Spirulina is the commercial name for Arthrospira platensis, a species of filamentous, blue-green algae that is cultivated around the world as a food source. It is a very rich source of nutrition. As a matter fact, it was a staple of Aztec cuisine. The genus is also responsible for the flamingo's pink plumage. Spirulina is a genus of the phylum Cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are classified as either blue-green algae or as blue-green bacteria. Spirulina is a popular food supplement in Japan and is marketed as a nutritional supplement in the United States. Spirulina, wheat grass, barley grass and chlorella are sometimes referred to as "green foods." There are several species of spirulina. The ones most commonly used in nutritional supplements are Spirulina platensis (also called Arthrospira platensis) and Spirulina maxima.
Spirulina used for the production of nutritional supplements is either grown in outdoor tanks or harvested from lakes in as Mexico, Central and South America, and Africa. Spirulina is a rich source of protein. It also contains chlorophyll, carotenoids, minerals, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and some unique pigments. These pigments, called phycobilins, include phycocyanin and allophycocyanin. The pigments give spirulina their bluish tinge. Phycobilins are similar in structure to bile pigments such as bilirubin. In the spirulina cell, phycobilins are attached to proteins; the phycobilin-protein complex is called phycobiliprotein.
Spirulina is one of the blue-green algae (single-celled plants); it is named for its spiral shape. Algae are incredibly old life forms, responsible for producing and sustaining our oxygenated atmosphere. They are the basis of the food chain and the primary source of food for the great baleen whales. Spirulina is not a salt-water algae; it grows in fresh and brackish inland waters.
Spirulina is a simply amazing food source that has been consumed variously throughout history by many human cultures. The current state of food production practices and environmental degradation makes it ideal for our own culture. It can be grown almost anywhere, in water supplies that are not suitable for drinking (inland in brackish and fresh water ponds), and in existing desert areas without cutting down trees to make room. It does not require incredible amounts of grain to produce (cows), does not produce methane (cows), but life sustaining oxygen instead, does not have to be fertilized with growth hormones (cows), has never been known to kill children with e-coli (cows again), and nobody has ever been guilty of treating algae in an inhumane manner.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae found in most lakes and ponds. It has been consumed for thousands of years by Mexican (Aztecs, Mayans), African, and Asian peoples. Spirulina is considered a complete protein because well over half of it consists of amino acids -- the building blocks of protein. It is also a rich source of other nutrients including B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, carotenoids, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid). In fact, at least one laboratory study has demonstrated that the iron level in spirulina is equivalent to that contained in beef. Because of its apparent ability to stimulate the immune system, spirulina may have antiviral and anticancer effects. Test tube and animal studies suggest that spirulina may also help protect against harmful allergic reactions. More research is needed to fully understand how spirulina truly benefits people.
A sulfated polysaccharide called calcium spirulan isolated from Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis) was found to inhibit a number of membraned viruses. The viruses inhibited by the polysaccharide included herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1), cytomegalovirus, measles virus, mumps virus and HIV-1. Calcium spirulan appears to inhibit the penetration of these viruses into host cells. These studies were performed in vitro. Spirulina has been shown to have hypocholesterolemic activity in experimental animals. The mechanism of this activity is unknown. The spirulina pigment phycocyanin has demonstrated antioxidant activity. It scavenges peroxyl radicals.
Phycocyanin has been found to protect against hepatotoxins in rats. The mechanism may be via its antioxidant activity. An extract of Spirulina maxima also protected against carbon tetrachloride hepatotoxicity in rats. The phycocyanin contained in the extract, as well as other antioxidants, probably account for the hepatoprotective effect. Mast-cell mediated immediate-type allergic reactions were found to be inhibited in rats by spirulina. It is speculated that there are substances in spirulina that may inhibit mast-cell degranulation, possibly by affecting the mast-cell membrane.