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Spirulina - Source, Uses and Benefits - Dosage for Best Results

Taxonomic Class

Oscillatoriaceae

Common Trade Names

Spirulina

Common Forms

Capsules: 420 mg, 500 mg, 750 mg

powders: 20 mg

Supplemental fruit drinks: 20 mg

Tablets: 250 mg, 380 mg, 500 mg, 750 mg

Also available as fresh plant for consumption as food.

Source

Spirulina belongs to the Oscillatoriaceae family of algae that occur in high-salt, alkaline waters in subtropical and tropical areas. There are about 35 Spirulina species. They appear blue-green because of the chlorophyll (green) and phycocyanin (blue) pigments in their cells and take the form of microscopic, corkscrew-shaped filaments.

Chemical Components

Spirulina has a high nutritional content. protein represents 60% to 70% of its sample, even in dry weight. The protein content includes 22 amino acids, 47% of which represent essential amino acids, such as phenylalanine. Although spirulina is one of the richest protein sources of plant origin, 15% of the crude protein is derived from nonprotein nitrogen. Spirulina also contains fats, carbohydrates, B complex vitamins (especially B12)' vitamins A and E, trace elements (manganese, selenium, and zinc), minerals (calcium, potassium, and magnesium), and iron. The bioavailability of the iron is 60% greater than in commercially available iron supplements. Spirulina also contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and a sulfolipid fraction; GLA is a rich source of omega-6 essential fatty acid.

Actions

Because of its high nutritional content, spirulina has been used as a supplement for malnourished and starving adults and children. A study of malnourished children aged 5 to 12 months who were fed spirulina, milk, or soy milk found that despite a lower protein digestibility (spirulina 60% and soy 70%), nitrogen retention was higher with spirulina (40%) than with soy.

Because phenylalanine is thought to act on the brain's appetite center to alleviate hunger pangs, spirulina was used to promote weight loss. However, the FDA advisory committee on OTC drugs has ruled that phenylalanine lacks safety and efficacy data supporting its use in weight control.

A sulfated polysaccharide called calcium spirulan has been formulated from the algae's lipid content, and it exhibits antiviral properties. The compound was found to have a high selectivity index for inhibiting the replication of all enveloped viruses, including human cytomegalo-virus, herpes simplex virus, HIV-1, influenza A virus, measles virus, and mumps virus. Research is directed toward a detailed structure of the complex and the relation between molecular conformation and bio-availability.

Reported Uses

Spirulina has been used in diet and weight-loss products for its high nutritional value and claimed action on appetite suppression. There are reports of its use instead of dietary supplements, but its cost does not justify its use in this manner. In developing countries, such as Peru, India, Vietnam, and Togo and other African countries, spirulina is used to help fight protein and vitamin A malnutrition. In industrialized countries, the GLA content is thought to contribute to the prevention of CV disease.

A double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over study was conducted to evaluate spirulina's effect on weight reduction . Sixteen patients already enrolled in an outpatient dietary self-help group took part in this 4-week trial. Patients were asked to ingest 14 spirulina tablets (Verum: spirulina 200 mg + synthetic vanilla) or placebo (spinach powder 200 mg + synthetic vanilla) immediately before each meal three times daily. Patients were evaluated for changes in body weight, biochemical variables, blood pressure, heart rate, and adverse effects of treatment (by questionnaire) at 2-week intervals. Each treatment phase lasted for 4 weeks with a 2-week washout between phases. At the end of the study, the spirulina group had dropped an average of 1.4 kg in weight, whereas the placebo group had dropped an average of 0.7 kg. The difference between the two groups was not statistically significant, but the investigators suggested that the results were sufficiently promising to warrant pursuit of a longer-term trial. Concerns exist with respect to the trial's study design (small sample size, unclear blinding and randomization techniques) and short duration.

Calcium spirulina (Ca-SP), a polysaccharide derived from spirulina,has demonstrated inhibition of replicating viral cells (similar to anti­retroviral mechanistic activity) in vitro. An inhibition of heparin cofactor II-dependent antithrombin activities has been shown in vitro as well. Simultaneous treatment with Ca-SP and tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) results in a synergistic enhancement of tPA production.

Other reported uses for spirulina include treatment of anemia, diabetes, glaucoma, hair loss, hepatic disease, peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, and stress. None of these uses has been supported through clinical trials.

Dosage

The usual dose is 3 to 5 g P.O. daily before meals. In malnourished infants, 3 to 15 g/day P.O. has resulted in rapid weight gain.

Adverse Reactions

Hepatic: increased serum alkaline phosphatase level.

Metabolic: increased serum calcium level.

Interactions

Anticoagulants: Spirulina may interfere with these drugs. Monitor PT and INR.

Contraindications and Precautions

Spirulina is contraindicated in patients in whom the risk of heavy metal poisoning is not outweighed by benefit of use. Use cautiously in pregnant or breast-feeding patients.

Special Considerations

  • Advise the patient that spirulina can contain significant amounts of mercury, depending on where it is grown. Daily consumption of 20 g of spirulina can produce a mercury concentration that is above the 180­mcg safety limit. Reported mean heavy metal levels include arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.

  • Inform the patient that spirulina may also contain minute amounts of radioactive divalent and trivalent metallic ions, depending on where the product was manufactured.

  • Inform the patient that spirulina has a mild marine odor that is stronger than its taste.

Points of Interest

  • The GLA content in spirulina is 25% to 30% compared with 10% to 15% in other sources, such as evening primrose oil and black currant berry.

  • Algae have long been regarded as promising sources of protein if food shortages occur in the future.

  • In regions that are not familiar with its use, the algae's color may present a problem, especially when used in baby foods. Decolorizing the product can be accomplished conveniently.

Commentary

There is no question regarding the nutritional value of spirulina, but more economical means of providing protein and nutrients are available than through algae. Supplementation with commercially available vitamins does not exclude the risks of heavy metal poisoning and exposure to radioactive ions. Spirulina cannot be recommended for any medical use until clinical research details its benefits.

   

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