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What is Spirulina?

Updated on October 17, 2012

Spirulina is among the growing numbers of health supplements you can buy online.

But what exactly is spirulina, and what is it for?

It has often been advertised as being a weight loss supplement.

In actual fact it is so much more than that.

In fact, studies seem to suggest that the spirulina is not much cop when it comes to actual weight loss, but has other advantages so wonderful that both NASA and the European Space Agency have proposed spirulina as the primary food to be cultivated for long term space missions.

So complete is spirulina as a foodstuff, and it does so much good to the human body, that scientists reckon it would be perfect for our astronauts in space.

This makes spirulina much more interesting than you previously might have suspected. It's health benefits are amazing, and very few, if any, dietary health supplements can match it.

So what exactly is spirulina?

Natural spirulina

Spirulina is an algae, a living, growing organism that lives in many fresh and salt water lakes in the world.

It is especially found in alkaline lakes and waterways, where there is a build-up of mineral deposits of carbonate and bicarbonate.

While spirulina is actually it's old name, it has since been re-classified and named as a cyanobacteria, which consists of two types - arthospira platensis and athrospira maxima.

Neither are true algae either. The only relationship they bear to algae is the ability of photosynthesise in water.

The world's largest commercial spirulina plants are located in the US, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Burma and Chile where spirulina is grown in what is called open channel raceway ponds that use paddle-wheels to agitate the water.

It is available as health food supplements in powder, flake and tablet form and is used as a food supplement in various agricultural industries including poultry and fish farming.

Green Spirulina
Green Spirulina

Arthrospira platensis occurs naturally in tropical and subtropical high pH lakes in Africa, Asia and South America.

Athrospira maxima is found only in Central America.

Historically, spirulina was an important foodstuff of the Aztecs up until the 16th century. It was harvested from Lake Texcoco and turned into cakes.

The Aztecs called it Tecuitlatl, meaning stone's excrement, which makes it sound extremely unappetizing!

In Chad, spirulina has been used as a daily food since the 9th century BC, and is still in use there today where it is made into small cakes known as dihé. It is harvested in Lake Chad and its subsidiaries.

flake spirulina
flake spirulina

Spirulina nutritional composition

Spirulina is a complete food in itself.

It contains an unusually high amount of protein, including all the essential amino acids. It is far superior to any other plant foods like legumes.

It is full of vitamins and minerals.

It contains:

  • potassium
  • sodium
  • selenium
  • calcium
  • chromium
  • copper
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese
  • phosphorus and
  • zinc.

The jury is still out on whether or not it contains vitamin B12 as there are different testing methods and none so far are conclusive, but it does contain loads of others - B1, B2, B6 and B9 as well as vitamins A, C, D and E.

spirulina open channel raceway ponds
spirulina open channel raceway ponds

Spirulina supplements

Health Benefits of Spirulina

Various studies have been undertaken of this new wonderfood.

It has been found to:

  • reduce blood pressure
  • raise HDL (the good cholesterol)
  • lower overall cholesterol
  • lower triglycerides
  • increase weight gain and correct anaemia in starving children
  • helps prevent heart damages in patients undergoing chemotherapy with the drug Doxorubicin
  • reduces the severity of strokes and assists recovery of motor neurons after a stroke
  • can clinically improve patients suffering from chronic arsenic poisoning
  • protects against hay fever
  • reduces inflammation and pain in arthritis sufferers
  • increases the presence of antioxidants in the blood, resulting in the eldery become more physically active
  • can help correct problems caused by fructose (sugar) in the body of diabetic patients
  • inhibits HIV
  • can counterbalance potentially fatal iron overdoses.

All in, Spirulina can be looked upon as pretty impressive and possibly life-changing dietary health supplements!

Spirulina tablets
Spirulina tablets

Spirulina side effects

There are no known side effects to spirulina!

However, there is a warning that they may cause certain reactions in some people, notably:

  • nausea
  • fever
  • itchiness
  • dizziness
  • rash

Should you develop any of those reactions, you might be better to stop taking the spirulina supplements, after careful consideration of the potential loss of the health benefits derived from taking it.


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Good information and a unique idea

    • IzzyM profile image

      IzzyM 7 years ago from UK

      You're welcome Treasures :)

      It does seem to be a bit of a wonder substance.

    • Treasuresofheaven profile image

      Sima Ballinger 7 years ago from Michigan

      Spirulina certainly sounds worth a try. I am somewhat familiar with it. I used to take a supplement with Spirulina in it - did not know you can get it separately. Good research. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront.