What is the Hype Behind Spirulina? (April 2017)
Have you bought a green drink at the juice bar that contains something called spirulina? Or a green powder that notes spirulina as a listed ingredient? Perhaps your multivitamin includes spirulina, too. This concentrated blue-green algae is reported to have many health claims and seems to be in the press quite a bit lately. So, what’s the truth about this new fad?
There are many claims about spirulina’s potential health effects, some of which are more well-founded than others. For example, spirulina, reportedly, assists in detoxifying the body, can cure allergies by stopping the release of histamines, can assist in curing candida, and boosts the immune system by increasing production of antibodies, which fight disease.
There is a long laundry list of supposed vitamins and minerals contained in spirulina that may be leading to these impressive claims. Spirulina is said to contain B-Complex, beta carotene, Vitamin E, manganese, copper, selenium, zinc, iron, and the fatty acid called Gamma linolenic acid. Did you know that one ounce of spirulina, 4 tablespoons dried, provides 16 grams of protein as well as 60% of the daily value of riboflavin!? It also provides 44% of the daily value of iron and thiamin, 14% of the daily value of magnesium, and 11% of the daily value of potassium.
As impressive as these supposed benefits are, it is important to note that pregnant or breast feeding women should avoid taking spirulina due to the uncertainties in how it may impact them. Spirulina grows in ponds all over the world in such locations as Hawaii and China. With this comes concerns about contamination with toxins and heavy metals. Whether you are pregnant or not, it is wise to select a company that has done third-party testing on their product. If a company has done so, it will have a quality assurance label on its packaging.
Those on blood thinners are also recommended to avoid taking spirulina. Spirulina is contraindicated with these medications, meaning it is not advisable to use them simultaneously due to how spirulina may negatively impact the effectiveness of the drugs. For example, if one takes an antiplatelet or immunosuppressant drug (a medication that weakens the immune system), the effects of spirulina could negatively impact the dosage of the medication.
Additionally, those with Phenylketonuria (PKU) should not consume spirulina. PKU is a disease that causes a lack, or deficiency, of the enzyme needed to process an amino acid called Phenylalanine. A dangerous buildup of phenylalanine can develop when a person with PKU eats foods that are high in protein, such as milk, cheese, nuts, meat, or, you guessed it, spirulina.
It is also noted those with an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis, should avoid spirulina, as it could stimulate the immune system and make the disease and symptoms worse.
Spirulina contains a large amount of nucleic acids according to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. These substances produce uric acid and are related to DNA when they are metabolized. If too much uric acid builds up in the body, gout or kidney stones can develop. If you are susceptible to gout attacks or kidney stones, then spirulina may be harmful to you. To avoid excessive uric acid, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center suggest limiting the intake of spirulina to 50 grams per day.
Listed below are some medications that are speculated to cause drug-nutrient interactions if spirulina was consumed while taking these medications. These medications suppress the immune system and I would suggest one avoid taking spirulina if they are on the following medications:
- Humira (Adalimumab)
- Imuran (Azathioprine)
- Neoral (Cyclosporine)
- Ethanercept (Enbrel)
- Infliximab (Remicade)
- Leflunomide (Arava)
- Cellcept (Mycophenolate)
As spirulina is a relatively new supplement, there isn’t a lot of scientific information to confirm its benefits. Therefore, it is left up to you to educate yourself on its origin and impacts and decide if you believe it may be an effective addition to your daily life. Please be aware of the medical diagnosis that Spirulina, and all other supplements, are contraindicated for to make informed and healthy decisions so that you can live well and be well.
Chamorro-Cevallos, G., Garduno-Siciliano, L., Barron B. L., Madrigal-Bujaidar, E., Cruz-Vega, D. E., Pages, N. Chemoprotective effect of spirulina (arthrospira) against cyclophosphamide-induced mutagenicity in mice. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008; 46 (2): 567-574.
Deng, R., Chow, T. J. Hypolipidemic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities of microalgae spirulina. Cardiovasc Ther. Aug 2010; 28 (4): 33-45.
Fetrow, C. W., Avila, J. R. Professional’s Handbook of Complementary & Alternative Medicines. 1st ed. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corp., 1999.
Mazo, V. K., Gmoshinski, I.V., Zilova, I. S. Microalgae spirulina in human nutrition. Vopr Pitan. 2004; 73 (1): 45-53.