What is spirulina?
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae, or cyanobacterium, which grows naturally on warm, salt-water lakes in Mexico and Africa. These spiral-shaped, photosynthesizing bacteria are one of the oldest life forms on earth having evolved more than 3.5 billion years ago.
When was spirulina discovered?
According to accounts by the Spanish conquistadors, the Aztecs were using spirulina from Lake Texcoco as a food source in sixteenth century Mexico. In Africa, people living around Lake Chad have harvested spirulina since the 9thcentury, drying it into cakes called ‘dihe’. It has been produced commercially since the 1970s and is available as a food supplement in the form of tablets, powder or flakes.
Why use spirulina?
Spirulina is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, carotinoids and antioxidants. It is a good source of iron and calcium and is one of the few foods to contain the essential fatty acid GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which is believed to have valuable anti-inflammatory properties.
It has been suggested that spirulina can protect against allergic reactions by stopping the release of histamines.
Animal and test tube studies have indicated that spirulina may strengthen immunity by increasing the production of antibodies.
Test tube studies suggest that spirulina encourages the growth of probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus,proving useful after a course of antibiotics.
Spirulina may reduce the risk of eye diseases such as age related macular degeneration and cataracts owing to its high concentration of the carotinoid zeaxanthin.
Safety issues around spirulina
Blue green algae grown in natural settings may become contaminated with liver poisons (microcystins) and heavy metals so it is important to buy spirulina that has been grown under controlled conditions and tested for contaminants. Being rich in phenylalanine, spirulina should be avoided by people with PKU (phenylketonuria) who cannot metabolise this amino acid. Avoid spirulina if you have an autoimmune disease because it could stimulate your immune system making your condition worse.
Spirulina products at Shipley Health Store