Spirulina algae is probably one of the best known supplements in the world. It is considered a true superfood, an elixir of life for the body and brain. But are these just beliefs or is there a scientific basis behind these claims? Let's try to find out by analyzing, as always, the most important scientific research published on the subject.
Spirulina, what it is
Spirulina is a blue green alga whose fame has grown a lot in recent years after NASA chose it as a supplement for its astronauts during space missions. But the use of spirulina has its roots in history. In fact, it is believed that the first to use spirulina as a food and remedy were even the Aztecs. In reality, spirulina is not really an alga but a cyanobacterium that develops in fresh and marine waters (Karkos et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2011). However, it is universally known by the name of seaweed and we will also refer to it in this way.
Spirulina is a valuable source of proteins, present in abundance in this algae, it is estimated that they represent up to 70% of all nutrients. Not only that, the seaweed also provides vitamin B12 and provitamin A, mineral salts, especially iron, but also calcium, zinc, magnesium, manganese and potassium (Karkos et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2011). Spirulina is also rich in antioxidants, chlorophyll, tocopherol and fatty acids such as gamma linolenic acid, which, as shown by scientific studies, helps to combat and mitigate various inflammatory diseases, such as atopic dermatitis and rheumatoid arthritis. (Sergeant et al, Eur J Pharmacol, 2017). Spirulina acts as a prebiotic at the level of the intestinal microbiota, providing nourishment and stimulating the growth of good intestinal bacteria with benefits for the whole organism (Sorrenti et al, Mar Drugs, 2021). Spirulina is easily digestible and is considered generally safe, with no particular side effects but as long as it is of good quality (Karkos et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2011).
Spirulina and brain
Spirulina is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective. Preliminary studies have shown that spirulina reduces mental fatigue, protects the vascular wall of the blood vessels of the brain from possible damage and regulates internal pressure, helping to prevent and combat cerebrovascular problems (Sorrenti et al, Mar Drugs, 2021). Not only that, spirulina helps to inhibit neuroinflammation, the fuse that, together with the accumulation of beta amyloid proteins, causes the development of Alzheimer's, and reduces the accumulation of these proteins (Sorrenti et al, Mar Drugs, 2021). This beneficial action occurs thanks to the minerals, vitamins and antioxidants contained in spirulina, but also thanks to the beneficial action of the seaweed on the intestinal microbiota. In fact, there is what scientists call the gut-brain axis. The destruction of the microbiota community is associated, in the long term, with neurological diseases, while the use of probiotics and prebiotics, such as spirulina, has been shown to guarantee balance and health, both in the intestine and in the brain (Sorrenti et al, Mar Drugs, 2021).
Spirulina and allergies
Spirulina displays anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties, since it reduces the release of histamine (Karkos et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2011). In fact, the intake of spirulina has been shown to be useful in combating allergic rhinitis, runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion (Karkos et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2011).
Spirulina and immune system
Spirulina strengthens the immune system. According to studies, spirulina contains substances capable of inhibiting the proliferation of viruses, including herpes simplex and the influenza A virus (Hayashi et al, J Nat Prod, 1996). Spirulina improves the activity of NK cells, or natural killer cells, essential in the early stages of response to viral infections but also in the fight against cancer (Finamore et al, Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2017).
Spirulina and its cardioprotective properties
In the study 4 grams of spirulina seaweed per day were taken and in two months there was a significant reduction of bad LDL cholesterol. Not only that, other studies have also made it possible to observe that this alga is able to reduce triglycerides and at the same time to increase good HDL cholesterol (Karkos et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2011). Spirulina has also shown to help reduce blood pressure, especially in the case of hypertension, and to control fasting blood glucose (Machowiec et al, Nutrients, 2021 - Hatami et al, J Diabetes Metab Disord, 2021 ).
Spirulina and cell degeneration
Spirulina is an antioxidant, regulates the functioning of the immune system and stimulates the action of NK cells, the natural killers that play an essential role in the fight against cancer (Akao et al, Cancer Sci, 2009). Thanks to these properties, studies have shown that spirulina helps to counteract cellular degeneration (Karkos et al, Evid Based Complement Alternat Med., 2011).
Spirulina and visceral fat
Spirulina helps reduce the waistline, counteracts the accumulation of fat in the liver and the infiltration of macrophages into visceral adipose tissue, a process that triggers inflammation (Bobescu et al, Mar Drugs, 2020 - Dinicolantonio et al, Open Heart, 2020).