The Side Effects of Spirulina
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The Side Effects of Spirulina
Known as the superfood of superfoods, Spirulina is a blue-green algae that packs quite the punch. It's a nutrient that is considered to be one the oldest life forms on earth and has been used for centuries. Health claims surrounding this interesting superfood state that it can boost immunity, reduce fatigue, and fight allergies. (1)
However, it could also be potentially deadly. Read on to learn why Spirulina is here to stay but should be used with caution.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a cyanobacterium that is incredibly rich in protein, vitamin B1, iron, and calcium. (2) It is also a great source of antioxidants. One can find this superfood near exotic locations around the world including Africa, Hawaii, and Mexico. (3)
Although it's an incredibly misunderstood freshwater plant, it is gaining popularity as people learn of its benefits. It also goes by another name that may make you recoil in disgust: pond scum.
While pond scum may sound a little less attractive, the plant makes up for its name in so many other ways. It is considered a complete source of protein, which means it contains all essential amino acids your body needs but is unable to produce on its own. (4)
The plant is highly recommended for both vegans and vegetarians that are lacking iron in their diet. And because it's a powder, many people add it to their smoothies for quick and easy consumption. Others take it in tablet form as a dietary supplement.
The History of Spirulina
Little is known about the history of Spirulina, but it is believed that it was used by the Aztecs in 16th century Mexico. (5) A soldier from the time wrote that it was harvested from Lake Texaco and was sold as cakes. They referred to Spirulina as Tecuitlatl. (6)
Historians also suggest that Spirulina was used in the 9th century in Chad. It is still used there today and is dried into cakes for daily use.
Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina is currently considered the most nutrient dense food on the planet. This means that while it is high in nutrients, it is low in calories. In fact, one ounce of Spirulina only contains 81 calories (7), but it also includes:
39 grams of protein
1 gram of dietary fiber
0.9 grams of sugar
Copper - 85% daily value
Iron - 44% daily value
Riboflavin - 60% daily value
Thiamin - 44% daily value
Given all of its nutrients, Spirulina is recommended for daily use for the following reasons:
Helps With Allergies
Research by Sayin et al. (2013) found that Spirulina was extremely beneficial for those with allergies and allergic reactions. The antioxidants and other nutrients assist in reducing inflammation, which is what ultimately leads to the nasal congestion. Study participants reported less itching and sneezing after using Spirulina. (8)
Removes Heavy Metals
Arsenic toxicity is a major problem in several countries around the world, including the United States. Those who reside on the Far East, such as India and Chile, are at an even greater risk for chronic arsenic poisoning. (9)
A study completed by Bangladeshi researchers found that patients who had developed chronic arsenic poisoning and were given Spirulina had experienced a 47 percent decrease of arsenic in their body. (10)
Spirulina is very high in chlorophyll, which naturally removes toxins from the blood and boosts immunity. By binding to the heavy metals, especially when combined with zinc, you can reduce arsenic toxicity by almost half. (11)
A study performed at Maryland Medical Center found that Spirulina increases the creation of antibodies. (12) These infection-fighting proteins are needed to fight off disease and also prevent cancer.
Assists With Weight Loss and Endurance
For individuals that are looking to lose weight and become fit, Spirulina is highly advantageous. Because of its protein-rich nature, it helps preserve lean tissue and assists with fat burning. (13) It also helps curb hunger, which is a plus for those who struggle with their appetite. (14)
While the above benefits are thought to be the most important, Spirulina definitely has other attributes. For instance, epidemiologists in Chad, Japan, and Korea have substantially lowered HIV/AIDS rates. A study found that individuals that reside in the area actually consume Spirulina regularly and they believe that explains the lowered prevalence. (15)
Studies have also shown that Spirulina lowers blood pressure, reduces cholesterol, improves ADHD, decreases the risk of stroke, and eliminates candida. Some research even points to this superfood preventing memory loss and helping people with Parkinson's disease. (16)
The Downside of Spirulina
Spirulina is generally thought to be safe, but quality does matter. If grown in unsafe conditions it may contain a high level of microcystins, which are extremely toxic to the liver. (17) Therefore, it is important that individuals research where their Spirulina supplements are coming from before consuming them.
In addition, there is little research regarding what quantity of microcystins is safe, and it's not something that's regulated. While some states regulate the allowable concentration of microcystins in commercially distributed Spirulina, most do not. (18)
Who Shouldn't Use Spirulina?
Individuals who suffer from gout and kidney stones should not use Spirulina. Because it creates uric acid when metabolized, it can cause gout attacks or kidney stones for those who are susceptible. (19) The accumulation of uric acid in the body can be very detrimental to someone already at risk.
Spirulina is also not ideal for individuals who have an autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. (20) This superfood already enhances the immune system, so it may do more harm than good. It can also weaken the effect of immunosuppressants, which are used to treat autoimmune disease.
People that take anticoagulants should not start taking Spirulina without speaking to their doctor first. They also should not be taken with herbal supplements that slow blood clotting, as it could actually increase a person's risk of bleeding. (21)
Pregnant women or those that are nursing are advised to avoid Spirulina. (22) There is currently not enough research regarding its safety for individuals within this category.
Lastly, those with phenylketonuria, or PKU, should not use Spirulina. Individuals with this condition cannot metabolize phenylalanine. Spirulina actually contains phenylalanine so consuming it would aggravate the symptoms of the disease. (23)
The Potential Side Effects of Spirulina
As previously mentioned, while Spirulina is regarded as a healthy superfood, it can also have some life-threatening side effects. This is why it's so important to find Spirulina supplements that are safe and of good quality. The side effects listed below can be avoided by using Spirulina that is not contaminated with heavy metals, bad bacteria, and microcystins. (24)
If you purchase Spirulina that is contaminated, you are at-risk of the following (25) :
Nausea and vomiting
How To Safely Use Spirulina
Spirulina has a variety of benefits that can be very advantageous for those looking to adopt a healthy lifestyle. However, as with all things, you should always consider the risks it may pose to you. With the information provided above, you should be able to make an informed decision regarding if Spirulina is right for you.
If you decide to take Spirulina, you'll need to decide how you would like to use it. It comes in powder and capsule form. According to WellnessMama.Com, the former is less expensive but has a stronger taste. (26) Whatever you decide, ensure that the Spirulina you purchase comes from a reputable source!
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