What Are the Benefits and Side Effects of Spirulina?

Small dish of spirulina.
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Spirulina is blue-green algae that thrives in warm climates in warm alkaline water. Many cultures around the world include spirulina as part of their daily diets because of its powerful nutrient benefits. It's available dried and freeze-dried, in powder, pills or as flakes. Because spirulina can absorb heavy metals and is susceptible to contamination from toxins, it's important that you purchase it from a reputable source.

Antioxidant Power

Antioxidants are powerful substances that help protect your body from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that damage healthy cells. Spirulina contains antioxidants such as vitamin A, C and E. An article published in "Cardiovascular Therapeutics" in August 2010 notes that spirulina's beneficial antioxidant activities were demonstrated in a large number of preclinical animal studies, as well as in a limited number of human studies. The evidence suggests that cardiovascular benefits are a result of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities.

Supplies Folate

Folate is a member of the B vitamin family, which helps convert food to energy and plays a role in healthy skin, hair, eyes and liver. Folate is vital for proper brain function and is particularly important during cell and tissue growth during pregnancy, infancy and adolescence. A 3.5-ounce portion of dried spirulina provides 94 micrograms of folate, which is almost 24 percent of the daily value set by the United States Food and Drug Administration based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.

Protein Packed

Protein is found in every cell in your body. It's essential for the proper development, maintenance and repair of muscle, bone, skin, hair and body tissue. As a part of certain enzymes, proteins help carry out many of your body's chemical reactions. Spirulina is an exceptionally rich source of protein. A 3.5-ounce portion of dried spirulina contains 57 grams of protein, which is more than 100 percent of the DV.

Safety Concerns

Spirulina appears to be safe, even at high doses, according to University of Maryland Medical Center. Some people, however, may experience side effects such as headache, sweating, nausea, difficulty concentrating and flushing of the face. Avoid spirulina if you have an autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, because it could stimulate your immune system, making your condition worse. Talk with your doctor before taking spirulina if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.