Spirulina is the common name used to refer to the consumable product derived from two species of cyanobacteria, both of the Arhropira genus, the platensis and maxima species.  It is classified as blue-green algae due to its photosynthetic abilities and its aquatic habitants, but are not relatives of eukaryotic algae.


Spirulina has been incorporated in the human diet dating back as far as the 16th century.  It originated as a food source, in the form of a cake called Tecuitlatl, for ancient Aztecs and other Mesoamericans. LakeTexcoco, a natural lake formation in theValley ofMexico, supplied an abundance of spirulina in the 1960’s.  Sequentially, a production plant for spirulina was later established in the 1970’s encompassing this area.  Today, spirulina can be cultivated from open channel raceway ponds using paddle-wheels.  Major producers are situated throughout theUnited States, parts ofAsia, andChile.


A number of nutritional benefits are provided by spirulina.  It is known for its highly concentrated protein source, containing up to 77% in its dry weight, thus making a great meat substitute for vegetarian diets.   In addition, all of the essential amino acids are provided from this one food source, with methionine, cysteine, and lysine contributing the least.  Aside from being an excellent source of protein, spirulina is rich in gamma-linolenic acid, but also carry smaller quantities of other fatty acids such as linoleic and arachidonic acid.  The vitamin content made available from this alga is njust as ample as the minerals.  Riboflavin, pyridoxine, vitamin C, and potassium are just a few of the vitamins and minerals nutritionally obtained from spirulina.  It even holds more betacarotene than actual carrots.


The bioavailability if vitamin B12 has not yet been concluded in spirulina because scientific research as yet to finalize the results of the true vitamin B12 source.  Debate between cobalamin (actual B12) or corrinoids (similar compound to B12) has been an issue in determining the reliable source of active vitamin B12, therefore North American dietitians do not consider spirulina to be an appropriate source for vitamin B12 at this time.


Over the years, many health claims have been issued for spirulina, including antioxidant and antivital abilities, a weight loss therapy, and as a lipid-lowering agent.  Validity of these benefits have limited or bias results supporting the findings.  Most research targets any given nutrient found in spirulina., rather than the cyanobacterial source itself.  A various range of studies including in vitro, animal, and human based clinical trials have all been conducted.  Animal research has provided the strongest evidence supporting health benefits associated with spirulina.


An in vitro study using human neuroblastoma cells to test the effectiveness of spirulina as an iron chelate demonstrated positive correlation between toxic iron amounts and reduced iron-induced oxidative stress.  Animal research using mice and rats as test subjects concluded that spirulina contributes to balancing abnormal carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in the case of increased fructose levels in the body.  A 2008 clinical trial administered 150 allergic  rhinitis patients spirulina from the species Spirulina platensis.  Results found that the secretion of interleuckins-4 and interleuckin-2 were effectively regulated to decrease inflammatory responses and provide symptomatic relief.


The safety of spirulina should be cautioned because the FDA has limited regulations on dietary supplements.  Toxins called microcystins have been noted to exist, but only on rare occasions, in cyanobacteria.  This toxin is a potential route to carcinogens in the liver and other liver diseases as it accumulates in the liver.  Few to no side effects have been identified with spirulina usage.  Headaches, muscle pain, sweating, difficulty concentrating, and skin reactions have been reported as minor side effects.





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