Spirulina Health Benefits

The State of Spirulina Research:

The serious scientific research on the nutritional benefits of spirulina began in the 1960s, when the French firm Sosa Texcoco was investigating it prior to opening their spirulina harvesting plant at Lake Texcoco in Mexico. During the 1970s, many scientists were hopeful that that spirulina’s exceptionally high protein content would make it a candidate to feed people in the protein-starved third world.

But spirulina research since the 1970s has focused more on its disease-fighting- and-prevention potential than its starvation-prevention potential.

While there have been only a handful of spirulina studies conducted on humans, its test tube and animal study results are certainly interesting and might one day merit a look from pharmaceutical companies. Many medical and educational institutions are looking at spirulina, and following its progress on their websites:

  • Oregon State University reports on a 2005 study headed by The University of South Florida’s Paula Bickford, PhD. Dr. Bickford and her colleagues at James A. Haley Veteran’s Hospital and the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that, following induced strokes, rats which had been given diets supplemented with spirulina showed brains lesions 75% smaller than those of control group rats. The rats fed spirulina also recovered mobility to a greater extent.
  • The Health Information Center at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles references a second study by Dr. Bickford’s team in which the brains of aged rats fed spirulina supplements maintained their neuron function much better, and showed far less free radical damage than those of rats fed cucumbers. Bickford’s research is significant because it indicates that spirulina may be helpful in warding off the free radical damage related to aging diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s Disease.
  • Kansas State University’s International Food Safety Network has published a 2005 article from the Decca, India Herald reporting that Spirulina is approved by both the FDA and the World Health Organization for use as a health food, and mentions it as a source of five essential amino acids which the human body cannot manufacture. The article also refers to spirulina’s high mineral content, in particular the amount of iron it contains, its abilities to reduce gastro enteric distress by promoting the growth of intestinal bacteria, and to help prevent gastro enteric infection; and its cholesterol-reducing effects.
  • The abstract of a 2002 study by the Department of Animal Sciences at India’s University of Hyderabad from the US National Institutes of Health’s research data publication site, also cited by the University of Maryland Medical Center, explains the process by which spirulina is able to inhibit the elevated levels of Cycloxygenase-2 associated with inflammation and cancer.
  • A second 2002 study (pdf) at Havana’s Ozone International Center showed that phycocyanin from spirulina acted as an anti-inflammatory in protecting live mice which had been injected with arthritis-inducing Zymosan. The mice showed no cartilage damage and an inhibited inflammatory response after receiving spirulina for eight days following their Zymosan injections. The animal nutritionals maker Pharma Chemie of Syracuse, NY has since gone on to patent a compound containing phycocyanin, which gives spirulina its blue-green color, as an anti-inflammatory for use in animals.
    The UMM site also goes on to mention a Kerala, India study of eighty-seven human subjects in which 45% of those exhibiting oral cancer lesions caused from chewing tobacco experienced complete regression of their symptoms after receiving one gram of spirulina fusiformus daily for twelve months.
  • The NYU Medical Center Hospital for Joint Diseases has, on its Center for Children website, a review of some of the research and claims made concerning the health benefits of spirulina. The NYU site mentions that spirulina has shown preliminary promise as in fighting HIV; and its potential against HIV and other viruses was demonstrated in a 1998 Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School study.
    The NYU site also references other numerous but preliminary test tube, animal and human studies which suggest that spirulina might help lower cholesterol and reduce hypertension; prevent cancer; strengthen the liver’s defense against toxins; and alleviate allergic reactions.
  • Spirulina’s effectiveness in fighting allergies was shown in 2005 UC Davis research in which thirty-six rhinitis sufferers were treated with spirulina supplementation, and those who took two grams daily experienced a significant reduction in their allergic symptoms. That research followed a 2000 UC Davis study which showed that when incubated spirulina dilutions, cultured human mononuclear blood cells, including macrophages and lymphocytes, are able to mount a stronger immune response.
  • But the NYU site clearly states that Spirulina has not been proven effective in treating any medical condition and that its use has yet to be well-documented. And both the National Institute of Health and the U.S. National Medical Library, on their Medline Plus site, graded the existing research on spirulina in August of 2006. Their findings were that there was unclear scientific evidence to support the claims of spirulina’s use in treating diabetes, high cholesterol, and oral cancers.

    Proponents of spirulina’s health benefits certainly have reason for optimism, but it seems clear that many more human studies, on much greater numbers of subjects, will be necessary if spirulina’s potential is to receive mainstream recognition.