Spirulina is a type of unicellular cyanobacterium, that resembles a spiral coil in shape. It contains the pigments - chlorophyll and phycocyanin, which give it a blue-green color. It is found in both sea and fresh alkaline water bodies. Nowadays, it is also cultivated in various parts of the world to meet the ever rising demand for its supplements.
Spirulina has a history of being used as a food source by the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans until the 16th century. Today, this microscopic cyanobacterium is cultivated largely in the United States, India, China, Myanmar, Thailand, and Pakistan.
It contains all the 8 essential amino acids, and its protein content is about 70%, which is much higher compared to many popular food sources of protein. Apart from protein, it is immensely rich in vitamin E, beta-carotene (precursor of vitamin A), vitamin C, B-complex vitamins (especially vitamin B12), crucial minerals like zinc, manganese, iron, copper, selenium, and chromium, and some essential fatty acids like linoleic acid. Being a rich source of so many vital nutrients, it can provide a number of health benefits, of which the most important ones are:
- It is an immune booster. It can strengthen the immune system, and increase its ability to fight infections and infectious agents like viruses.
- Due to its antioxidant properties, it can protect the cells and tissues of the body from the damaging effects of the free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive particles that oxidize the body cells and tissues, and thereby contribute towards the development of several diseases.
- Spirulina can help prevent the excessive loss of hair. It can promote hair growth, and treat alopecia (hair loss) that can affect the scalp, as well as the entire body.
- It can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including oral cancer.
- It can help lower the level of cholesterol in the body, which in turn can reduce the risk of heart diseases.
- It can improve the functions of the cardiovascular system.
- It may prove helpful in preventing liver diseases like cirrhosis of the liver.
- It can promote proper digestion of food, and check the overgrowth of harmful microorganisms in the intestine. It can improve the heath of the digestive system.
- It can accelerate the process of eliminating harmful toxic substances from the body.
- Many people have experienced a gradual reduction in their body weight by using spirulina, and this has further raised its popularity.
- It can also be used for relieving the symptoms of allergic dermatitis. Some studies have pointed out that it can block the release of histamine, which is responsible for producing the typical symptoms of an allergic reaction.
The most commonly reported side effects of spirulina are, headaches, muscle pain, fever, and gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, stomach ache, and constipation. People allergic to this cyanobacterium can also develop an allergic reaction that can produce skin rashes or hives. Sometimes, its supplements can get contaminated with heavy metals and microcystins. In addition to these, it can interact with certain medications, especially the drugs used for lowering blood pressure, cholesterol-lowering medications, blood-sugar lowering drugs, and immunosuppressants.
If taken in the proper dosage, and under the close supervision of a health care provider, spirulina can boost your health. However, those allergic to this blue-green algae, as well as those taking medications for an underlying health condition, should talk to their physicians before taking its supplements.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.