by Robert Henrikson
Adapted from “Spirulina World Food: How this micro algae can transform your health and our planet,” by Robert Henrikson.
n international detective hunt has been underway for 40 years. Researchers in Japan, China, India, Europe, USA and other countries are discovering how and why this algae is effective for human and animal health. Hundreds of published and reviewed scientific studies have focused on spirulina—how this food, its phytonutrients and extracts boost the immune system and improve health.
A more complete scientific bibliography and reference guide is available in the book Spirulina Whole Food and at SpirulinaSource.com. The following summary briefly touches on some important areas of research and findings that spirulina…
- Stimulates the immune system.
- Increases anti-viral activity.
- Offers anti-aging and neuroprotective benefits.
- Reduces risk of cancer.
- Reduces kidney toxicity.
- Builds healthy lactobacillus.
- Overcomes malabsorption and malnutrition.
- Improves wound healing.
- Reduces radiation sickness.
Supports immune system for people over 50: New research continues to be announced. A UC Davis study was published in the March 2011 Journal of Cellular & Molecular Immunology, “The effects of spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens.” The report suggests taking spirulina as a supplement may improve immune function and ameliorate anemia in persons over 50.
Anti-viral activity. There are peer reviewed scientific studies about spirulina’s ability to inhibit viral replication, strengthen the immune system and cause regression and inhibition of cancers.
U.S. scientists announced preliminary research, documenting that a water extract of spirulina inhibits HIV-1 replication in human derived T-cells and in human blood mononuclear cells. Small amounts of the extract reduced viral replication, while higher concentration totally stopped its reproduction. The extract seemed to prevent the virus from penetrating the cell membrane, therefore the virus was unable to replicate.
In 1989, the NCI announced that chemicals from blue-green algae were found to be “remarkably active” against the AIDS virus. These are the naturally occurring sulfolipid portions of the glycolipids. Sulfolipids can prevent viruses from either attaching to or penetrating into cells, thus preventing viral infection.
Anti-cancer effects. Several studies show beta-carotene rich spirulina or its extracts can prevent or inhibit cancers in humans and animals. Some common forms of cancer are thought to be a result of damaged cell DNA causing uncontrolled cell growth.
In a US study, spirulina extracts reduced oral cancer cells. A beta-carotene solution applied to cancerous tumors in mouths of hamsters reduced the number and size of tumors or caused them to disappear. In India, spirulina reversed oral cancer in pan tobacco chewers in Kerala. An Israeli study demonstrated natural beta carotene is more effective than synthetic.
Strengthens the immune system. Spirulina is a powerful tonic for the immune system. In studies of mice, hamsters, chickens, turkeys, cats and fish, it improves immune system function. It not only stimulates the immune system, it enhances the body’s ability to generate new blood cells. Spirulina upregulates key cells and organs, improving their ability to function in spite of stresses from environmental toxins and infectious agents.
Anti-aging and neuroprotective effects. Multiple studies suggest spirulina should be considered therapeutic intervention for the aging brain. Many beneficial outcomes of spirulina could be linked to the activation of the innate immune system, first line of defense in our bodies. The inflammation seen with normal aging can be down regulated with spirulina, as seen by the benefits of spirulina administration in arthritis. Spirulina has actions in the central nervous system to counteract oxidative stress and inflammation that occur as a consequence of aging and to aid regeneration of the brain following injury or neurodegenerative disease.
Reduces kidney and liver toxicity from mercury, drugs and chemical pollutants. Kidneys play an essential role in cleansing the body of toxins. Scientists are interested in substances that can help cleanse the kidneys of toxic side effects from heavy metal poisoning or from high intake of medicines or pharmaceutical drugs. In Japan, studies with rats suggest spirulina phycocyanin extract may have a beneficial effect for humans suffering from heavy metal poisoning.
Phycocyanin enhances the immune system. Research in Japan suggests phycocyanin raises lymphocyte activity and acts by strengthening the body’s resistance through the lymph system. Phycocyanin may be active in preventing degenerative organ diseases by boosting immunity. A Japanese patent states a small dosage of phycocyanin daily maintains or accelerates normal control cell functions that prevents generation of malignancy such as cancer or inhibits its growth or recurrence.
Polysaccharides enhance the immune system. In 1979, Russian scientists published initial research on the immune stimulating effects on rabbits from lipopolysaccharides in spirulina. More recent studies in China and Japan have shown polysaccharide extracts increased macrophage function, antibody production and infection-fighting T-cells.
Phycocyanin builds blood. Studies show phycocyanin in spirulina affects the stem cells found in bone marrow. Stem cells are “grandmother” to both the white blood cells that make up the cellular immune system and red blood cells that oxygenate the body. Chinese scientists document Phycocyanin stimulating hematopoiesis (the creation of blood), regulating production of white blood cells, even when bone marrow stem cells are damaged by toxic chemicals or radiation.
Reduces radiation sickness. Spirulina has been used in Ukraine and Belarus as a “medicine food” for treating radiation sickness. The Children of Chernobyl suffered radiation poisoning from eating food grown on radioactive soil. Their bone marrow was damaged, rendering them immunodeficient. Radiation damaged bone marrow cannot produce normal red or white blood cells. The children were anemic and suffered from terrible allergic reactions. Children fed five grams each day made dramatic recoveries within six weeks. Research continuing through 1999 in Belarus showed immune building, normalization of peroxide lipid oxidation and detoxifying effects of spirulina supplements in children and teenagers.
Builds healthy lactobacillus, overcomes malabsorption. Healthy lactobacillus in the intestines provides humans with three major benefits: better digestion and absorption, protection from infection, and stimulation of the immune system. Spirulina acts as a functional food, feeding beneficial intestinal flora, lactobacillus and bifidus. Japanese studies show when spirulina is added to the diet, beneficial intestinal flora increase. One strategy for halting the progression of AIDS is based on supplementation (to correct malabsorption) and lactobacillus (to maintain proper intestinal flora and prevent infection).
Benefits for malnourished children. Numerous studies from around the world show rapid recovery of malnourished children attributable to spirulina’s ability to rebuild intestinal flora and improve overall nutrient absorption and its beta-carotene to help children recover from Vitamin A deficiency.
Iron bioavailablity and correction of anemia. Iron is the most common mineral deficiency worldwide. Iron anemia is prevalent in women, children, older people, and women on weight loss diets. Iron is essential for healthy red blood cells and a strong immune system, but typical iron supplements are not well absorbed by the human body. Spirulina-fed rats absorbed 60% more iron than rats fed an iron supplement, suggesting a highly available form of iron in spirulina.
Wound healing and antibiotic effects. People have used spirulina in face creams and body wraps and in baths to promote skin health. The Kanembu in Chad use freshly harvested algae as a skin poultice for treating certain diseases. Pharmaceutical compounds in France containing spirulina accelerated wound healing. Patients used whole spirulina, raw juice and extracts in creams, ointments, solutions and suspensions. A study in Japan showed cosmetic packs containing spirulina and its enzymatic hydrolyzates promoted skin metabolism and reduced scars. Other research showed extracts of spirulina inhibited the growth of bacteria, yeast and fungi.
Self care strategies with spirulina
Spirulina is most effective when used in a natural food diet as one part of a personal strategy for self-care. This strategy embraces recommendations by the National Academy of Science, the National Cancer Institute and the American Heart Association.
- Eating lighter as part of a natural weight control plan.
- Reducing risks of heart disease and cancer.
- Fasting and body cleansing programs.
- More energy, endurance and faster recovery for athletes and body builders.
- For older people on restricted diets, good nutrient absorption
- Anti-aging strategy for immune enhancement and neuroprotection.
- Great for children and nursing mothers.
Most popular ways are taking convenient tablets or mixing a teaspoon to tablespoon of power in a blender with fruit for a green smoothie. Spirulina recipe books have many more ideas for using algae in foods.
Green superfoods have become popular over the past 30 years. Spirulina and chlorella are specially cultivated algae. Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (called ‘blue-green algae’) is harvested from a lake in Oregon. Barley and wheat grass are cultivated young cereal plants, harvested before they become grains. All five are chlorophyll-rich foods, and often are combined with other vitamins and minerals in green superfood supplements.
Author’s note: Having read these scientific research reports over many years, the author has consumed spirulina tablets or powder daily for more than 30 years. In the morning, before getting started for the day, five grams or 10 spirulina tablets each day.