Anti-inflammatory benefits of spirulina are boosting popularity of the supplement

Its use in food products is growing in popularity mostly in cereal products, snack foods, beverages and as a meat substitute.

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Beautifully blue-green, spirulina provides color as well as nutrition.

Beautifully blue-green, spirulina provides color as well as nutrition.

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Long before it was proclaimed a modern-day superfood, spirulina is said to have been cultivated and consumed by the Aztecs.

Spirulina is a microscopic, cyanobacterium, with a blue-green pigment, whose name originates from its spiral shape. It’s naturally found growing in mineral-rich freshwater lakes or ponds, typically in Mexico, America, Central Africa and Asia.

There are many species, but Spirulina maxima and Spirulina platensis are frequently utilized in commercially available products.

Dried spirulina is available in powders, flakes or capsules with high protein and amino acid content, polyunsaturated fatty acids (gamma-linolenic), bioactives (phycocyanobilin, carotenoids), minerals (calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc) and B-vitamins.

Its use in food products is growing in popularity mostly in cereal products, snack foods, beverages and as a meat substitute.

Perhaps the most established benefits are improvements in risk factors for cardiovascular disease associated with the antioxidant, immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory activities of spirulina.

A 2020 review also suggested that spirulina helped improve with weight loss, elevated blood lipids and obesity.

Like other blue-green algae, spirulina has the potential for contamination with bacterial toxins and can absorb heavy metals or pesticides. So it’s important to purchase spirulina from a trusted source.

There is no standard dose of spirulina, but 10 grams a day was reported to be safe for up to six months in healthy individuals.

Side effects can include headache, diarrhea and nausea. People with autoimmune diseases should avoid spirulina since it can modulate the immune system. Spirulina contains the amino acid phenylalanine, so people with phenylketonuria should not consume it.

There’s only limited data regarding potential interactions with medications or other dietary supplements, but spirulina might interfere with immune-suppressing drugs or those that slow blood clotting. Consult with your doctor before adding spirulina to your diet.

Environmental Nutrition is a newsletter written by experts on health and nutrition.

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