Spirulina - health benefits
Numerous studies on Spirulina have been conducted in vitro, in vivo, on animals and humans.
All these studies indicate the health beneﬁts of Spirulina and stress the evidence for its therapeutic application in the following areas:
• Immunity • Allergies • Anti-ageing • Cancer • Digestion • Diabetes • Cholesterol • High blood pressure • Hepatoprotection (liver) • Atherosclerosis • Pollution (heavy metals and radiations)
Immunity (bacteria and viruses)
Our immune system is a complex system, involving specialized cells that communicate with each other via chemical messengers called cytokines. It protects us against pathogenic organisms like bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and parasites, and against other compounds that are recognized as “foreign” or “non-self”. Any cell or molecule recognized as non-self is attacked by our immune system cells and the antibodies they produce. It has been established that nutrient deﬁciency can affect negatively our immune system. It has also been established that some nutrients, such as the ones found in Spirulina, can enhance our immune function.
Several constituents of Spirulina have been documented to have anti-viral properties: phycocyanin, calcium spirulan (Ca-SP) (a sulfated polysaccharide), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and sulfolipids such as sulphoquinovosyl diacylglycerol (SQDG).
Other constituents of Spirulina have been documented to have anti-bacterial properties: gamma-linolenic acid, an antibiotically-active fatty acid present in a high concentration.
Clinical studies: Hayashi et al. Enhancement of antibody production in mice by dietary Spirulina platensis. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 1994;40:431-441. # I. Ishii K, et al. Inﬂuence of dietary Spirulina platensis on IgA level in human saliva. J Kagawa Nutr Univ. 1999; 30: 27-33. # Saeki Y, et al. The effect of Spirulina hot water extract to the basic immune activation. Summary of paper presented at the 30th Annual Meeting of the Japanese Society for Immunology. November 14-16, 2000. # Hayashi K, et al. A natural sulfated polysaccharide, calcium spirulan, isolated from Spirulina platensis: in vitro and ex vivo evaluation of anti-herpes simplex virus and anti-human immunodeficiency virus activities. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 1996 Oct 10;12(15):1463-71. # Loya, S. et al. The inhibition of the reverse transcriptase of HIV-1 by the natural sulfoglycolipids from cyanobacteria: contribution of different moieties to their high potency. J. Nat. Prod.,1998, 61(7), 891-5 # Hernández-Corona A. and al. Antiviral activity of Spirulina maxima against herpes simplex virus type 2. Antiviral Research Volume 56, Issue 3, December 2002, Pages 279–285 # .Nattayaporn Chirasuwan et al. Anti HSV-1 activity of sulphoquinovosyl diacylglycerol isolated from Spirulina platensis. ScienceAsia 35 (2009): 137–141
Although cytokine-induced responses are generally protective, an excess production and/or activity of cytokines can be harmful. Beside its positive immune properties, Spirulina also has the ability to modulate immune functions by inhibiting the release of histamine by mast cells and by enhancing IgA production. Spirulina has therefore a positive effect on allergies and on other autoimmune diseases.
Clinical studies: Yang et al., Spirulina platensis inhibits anaphylactic reaction. Life Sciences. 1997; 61:1237-1244. # T. K. Mao, J. van de Water, and M. E. Gershwin, “E F ects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients,” Journal of Medicinal Food, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 27–30, 2005. # Cingi C, et al. The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 265(10):1219-23. doi: 10.1007/s00405-008-0642-8. 2008.
Anti-ageing - oxidative stress
The relationship between antioxidant intake and incidence of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, and premature aging that are associated with free radical damage is now well established through many epidemiological, intervention, and clinical studies. Spirulina provides several carotenoid pigments with antioxidant properties, such as beta carotene (associated with cancer prevention), lutein and zeaxanthin (associated with prevention of age-related macular degeneration). Spirulina also contains around 7% phycocyanin (dry weight basis) and polysaccharides, both known to have powerful antioxidant properties. In addition, Spirulina in rich in superoxide dismutase (1,700 units/g), an enzyme that inhibits the oxygen radical generation. The antioxidant properties of Spirulina have been demonstrated in numerous studies, in particular for phycocyanin, as Spirulina is the only of this rare blue pigment source in the entire world.
Clinical studies: Manoj et al. Antioxidant properties of Spirulina (Spirulina platensis). In: Seshadri and Bai. Spirulina. MCRC. 1992:48-154. # Romay et al. Antioxidant and anti-inﬂammatory properties of c-phycocyanin from blue-green algae. Inflamm Res. 1998;47:36-41. # Ismail et al. Effect of Spirulina Intervention on Oxidative Stress, Antioxidant Status, and Lipid Profile in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Patients. BioMed Research International. Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 486120.
Cancer is a complex disease that involves a sequence of gene-environment interactions in a progressive process that cannot occur without dysfunction in multiple systems, including DNA repair, apoptotic and immune functions. Cancer causing agents called carcinogens transform a normal cell to tumor or cancerous cell. Life style, food habits, environmental factors and hereditary mutations plays major role in carcinogenesis. Doll and Peto were the fist to establish that 35% of all human cancer deaths appear to be associated with diet and nutrition. Since then numerous experimental, epidemiological, and clinical studies have proved this connection. There is also a recent body of evidence to suggest that physiological aging of the immune system may affect cell-mediated immunity that in turn results in cancer development, autoimmune disease, and susceptibility to infection. Several studies show that Spirulina may offer some protection against certain forms of cancer through its effect on the immune system, through a direct effect in the repair of DNA, and antioxidant protection from reactive oxygen species generated during normal or abnormal metabolism and from toxic substances in the environment.
Clinical studies: Mathew et al., “Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis,” Nutrition and Cancer, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 197–202, 1995. # Schwartz et al. Algae-derived phycocyanin is both cytostatic and cytotoxic to oral squamous cell carcinoma (human or hamster). J Dent Res. 1987;66:160. # Mishima et al. Inhibition of tumor invasion and metastasis by calcium spirulan (Ca-SP), a novel sulfated polysaccharide derived from a blue-green alga, Spirulina platensis. Clin Exp Metastasis.1998;16:541-550. # Koníčková R. and al. Anti-cancer effects of blue-green alga Spirulina platensis, a natural source of bilirubin-like tetrapyrrolic compounds. Ann Hepatol. 2014 Mar-Apr;13(2):273-83.
Spirulina possesses prebiotic properties and stimulates the production of lactobacillus. Lactobacillus play an important role, they improve our digestion and absorption of foods, protect us from infection and stimulate our immune system.
Clinical studies: Tsuchihashi et al. Effect of Spirulina platensis on caecum content in rats. Bull Chiba Hygiene College. 1987;5:27-30. # Parada JL et al. Lactic acid bacteria growth promoters from Spirulina platensis. Int J Food Microbiol. 1998;45:225-228.
The antidiabetic properties of Spirulina are due to its gamma-linolenic-acid, antioxidants, amino and fatty acids, superoxide dismutase and phycocyanin. They are able to reduce significantily the blood sugar and cholosterol levels. Phycocyanin seems to enhance the insulin sensitivity and to regulate the metabolism of glucolipides.
Clinical studies: Ou Y, et al. Antidiabetic potential of phycocyanin: effects on KKAy mice. Pharm Biol. 2013 May;51(5): 539-44. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2012.747545. Epub 2013 Feb 1. # Parikh P, et al. Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. J Med Food. 2001 Winter;4(4):193-199. # L. Anitha and K. Chandralekha. Effect of Supplementation of Spirulina on Blood Glucose, Glycosylated Hemoglobin and Lipid Profile of Male N. on Insulin Dependent Diabetics. ASIAN J. EXP. BIOL. SCI., VOL 1 (1) 2010:36-46
The results of different animal and human studies provide support for the cholesterol-lowering activity of Spirulina. A vast amount of experimental and epidemiological evidence shows the connection between diets high in fat and cholesterol and the incidence of cardiovascular disease. There is also an increased awareness among Americans that diets high in cholesterol present a risk of cardiovascular disease. Despite this, cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in the United States, claiming about one million lives a year and totalling 41% of all deaths. It is often said that a fast lifestyle makes it difficult for many Americans to make proper food choices. Supplementation with natural food supplements like Spirulina may contribute, in part at least, to an overall strategy to manage this serious health problem
Clinical studies: Nakaya et al. “Cholesterol lowering eFect of Spirulina,” Atherosclerosis, vol. 37, pp. 1329–1337, 1988. # A. Ramamoorthy and S. Premakumari, “E F ect of supplementation of Spirulina on hypercholesterolemic patients,” Journal of Food, Science and Technology, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 124–128, 1996. # Elias E. Mazokopakis et al. The hepatoprotective and hypolipidemic effects of Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) supplementation in a Cretan population with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a prospective pilot study. Annals of Gastroenterology (2014) 27, 387-394
High blood pressure
The antihypertensive properties of Spirulina have been demonstrated, They are mainly due its content of phycocyanin and ACE inhibitory peptide Ile-Gln-Pro.
Clinical studies: Lu J, Sawano et al. One-week antihypertensive effect of Ile-Gln-Pro in spontaneously hypertensive rats. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Jan 26; 59(2): 559-63. # Ichimura M et al. Phycocyanin prevents hypertension and low serum adiponectin level in a rat model of metabolic syndrome. Nutr Res. 2013 May;33(5):397-405. # T Patricia V Torres-Duran et al. Antihyperlipemic and antihypertensive effects of Spirulina maxima in an open sample of mexican population: a preliminary report. Lipids in Health and Disease 2007, 6:33 doi:10.1186/1476-511X-6-33
Hepatoprotective properties of Spirulina derive mainly from :
Antioxidant properties - Phycocyanin has been reported to be able to scavenge hydroxyl, alkoxyl, and peroxyl radicals induced by drugs or heavy metals. The free radical scavenging capacity reduces the generation of lipid peroxides, which disrupt the membrane structure and the biochemical functions of the liver.
Metalloprotective effects - Several studies have demonstrated that Spirulina possesses the metalloprotective effects. It is well established that heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, impact the cellular growth, diminish cellular productivity, and induce toxicity in cells by accelerating iron dependent lipid peroxidation, ultimately leading to cellular death. See chapter “Protection against heavy metals”.
Effects on fatty liver - Fatty liver is a common cause of chronic liver disease and refers to accumulation of excess fat in the liver. It is often observed in alcoholics, obese persons, and diabetic patients. It is also frequently caused by drugs, viral hepatitis, chemical intoxication, pregnancy, intestinal bypass surgery and malnutrition. Considerable results suggest that Spirulina is able to control the formation of fatty liver trough its antioxidative and anti-inﬂammatory effects, induction of PGE2 production by GLA, hypolipidemic and hypochlesterolemic effects, and activated ALDH activity. See also chapter “Cholesterol lowering properties”.
Antiﬁbrotic action - Hepatic ﬁbrosis is a common outcome of the progressive accumulation of connective tissue in the liver in response to hepatocellular damage. The ﬁbrotic process arises from excessive production of the extracellular matrix (ECM). Various cells and factors participate in ﬁbrogenesis. Kupffer cells and HSC are mainly responsible for the ﬁbrosis process. In addition, transforming growth factor β1 (TGF β 1) is essential for the ﬁbrotic diseases. Liver ﬁbrosis is usually associated with oxidative stress and its subsequent induced inﬂammation. Spirulina has been reportedly associated with the attenuation of ﬁbrosis by the induction of HSC apoptosis and the antioxidative activity, which is involved in the reduction of oxidative stress. Spirulina can be used to attenuate ﬁbrotic process through antioxidative effect, anti-inﬂammation, induction of apoptosis of HSC and probably enhanced innate immunity.
Clinical studies: Vadiraja, B.B., et al. Hepatoprotective effect of C-phycocyanin: protection for carbon tetrachloride and R-(+)-pulegone-mediated hepatotoxicity in rats, Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun., 249, 428, 1998. # Elias E. Mazokopakis et al. The hepatoprotective and hypolipidemic eff ects of Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) supplementation in a Cretan population with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a prospective pilot study. Annals of Gastroenterology (2014) 27, 387-394 # Remirez, D. et al., Inﬂuence of C-phycocyanin on hepatocellular parameters related to liver oxidative stress and Kupffer cell functioning, Inﬂamm Res., 51, 351, 2002. # Parola, M. et al., Vitamin E dietary supplementation inhibits transforming growthfactor β 1 gene expression in the rat liver, FEBS Lett., 308, 267, 1992.
Although the exact cause is unknown, atherosclerosis may start with damage or injury to the inner layer of an artery caused by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, smoking, diabetes or inflammation. Once the inner wall of an artery is damaged, blood cells and other substances often clump at the injury site and build up in the inner lining of the artery. Over time, fatty deposits (plaques) made of cholesterol and other cellular products also build up at the injury site and harden, narrowing your arteries. The organs and tissues connected to the blocked arteries then don't receive enough blood to function properly. Eventually pieces of the fatty deposits may break off and enter your bloodstream. This may cause a blood clot, which can block the blood flow to a specific part of your
body. A blood clot can also travel to other parts of your body, blocking flow to another organ. Atherosclerosis can lead to serious problems, including heart attack, stroke, or even death.
Clinical studies: Cheong SH et al. Spirulina prevents atherosclerosis by reducing hypercholesterolemia in rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2010;56(1):34-40. # Strasky Z et al.. Spirulina platensis and phycocyanobilin activate atheroprotective heme oxygenase-1: a possible implication for atherogenesis. Food Funct. 2013 Nov;4(11):1586-94.
Heavy metals - The detoxification properties of Spirulina have been demonstrated in numerous studies and can be, among other reasons, attributed to its metal-binding capacities and related to its contents of vitamins E and C, beta-carotene, as well as enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), selenium and phycocyanin.
Radiation - DNA repair is a complex process involving enzymes and coenzymes. Because of radiations, enzymes are desactivated and cannot repair the DNA stucture of cells anymore. Abnormal cells can then prolifer, leading to different cancer forms. C-phycocyanin and polysaccharides contained in Spirulina may contribute to decrease radioactivity levels in ionised organisms.
Clinical studies: Fukino H, et al. Effect of Spirulina (S platensis) on the renal toxicity induced by inorganic mercury andcisplatin. Eisei Kagaku. 1990; 36:5. # Bermejo et al. Iron-chelating ability and antioxidant properties of phycocyanin isolated from a protein extract of Spirulina platensis. Food. Chem., 2008, 110, 436-45. # Simsek, N., et al. Spirulina platensis feeding inhibited the anemia- and leucopenia-induced lead and cadmium in rats. J. Hazard. Mater., 2009, 164, 1304-1039. # Simsek, N., et al. Spirulina platensis feeding inhibited the anemia- and leucopenia-induced lead and cadmium in rats. J. Hazard. Mater., 2009, 164, 1304-1039. # Bermejo-Bescós, P. et al. Neuroprotection by Spirulina platensis protein extract and phycocyanin against iron-induced toxicity in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells. Toxicol. In Vitro., 2008, 22, 1495-1502. # L.P. Loseva and I.V. Dardynskaya.Spirulina- natural sorbent of radionucleides. Research Institute of Radiation Medicine, Minsk, Belarus. 6th Int’l Congress of Applied Algology, Czech Republic. Belarus. Sep 1993 . # Evets L., et al. Means to normalize the levels of immunoglobulin E, using the food supplement Spirulina. Grodenski State Medical Univ. Russian Federation Committee of Patents and Trade. Patent (19) RU (11)2005486. Jan. 15, 1994. # IZhang Cheng-Wu, et al. The effect of polysaccharide and phycocyanin from Spirulina platensis var. on peripheral blood and hematopoietic system of bone marrow in mice. Paper presented at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Conference on Algal Biotechnology. Malaysia 1994.