Spirulina - Source, Uses and Benefits - Dosage for Best Results
Common Trade Names
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hepatic: increased serum alkaline phosphatase level.
Metabolic: increased serum calcium level.
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.
Points of Interest
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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