What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is an organism that grows in both fresh and salt water. It is a type of cyanobacteria, which is a family of single-celled microbes that are often referred to as blue-green algae. Just like plants, cyanobacteria can produce energy from sunlight via a process called photosynthesis. Spirulina was consumed by the ancient Aztecs but became popular again when NASA proposed that it could be grown in space for use by astronauts. Listed below are some of the amazing benefits of Spirulina.
1. Extremely High Content of Many Nutrients
This tiny alga is packed with nutrients. A single tablespoon of dried spirulina powder contains:
• Protein: 4 grams
• Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 11% of the RDA
• Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 15% of the RDA
• Vitamin B3 (niacin): 4% of the RDA
• Copper: 21% of the RDA
• Iron: 11% of the RDA
• It also contains decent amounts of magnesium, potassium and manganese
In addition, the same amount holds only 20 calories and 1.7 grams of digestible carbs. Gram for gram, spirulina may be the single most nutritious edible substance on the planet.
2. Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Oxidative damage can harm your DNA and cells. This damage can cause chronic inflammation, which contributes to cancer and other diseases. Spirulina is a fantastic source of antioxidants, which can protect against oxidative damage. Its main active component is called phycocyanin. This antioxidant substance also gives spirulina its unique blue-green color. Phycocyanin can fight free radicals and inhibit production of inflammatory signaling molecules, providing impressive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
3. Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is the world’s leading cause of death. Many risk factors are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Spirulina positively impacts many of these factors. For example, it can lower total cholesterol, “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising “good” HDL cholesterol.
4. May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Some evidence suggests that spirulina has anti-cancer properties. Research in animals indicates that it can reduce cancer occurrence and tumor size. Spirulina’s effects on oral cancer has been particularly well studied.
One study examined 87 people from India with precancerous lesions — called oral submucous fibrosis (OSMF) — in the mouth. Among those who took 1 gram of spirulina per day for one year, 45% saw their lesions disappear — compared to only 7% in the control group. When these people stopped taking spirulina, almost half of them redeveloped lesions in the following year.
5. Reduces Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is a main driver of many serious diseases, including heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. While 1 gram of spirulina is ineffective, a dose of 4.5 grams per day has been shown to reduce blood pressure in individuals with normal levels. This reduction is thought to be driven by an increased production of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that helps your blood vessels relax and dilate.
6. Improves Allergy Symptoms
Allergic rhinitis is characterized by inflammation in your nasal passageways. It is triggered by environmental allergens, such as pollen, animal hair or even wheat dust. Spirulina is a popular alternative treatment for symptoms of allergic rhinitis, and there is evidence that it can be effective. In one study in 127 people with allergic rhinitis, 2 grams per day dramatically reduced symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.
7. May Be Effective Against Anemia
There are many different forms of anemia. The most common one is characterized by a reduction in hemoglobin or red blood cells in your blood.
In a study in 40 older people with a history of anemia, spirulina supplements increased the hemoglobin content of red blood cells and improved immune function. Keep in mind that this is just one study. More research is needed before any recommendations can be made.
8. Improves Muscle Strength and Endurance
Exercise-induced oxidative damage is a major contributor to muscle fatigue. Certain plant foods have antioxidant properties that can help athletes and physically active individuals minimize this damage. Spirulina appears beneficial, as some studies pointed to improved muscle strength and endurance. In two studies, spirulina enhanced endurance, significantly increasing the time it took for people to become fatigued.
9. May Aid with Blood Sugar Control
Animal studies link spirulina to significantly lower blood sugar levels. In some cases, it has outperformed popular diabetes drugs, including Metformin. There is also some evidence that spirulina can be effective in humans.
In a two-month study in 25 people with type 2 diabetes, 2 grams of spirulina per day led to an impressive reduction in blood sugar levels. HbA1c, a marker for long-term blood sugar levels, decreased from 9% to 8%, which is substantial. Studies estimate that a 1% reduction in this marker can lower the risk of diabetes-related death by 21%. However, this study was small and short in duration. More studies are necessary.
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