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Vitamins, Minerals and Dietary Supplements

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Spirulina

What is spirulina? Why do we need it?

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae, of which there are several species. The most popular are spirulina maxima (which is cultivated in Mexico) and spirulina platensis (which is cultivated in California). It grows best in warm climates and areas with warm, alkaline water.

Spirulina is a rich source of nutrients, especially protein. Sixty-two percent of its composition consists of nonessential amino acids; it is also rich in vitamins, beta-carotene, zinc, manganese, copper, iron, selenium, and essential fatty acids such as GLA. Because of its high nutrient content, and because the cellular walls of spirulina are made up of complex proteins and sugars instead of cellulose, it is easily digested by the body and is considered a vital food source for vegetarians. Many weightlifters also use spirulina as a protein source.

Spirulina is currently being studied to determine its effects on a number of clinical conditions. One recent study indicated that calcium spirulina, a component of spirulina, could protect the body against HIV. Animal studies have determined that another component of spirulina, C-phycocyanin, can reduce inflammation in the colon. Other clinical trials suggest that spirulina can inhibit the growth of some forms of cancers and can reduce the risk of oral cancer in people who chew tobacco.

How much spirulina should I take?

A standard dosage of spirulina is 4-6 tablets (500mg) per day. However, patients should always consult with a health care provider before taking spirulina supplements.

What are some good sources of spirulina? What forms are available?

Spirulina is an algae. Although it can be found growing in warm climates, most spirulina consumed in the U.S. is cultivated in a laboratory. It is readily available in pill or powder form at most health food stores.

What can happen if I don’t get enough spirulina? What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?

To date, there are no known side-effects or interactions reported with spirulina. However, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should consult with a health care provider before taking spirulina supplements.

References

  • Chamorro G, Salazar M, Favila L, Bourges H. Pharmacology and toxicology of spirulina alga. Rev Invest Clin 1996;48:389—399. Abstract.
  • Gonzalez R, Rodriguez S, Romay C, et al. Anti-inflammatory activity of phycocyanin extract in acetic acid-induced colitis in rats. Pharmacol Res 1999;39:1055—1059.
  • Mathew B, Sankaranarayanan R, Nair PP, et al. Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with spirulina fusiformis. Nutr Cancer 1995;24:197—202.
  • Romay C, Armesto J, Remirez D, Gonzalez R, Ledon N, Garcia I. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of C-phycocyanin from blue-green algae. Inflamm Res 1998;47:36—41.
  • Salazar M, Martinez E, Madrigal E, Ruiz LE, Chamorro GA. Subchronic toxicity study in mice fed spirulina maxima. J Ethnopharmacol 1998;62:235—241.

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