7 Benefits of Spirulina: The Blue-Green Algae Superfood Supplement
You may have heard some hype around sea vegetables lately—and for good reason. These unique veggies pack all kinds of nutritious benefits that are worth noting.
While kelp and seaweed may be the first types that come to mind, spirulina is a non-seaweed, single-cell algae that also falls into this category. Spirulina is a type of bacteria called cyanobacterium, which is often referred to as blue-green algae, and it is a bona fide superfood. These algae contain antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients and have been used as a food supplement for years.
Here's what you need to know about spirulina, its benefits, and how to use it.
The benefits of spirulina.
Spirulina was originally classified as a plant but has since been reclassified1 as bacteria. There are a number of spirulina species, but three are the most studied2 as nutritional supplements and possible therapeutic remedies: Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis), Spirulina maxima (Arthrospira maxima), and Spirulina fusiformis (Arthrospira fusiformis).
1. It's packed with vitamins and minerals.
- 4 grams of protein
- 11% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of vitamin B1 (thiamin)
- 15% of the RDA of vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- 4% of the RDA of vitamin B3 (niacin)
- 21% of the RDA of copper
- 11% of the RDA of iron
In addition to all of that, spirulina also contains significant amounts of magnesium, potassium, and manganese. Magnesium4 plays a pivotal role in supporting muscle and nerve function, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure in the body, as well as making protein, bone, and DNA.* Potassium, which is a type of electrolyte, aids in nerve function and muscle contraction, and it regulates your heartbeat.* And finally, manganese5 helps your body develop and function properly throughout your life.*
Spirulina is full of nutrients that are essential to keeping our bodies functioning the way they're supposed to.* You can get all of these nutrients from other sources, of course, but spirulina, as a one-stop shop for so many of them at once, is the kind of substance the word "superfood" is meant to describe.
2. It's a good source of plant-based protein.
Spirulina has also been touted as an incredible source of plant-based protein—it's between 55 and 70% protein. Spirulina can be a great addition to a vegan diet considering its iron and B12 content, which may naturally be low in these diets as well.
3. It has antioxidant properties.*
In addition to being ridiculously nutrient-rich, spirulina also has powerful antioxidant properties.* Antioxidants combat oxidative stress6, which has the potential to damage our cells and even our DNA.
Spirulina's antioxidant properties are attributable to a substance called phycocyanin7.* In addition to boasting antioxidant properties8, phycocyanin9 is also responsible for giving spirulina its vibrant blue-green color.*
Oxidative stress (also known as oxidative damage) can wreak havoc on fatty structures in the body. Because spirulina is such a powerful antioxidant, it can help to prevent LDL (low-density lipoprotein—the "bad" cholesterol) from becoming oxidized10.*
4. It can support heart health.*
On the subject of LDL, spirulina has also been shown to help maintain healthy levels of the "bad" cholesterol and support levels of the "good" cholesterol (HDL, or high-density lipoprotein).* In one study11, patients with high cholesterol were given 1 gram of spirulina daily for 12 weeks, to amazing effects—on average, taking the spirulina benefited their triglycerides by 16.3% and their LDL by 10.1%.* While 1 gram of spirulina might help maintain healthy levels of LDL cholesterol12, higher doses have been shown to bring additional benefits, like healthy blood pressure13.*
Researchers believe these benefits are thanks to spirulina's positive impact on the body's production of nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax and dilate, thereby allowing blood to flow more quickly and easily.*
5. Promotes blood sugar balance.*
Spirulina might also help promote blood sugar balance.* Animal studies have shown a beneficial effect14 of spirulina on blood sugar balance.* And one small human study of 25 patients with type 2 diabetes found that 2 grams of spirulina daily positively affected blood sugar levels15.* More research is needed to confirm these results, but the science is promising.
6. Helps reduce allergy symptoms.*
Spirulina's benefits can also extend to seasonal allergy sufferers.* Studies have shown that spirulina supplementation can slow the production of cytokines16, which play a role in the immune response and inflammatory process.* In a study of 127 people suffering from allergic rhinitis, supplementing with 2 grams of spirulina a day helped reduce common rhinitis symptoms17, like nasal congestion and sneezing.*
7. It might enhance muscle strength.*
Where does spirulina come from?
Like any "super" thing, spirulina is incredibly strong and resilient; it can grow in extreme conditions that are inhospitable to many other water-dwelling organisms. Generally, however, it's grown in man-made or natural lakes. Once it's collected, it's freeze- or sun-dried.
How to get more spirulina.
Spirulina supplements can be taken as tablets or as powder. Because spirulina is a form of algae, it's not naturally present in any foods (that is, you can't find it magically hidden in a banana or anything like that). However, its recent surge in popularity means that there are tons of delicious recipes out there to help you incorporate spirulina powder into your diet, like this spirulina quinoa salad or spirulina smoothie.
Overall, spirulina definitely earns its reputation as a superfood, and any way you decide to take it has the potential to help support your health across the board.
Kayleigh Roberts is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. She earned a B.S. from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She covers culture, entertainment, and health and has written for several notable publications including Elle, Marie Claire, and The Atlantic.