLA, which makes up 1 to 4 percent of its dry weight and helps fight inflammation.
Spirulina has the potential to be used beyond general nutrition as part of health management. Research studies, such as those mentioned in a 2010 review published in "Cardiovascular Therapy," have demonstrated cholesterol-lowering abilities of dietary spirulina. Another review regarding spirulina for health in "The Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association" gives evidence that spirulina can enhance your immune system. This algae may even display antiretroviral activity against HIV-1 replication, as indicated in a study in the 1998 "Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology."
- Nutrition Facts: Seaweed, Spirulina, Dried
- Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: Spirulina
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin A
- Antenna Technologies: The Nutritional Aspects of Spirulina
- Cardiovascular Therapy: Hypolipidemic, Antioxidant and Antiinflammatory Activities of Microalgae Spirulina
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Gamma-Linolenic Acid
- Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes and Human Retrovirology: Inhibition of HIV-1 Replication by an Aqueous Extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis).
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.