Spirulina is a blue-green algae often added to green juices, smoothies and health shakes to bump up protein and antioxidant content. Wild spirulina grows well in large bodies of water in tropical or subtropical climates, but most of the spirulina consumed in the United States is grown in a laboratory due to the risk of contaminants in the wild. Spirulina is available for safe consumption in dried form, such as powders or flakes or as a supplement in tablets and capsules.
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High in Nutrients
At 32 grams per 1/2 cup, spirulina is a great source of protein and contains 22 essential amino acids. Spirulina also has a variety of necessary vitamins and minerals, including B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium and essential fatty acids, all of which may contribute to spirulina's possible health benefits. One-half cup of dried spirulina also provides 89 percent of your recommended dietary allowance of iron for the day. For these reasons, spirulina is often used as a nutritional supplement; however, consuming the large amounts of spirulina needed to obtain a high level of these nutrients is difficult.
In a study published by the "Journal of Experimental Neurology," spirulina was shown to reduce brain damage and aid in the recovery of neurons after a stroke in rats. A spirulina dose of 180 milligrams per kilogram of weight reduced neurologic deficits and histological changes in the rats tested. Similar studies on humans, however, are needed before the benefits of spirulina on brain function can be confirmed.
Spirulina may be effective in treating allergies by stopping the release of histamines in the body that trigger common allergy symptoms such as runny nose, watery eyes, hives and swelling. A six-month study involving 150 patients found that consuming 2 grams of spirulina per day decreased nasal discharge when compared to the placebo group, the Nutrition 411 website reported.
Preliminary studies have shown promise for the use of spirulina in those with chronic hepatitis to protect the liver against further damage and cirrhosis. Three patients taking 4.5 grams of spirulina per day for three months had improved liver function tests and lipid profiles. In another study, giving mice spirulina before a dose of acetaminophen helped to protect them from liver damage.
Other Possible Benefits
Additional potential benefits of spirulina include improving lung function in those suffering from asthma, improving glucose levels in those with diabetes, offering protection against certain cancers, boosting the immune system and promoting the growth of probiotics. There is insufficient evidence, however, to prove these benefits, and more human-based studies are needed to confirm the positive effects of spirulina.