Made from dried and powdered blue-green algae, spirulina powder is one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there, which is why many health food enthusiasts consider it a superfood. Considering its high nutritional value, it is not surprising that spirulina has also been associated with a number of potential health benefits, including allergy relief, beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, protection against pre-cancerous oral lesions, improved blood glucose control, and weight loss benefits. However, more research is needed before any definitive conclusions can be made about these or any other potential health benefits of spirulina.
Meanwhile, if you are interested in giving this aquatic superfood a try, go ahead – just make sure you talk to your doctor first as dietary supplements, even if they only contain natural ingredients like dried spirulina powder, can cause side effects and adverse reactions in some people.
There are two main types of cholesterol: LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is considered the "bad cholesterol" because it promotes the development of plaque, a thick, hard deposit that can clog arteries and make them less flexible. If the blood supply to the heart is blocked by too much plaque, a heart attack can result. HDL cholesterol, or the "good cholesterol", on the other hand, is believed to be good for the heart and overall cardiovascular system because it helps carry LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where the bad cholestertol can be broken down and eliminated from the body. Hypolipidemic or lipid-lowering drugs are commonly used to lower LDL cholesterol levels or to increase HDL cholesterol levels, but research suggests that also some foods, such as spirulina powder, may have hypolipidemic effects.According to a research paper published in the August 2010 edition of the journal Cardiovascular Therapeutics, spirulina algae or its extracts have been shown to exert hypolipidemic effects in various animals including mice, rats, hamsters and rabbits. But also a couple of human studies suggest that spirulina supplementation may be good for the heart. In one such study, spirulina supplementation at a daily dose of 4.5 grams for six weeks increased HDL cholesterol by 15%, and significantly reduced LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
There is also some evidence suggesting that spirulina might be good for you if you suffer from allergies and hay fever. In one study, published in the October 2008 issue of the European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, this aquatic superfood was found to significantly reduce common allergic rhinitis symptoms such as sneezing, itching, and nasal congestion and discharge. During the six-month trail period, each study participant took five tablets a day, consuming either 2,000 mg of spirulina per day, or placebo. The study participants were not allowed to take any anti-allergy or hay fever medication during the trial.
In another study, spirulina seaweed was found to inhibit artificially-induced mast cell-mediated allergic reactions in rats by reducing their histamine levels. As you may already know, high levels of histamine in the body is what causes the typical symptoms associated with allergic reactions. To learn more about the potential health benefits of spirulina for people with hay fever or other allergy-related conditions, check out the in-depth article on spirulina, hay fever and allergies.
A placebo-controlled study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer found that spirulina powder was effective at reducing oral leukoplakia in people who chewed tobacco. Leukoplakia, which is caused by tobacco use, is characterized by white patches in the mouth and is associated with an increased risk of oral cancer. In 20 of the 44 subjects who received 1 gram of lyophilized spirulina powder daily for 12 months, complete regression of leukoplakia was observed at the end of the study. In the placebo group, complete regression of pre-cancerous oral lesions was observed only in 3 subjects (out of 43). In addition to the ability of this superfood powder to reduce pre-cancerous oral sores, some animal and test tube studies suggest that spirulina might also have anti-cancer effects against pancreatic tumors and breast cancer cells.
A study published in the July 2004 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that spirulina powder might also offer health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. In this study, twenty-five subjects with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to either receive 2 grams of spirulina for two months, or to form the control group. The efficacy of spirulina supplementation was measured by assessing the study participants' pre-intervention and post-intervention blood glucose levels, glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, and lipid profiles of the diabetic subjects.
The results were promising: spirulina supplementation lowered both fasting blood glucose and postprandial blood glucose levels. Those in the spirulina group also experienced a significant reduction in their HbA1c levels, suggesting that spirulina may also help improve long-term glucose regulation. Finally, an analysis of the subjects' lipid profiles revealed that spirulina supplementation was also associated with lowered triglyceride, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels, suggesting that spirulina might also help improve cardiovascular health in people with type 2 diabetes.
An intriguing study published in Nutrition Reports International in the 80s investigated the effects of spirulina on weight loss in obese adults. The study participants took either 2.8 grams of spirulina three times a day over a period of four weeks, or a placebo supplement over the same period. At the end of the trial period, the researchers observed a small but statistically significant reduction of body weight in those who had taken the spirulina supplements, compared with those in the placebo group.
In another interesting study, a group of researchers from Greece investigated the effects of spirulina on exercise performance and carbohydrate/fat oxidation in moderately trained men. Four weeks of spirulina supplementation resulted in a significant increase in exercise performance: the men were able to run an average of 30 percent longer. What's more, ingestion of spirulina was linked to a 10.3% drop in carbohydrate oxidation rate and a 10.9% increase in fat oxidation rate during a two-hour run, suggesting that spirulina may help promote fat burning during exercise, while preserving the body's glycogen stores.
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