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The new spinach?
a presentation from Geoff Smith
“Natural” health products are on the rise.
Many of these products do nothing at all.
Some can cause harm.
It is our responsibility to understand what
we’re putting into our bodies.
This presentation regards Spirulina. It
will try to help explain…
What Spirulina is.
What Spirulina is supposed to do.
What it actually does.
Several possible advantages and uses.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a food
supplement composed of
two species of
cyanobacteria, Arthrospira
platensis and Arthrospira
It is characterized by its
spiral structure, which never
It is found naturally in Africa,
Asia, and South America,
though it is now cultivated
It has been used as a food product for
many years.
The Aztecs harvested Spirulina from lakes
for centuries.
They called it teocuitlatl, which means “the
stone’s excrement.” Mmmm…
Many alkaline lakes in Africa, particularly
Lake Chad, and Asia have harvested
Spirulina for hundreds of years.
Spirulina itself has been around at
least 3.5 billion years.
Blue-green algae like Spirulina are probably
responsible for our atmosphere becoming
oxygen-rich during the Archaean and
Proterozoic Eras, allowing organisms as we
know them today to flourish.
They are the likely ancestors of all modern
Today, Spirulina production and
processing is a bustling industry.
Adding Spirulina to your diet is
supposed to do a number of things.
Improve vision
Accelerate weight loss
Prevent cancer
Improve absorption of trace
Increase strength and vitality
Inhibit HIV proliferation
Improve memory
Reduce risk of stroke and
heart attack
Cure hay fever
And countless more
But what does it really do?
Spirulina costs money, like everything else.
Does Spirulina really have health benefits, or
are people paying hard-earned money for
First, lets look at weight loss.
Spirulina and Weight Loss
The Nutrition Resources Extension of Colorado State University
conducted a series of tests over many weight loss
Mainly, they found there is no “magic bullet.”
Spirulina was found to have many essential nutrients, and thus
was a decent meal replacement.
However, taking too much caused toxicity from the very
nutrients people were taking the Spirulina to maintain.
It made me wonder what kind of nutrient levels Spirulina really
Nutritional Analysis
Protein. Spirulina is 65-71% protein by dry weight, and contains all the
essential amino acids except histidine.
Minerals. Spirulina contains relatively high concentrations of K, Ca, Zn, Mg,
Mn, Se, Fe, and P.
Vitamins. Spirulina contains B1, B2, B6, B12, biotin, pantothenic acid, folica
acid, inositol, niacin, and Vitamin E.
Carotenoids. Spirulina has alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, xanthophylis,
cryptoxanthin, echinenone, zeaxanthin, and lutein.
Pigment. Chlorophyll is found in great abundance in Spirulina, as are
phycocyanin and porphyrin.
Spirulina contains very little carbohydrates, and about 3.9 Kcal/gram. There is
also very little Na, which is important for some people.
When you look at the numbers, Spirulina appears to be promising as a
nutritional supplement, as long as you don’t go overboard.
All right, then let’s see how it works on
arsenic poisoning…
Many people suffer from arsenic poisoning
worldwide. This study was conducted in
Bangladesh, where the metal comes from
the drinking water.
By inhibiting important enzymes, arsenic can
cause a range of symptoms, from discolored
patches of skin to death.
It’s not good for you.
In 2003 and 2004, a study was
Patients that displayed the discolored
patches of skin were given arsenic-free
Some were given Spirulina and Zn, while
others only had the clean water.
The Spirulina treatment, over time, was
shown to reduce arsenic levels in hair by
Let’s look at heart health.
Forty hamsters were fed an atherogenic diet for twelve weeks.
They were given daily either phycocyanin, Se-enriched
phycocyanin, Spirulina, Se-enriched Spirulina, or a control of
plain water.
HDL levels were not reduced in the experimental groups, but it
was shown that Spirulina and its pigment phycocyanin
prevented the development of atherosclerosis.
Aortic fatty streak was reduced in the Se-enriched phycocyanin
by 85%.
Cardiac production of the superoxide anion was reduced by 4676%, with Se-enriched phycocyanin giving the most significant
What about antioxidant properties?
I found one article that argues there has been little
research done on Spirulina and other chlorophyll-rich
dietary supplements, and that the benefits claimed
by the manufacturers are unfounded.
I also found a study that compared Spirulina to
wheatgrass in terms of antioxidant supplementation.
Spirulina did not show significant increases in blood
antioxidant levels, though the wheatgrass did.
However, I found several other studies that did claim
significant changes, and dozens of articles touting
Spirulina’s effects.
I’ve found studies that support
Spirulina’s “brain improving” powers.
Reducing brain damage in
rats after strokes.
Reversal of free radical
damage in the brains of old
Improved motor learning in
old rats.
However, most of these
studies were conducted by
psychologists, not
I tried to conduct an experiment on
Spirulina myself…
I was going to test for appetite, stress, libido,
and mood using poll sheets before and after
a prescribed Spirulina treatment.
I learned that all of my test subjects are
painfully unreliable.
In my own experience, I have not seen any
big changes in any of the above criteria.
So, what’s the catch?
Honestly, I couldn’t find anything dangerous
about Spirulina except that it can store the
heavy metals present in the water where it
grows. This quality might lend itself to
wastewater treatment.
Also, if you eat too much of it, you can get
vitamin toxicity.
Some neat things to think about…
Spirulina is one of the leading candidates as a
primary food source in the CELSS program.
It has the potential to help with the hunger crisis
In stark contrast to soy and corn, it does not have a
discreet growing season, and can be grown easily in
sterile conditions and harvested as needed.
As animal feed, its use is on the rise.
It can make use of fertilizers such as urea that harm
many food crops, and thus does not require
traditional fertilizer.
Wheat Grass Supplementation Decreases Oxidative
Stress in Healthy Subjects: A Comparative Study with
Spirulina. Radye Shyam, et al. Journal of Alternative
& Complementary Medicine; Oct2007, Vol. 13 Issue 8,
p789-792, 4p, 2 charts
Supplement Snapshot. By: McVeigh, Gloria,
Prevention, 00328006, Dec2006, Vol. 58, Issue 12
Cut Your Cancer Risk with Spirulina. Dowd, Rachel.
Natural Health; Jul2003, Vol. 33 Issue 5, p28, 1p, 1c
Stroke Protection. Sarah Todd. Psychology Today;
Oct2005, Vol. 38 Issue 5, p20-20, 1/5p, 1c
Efficacy of Spirulina Extract Plus Zinc in Patients of
Chronic Arsenic Poisoning: A Randomized PlaceboControlled Study. Mir Misbahuddin, et al. Clinical
Toxicology (15563650); 2006, Vol. 44 Issue 2, p135141, 7p, 2 charts
Phycobiliprotein C-phycocyanin from Spirulina
platensis is powerfully responsible for reducing
oxidative stress and NADPH oxidafse expression
induced by an atherogenic diet in hamsters Ris
Jerome, et al. Journal of Agricultural and Food
Chemistry. Vol. 55 (19). SEP 19 2007. 7962-7967
Weight Loss Products and Programs by J. Anderson
and L. Young Colorado State University Extension—
Nutrition Resources 2002