Spirulina from Wikipedia

Spirulina (dietary supplement)

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Spirulina tablets

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,213 kJ (290 kcal)
23.9 g
Sugars 3.1 g
Dietary fiber 3.6 g
7.72 g
Saturated 2.65 g
Monounsaturated 0.675 g
Polyunsaturated 2.08 g
57.47 g
Tryptophan 0.929 g
Threonine 2.97 g
Isoleucine 3.209 g
Leucine 4.947 g
Lysine 3.025 g
Methionine 1.149 g
Cystine 0.662 g
Phenylalanine 2.777 g
Tyrosine 2.584 g
Valine 3.512 g
Arginine 4.147 g
Histidine 1.085 g
Alanine 4.515 g
Aspartic acid 5.793 g
Glutamic acid 8.386 g
Glycine 3.099 g
Proline 2.382 g
Serine 2.998 g
Vitamin A equiv.


29 ?g


342 ?g

0 ?g
Thiamine (B1)

2.38 mg

Riboflavin (B2)

3.67 mg

Niacin (B3)

12.82 mg


3.48 mg

Vitamin B6

0.364 mg

Folate (B9)

94 ?g

Vitamin B12

0 ?g


66 mg

Vitamin C

10.1 mg

Vitamin D

0 IU

Vitamin E

5 mg

Vitamin K

25.5 ?g

Trace metals

120 mg


28.5 mg


195 mg


1.9 mg


118 mg


1363 mg


1048 mg


2 mg

Other constituents
Water 4.68 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium that can be consumed by humans and other animals; there are two species, Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima.

Arthrospira is cultivated worldwide; used as a dietary supplement as well as a whole food; and is also available in tablet, flake and powder form. It is also used as a feed supplement in the aquaculture, aquarium and poultry industries.[1]

Etymology and ecology[edit]

Main article: Arthrospira

The maxima and plaetensis species were once classified in the genus Spirulina. There is now agreement that they are in fact Arthrospira; nevertheless, and somewhat confusingly, the older term Spirulina remains in use for historical reasons.[1][2]

Arthrospira are free-floating filamentous cyanobacteria characterized by cylindrical, multicellular trichomes in an open left-hand helix. They occur naturally in tropical and subtropical lakes with high pH and high concentrations of carbonate and bicarbonate.[3] Arthrospira platensis occurs in Africa, Asia and South America, whereas Arthrospira maxima is confined to Central America.[1] Most cultivated spirulina is produced in open channel raceway ponds, with paddle-wheels used to agitate the water.[3] The largest commercial producers of spirulina are located in the United States, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar), Greece and Chile.[1]

Spirulina thrives at a pH around 8.5 +, which will get more alkaline, and a temperature around 30 °C (86 °F). They are able to make their own food, and do not need a living energy or organic carbon source. In addition, spirulina have to have an ensemble of nutrients to thrive in a home aquarium or pond. A simple nutrient feed for growing Spirulina is:
Baking soda – NaHCO3 – 16 g/L = 60.56 g/gal
Potassium nitrate – KNO3 – 2 g/L = 7.57 g/gal
Sea salt – NaCl – 1 g/L = 3.78 g/gal
Potassium phosphate – KH 2 PO 4 – 0.1 g/L = .378 g/gal
Iron sulphate – FeSO4 * 7H2O – 0.01 g/L = .0378 g/gal
which can all be found in aquarium or else in the agricultural division, all commonly occurring compounds except for the FeSO4. The algae has actually been tested and successfully grown in human urine at 1:180 parts.[4] After 7days, 97% of NH4+-N, 96.5% of total phosphorus (TP) and 85–98% of urea in the urine (ca. 120-diluted) were removed by the microalgae under autotrophic culture (30 °C).[5]

Historical use[edit]

Spirulina was a food source for the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans until the 16th century; the harvest from Lake Texcoco and subsequent sale as cakes were described by one of Cortés‘ soldiers.[6][7] The Aztecs called it “tecuitlatl”.[3]

Spirulina was found in abundance at Lake Texcoco by French researchers in the 1960s, but there is no reference to its use by the Aztecs as a daily food source after the 16th century, probably due to the draining of the surrounding lakes for agricultural and urban development.[2][3] The first large-scale spirulina production plant, run by Sosa Texcoco, was established there in the early 1970s.[1]

Spirulina has also been traditionally harvested in Chad. It is dried into cakes called dihé, which are used to make broths for meals, and also sold in markets. The spirulina is harvested from small lakes and ponds around Lake Chad.[8]

Nutrient and vitamin content[edit]


Dried spirulina contains about 60% (51–71%) protein. It is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, though with reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine and lysine when compared to the proteins of meat, eggs and milk. It is, however, superior to typical plant protein, such as that from legumes.[2][9]

The U.S. National Library of Medicine said that spirulina was no better than milk or meat as a protein source, and was approximately 30 times more expensive per gram.[10]

Other nutrients[edit]

Spirulina’s lipid content is about 7% by weight,[11] and is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and also provides alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA).[9][12] Spirulina contains vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E.[9][12] It is also a source of potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc.[9][12] Spirulina contains many pigments which may be beneficial and bioavailable, including beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, chlorophyll-a, xanthophyll, echinenone, myxoxanthophyll, canthaxanthin, diatoxanthin, 3′-hydroxyechinenone, beta-cryptoxanthin and oscillaxanthin, plus the phycobiliproteins c-phycocyanin and allophycocyanin.[1]

Vitamin B12 controversy[edit]

Spirulina is not considered to be a reliable source of Vitamin B12. Spirulina supplements contain predominantly pseudovitamin B12, which is biologically inactive in humans.[13] Companies which grow and market spirulina have claimed it to be a significant source of B12 on the basis of alternative, unpublished assays, although their claims are not accepted by independent scientific organizations. The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada in their position paper on vegetarian diets state that spirulina cannot be counted on as a reliable source of active vitamin B12.[14] The medical literature similarly advises that spirulina is unsuitable as a source of B12.[13][15]

Possible health benefits and risks[edit]


Toxicological studies[edit]

Toxicological studies of the effects of spirulina consumption on humans and animals, including feeding as much as 800 mg/kg,[16] and replacing up to 60% of protein intake with spirulina,[17] have shown no toxic effects.[18] Fertility, teratogenicity, peri- and post-natal, and multi-generational studies on animals also have found no adverse effects from spirulina consumption.[19] Spirulina intake has also been found to prevent damage caused by toxins affecting the heart, liver, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, DNA, and testicles.[19] In a 2009 study, 550 malnourished children were fed up to 10 g/day of spirulina powder, with no adverse effects. Similarly, dozens of clinical studies in humans have shown no harmful effects from spirulina supplementation.[20]

Quality-related safety issues[edit]

Spirulina is a form of cyanobacterium, some of which are known to produce toxins such as microcystins, BMAA, and others. Some spirulina supplements have been found to be contaminated with microcystins, albeit at levels below the limit set by the Oregon Health Department.[21] Microcystins can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and, in the long term, liver cancer. The effects of chronic exposure to even very low levels of microcystins are of concern, because of the potential risk of cancer.[21]

These toxic compounds are not produced by spirulina itself,[22] but may occur as a result of contamination of spirulina batches with other toxin-producing blue-green algae. Because spirulina is considered a dietary supplement in the U.S., there is no active, industry-wide regulation of its production and no enforced safety standards for its production or purity.[21] The U.S. National Institutes of Health describes spirulina supplements as “possibly safe”, provided they are free of microcystin contamination, but “likely unsafe” (especially for children) if contaminated.[23] Given the lack of regulatory standards in the U.S., some public-health researchers have raised the concern that consumers cannot be certain that spirulina and other blue-green algae supplements are free of contamination.[21]

Heavy-metal contamination of spirulina supplements has also raised concern. The Chinese State Food and Drug Administration reported that lead, mercury, and arsenic contamination was widespread in spirulina supplements marketed in China.[24]

Safety issues for certain target groups[edit]

Due to very high Vitamin K content, patients undergoing anticoagulant treatments should not change consumption patterns of spirulina without seeking medical advice to adjust the level of medication accordingly[citation needed].

Like all protein-rich foods, spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine (2.6-4.1 g/100 g),[3] which should be avoided by people who have phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine, which then builds up in the brain, causing damage.[25]

In vitro research[edit]

The primary active component of spirulina is Phycocyanobilin, which constitutes about 1% of Spirulina by weight.[26][27] This compound inhibits NADPH oxidase.[28] Spirulina has been studied in vitro against HIV,[29] as an iron-chelating agent,[30] and as a radioprotective agent.[31] Animal studies have evaluated spirulina in the prevention of chemotherapy-induced heart damage,[32] stroke recovery,[33] age-related declines in memory,[34] diabetes mellitus,[35] in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,[36] and in rodent models of hay fever.[37]

Human research[edit]

In humans, small studies have been undertaken evaluating spirulina in undernourished children,[38] as a treatment for the cosmetic aspects of arsenic poisoning,[39] in hay fever and allergic rhinitis,[40][41] in arthritis,[42] in hyperlipidemia and hypertension,[42][43] and as a means of improving exercise tolerance.[44]

At present, these studies are considered preliminary. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, at present there is insufficient scientific evidence to recommend spirulina supplementation for any human condition, and more research is needed to clarify its benefits, if any.[23]


Since 1974, the United Nations has strongly supported Spirulina “as the best food for the future”,[45] and established the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition in 2003.[46]

In the late 1980s and early 90s, both NASA (CELSS)[47] and the European Space Agency (MELISSA)[48] proposed Spirulina as one of the primary foods to be cultivated during long-term space missions.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f Vonshak, A. (ed.). Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira): Physiology, Cell-biology and Biotechnology. London: Taylor & Francis, 1997.
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c Ciferri O (December 1983). “Spirulina, the edible microorganism”. Microbiol. Rev. 47 (4): 551–78. PMC 283708. PMID 6420655. 
  3. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e Habib, M. Ahsan B.; Parvin, Mashuda; Huntington, Tim C.; Hasan, Mohammad R. (2008). “A Review on Culture, Production and Use of Spirulina as Food dor Humans and Feeds for Domestic Animals and Fish”. Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  4. Jump up ^ Feng DL, Wu ZC (January 2006). “Culture of Spirulina platensis in human urine for biomass production and O(2) evolution”. Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B 7 (1): 34–7. doi:10.1631/jzus.2006.B0034. PMC 1361757. PMID 16365923.  Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)
  5. Jump up ^ Chang, Yuanyuan et al. “Cultivation of Spirulina platensis for biomass production and nutrient removal from synthetic human urine.” Applied Energy 102 (2013) C 427-431. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2012.07.024
  6. Jump up ^ Diaz Del Castillo, B. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517–1521. London: Routledge, 1928, p. 300.
  7. Jump up ^ Osborne, Ken; Kahn, Charles N. (2005). World History: Societies of the Past. Winnipeg: Portage & Main Press. ISBN 1-55379-045-6. 
  8. Jump up ^ Abdulqader, G., Barsanti, L., Tredici, M. “Harvest of Arthrospira platensis from Lake Kossorom (Chad) and its household usage among the Kanembu.” Journal of Applied Phycology. 12: 493-498. 2000.
  9. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Babadzhanov A.S. et al. (2004). “Chemical Composition of Spirulina Platensis Cultivated in Uzbekistan”. Chemistry of Natural Compounds 40 (3): 276–279. doi:10.1023/b:conc.0000039141.98247.e8. 
  10. Jump up ^ “Blue-green algae”. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. November 18, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  11. Jump up ^ http://www.ejbiotechnology.info/content/vol9/issue4/full/5/
  12. ^ Jump up to: a b c Tokusoglu O., Unal M.K. “Biomass Nutrient Profiles of Three Microalgae: Spirulina platensis, Chlorella vulgaris, and Isochrisis galbana”. Journal of Food Science 68 (4): 2003. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.2003.tb09615.x. 
  13. ^ Jump up to: a b Watanabe F (2007). “Vitamin B12 sources and bioavailability.”. Exp. Biol. Med. (Maywood) 232 (10): 1266–74. doi:10.3181/0703-MR-67. PMID 17959839. “Most of the edible blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) used for human supplements predominantly contain pseudovitamin B(12), which is inactive in humans. The edible cyanobacteria are not suitable for use as vitamin B(12) sources, especially in vegans.” 
  14. Jump up ^ Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets
  15. Jump up ^ Watanabe F, Katsura H, Takenaka S, Fujita T, Abe K, Tamura Y, Nakatsuka T, Nakano Y (1999). “Pseudovitamin B(12) is the predominant cobamide of an algal health food, spirulina tablets.”. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 47 (11): 4736–41. doi:10.1021/jf990541b. PMID 10552882. “The results presented here strongly suggest that spirulina tablet algal health food is not suitable for use as a B12 source, especially in vegetarians.” 
  16. Jump up ^ Krishnakumari, M.K.; Ramesh, H.P.; Venkataraman, L.V. (1981). “Food Safety Evaluation: acute oral and dermal effects of the algae Scenedesmus acutus and Spirulina platensis on albino rats”. J. Food Protect. 44 (934). 
  17. Jump up ^ Bizzi, A.; et al (1980). “Trattamenti prolungati nel ratto con diete conntenenti proteine di Spirulina. Aspetti biochimici, morfologici e tossicologici” [Extended Treatment of Rats with Diets Containing Spirulina. Biochemical, morphological, and toxicological aspects.]. In Materassi, R. Prospettive della coltura di Spirulina in Italia (Accademia dei Geo rgofili, Firence) 205. 
  18. Jump up ^ Salazar M, Martínez E, Madrigal E, Ruiz LE, Chamorro GA (October 1998). “Subchronic toxicity study in mice fed Spirulina maxima”. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 62 (3): 235–41. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(98)00080-4. PMID 9849634.  Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)
  19. ^ Jump up to: a b Chamorro-Cevallos, G.; B.L. Barron, J. Vasquez-Sanchez (2008). “Toxicologic Studies and Antitoxic Properties of Spirulina”. In Gershwin, M.E. Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health (CRC Press).  Cite uses deprecated parameters (help)
  20. Jump up ^ http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/fcn/gras_notices/GRN000394.pdf[full citation needed]
  21. ^ Jump up to: a b c d Gilroy, D., Kauffman, K., Hall, D., Huang, X., & Chu, F. (2000). “Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements”. Environmental Health Perspectives 108 (5): 435–439. doi:10.2307/3454384. JSTOR 3454384. PMC 1638057. PMID 10811570. 
  22. Jump up ^ Belay, Amha (2008). “Spirulina (Arthrospira): Production and Quality Assurance”. Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health, CRC Press: 1–25. 
  23. ^ Jump up to: a b “Blue-green algae”. MedlinePlus. National Institutes of Health. July 6, 2011. Retrieved October 4, 2011. 
  24. Jump up ^ “China’s drug agency rejects state media claims of cover-up in lead found in health supplement”. Washington Post. April 10, 2012. Retrieved April 23, 2012. 
  25. Jump up ^ Robb-Nicholson, C. (2006). “By the way, doctor”. Harvard Women’s Health Watch 8. 
  26. Jump up ^ Piñero Estrada, J. E.; Bermejo Bescós, P.; Villar Del Fresno, A. M. (2001). “Antioxidant activity of different fractions of Spirulina platensis protean extract”. Farmaco (Societa chimica italiana : 1989) 56 (5–7): 497–500. doi:10.1016/S0014-827X(01)01084-9. PMID 11482785.  edit
  27. Jump up ^ McCarty, M. F. (2007). “Clinical Potential ofSpirulinaas a Source of Phycocyanobilin”. Journal of Medicinal Food 10 (4): 566–570. doi:10.1089/jmf.2007.621. PMID 18158824.  edit
  28. Jump up ^ Lanone, S.; Bloc, S.; Foresti, R.; Almolki, A.; Taillé, C.; Callebert, J.; Conti, M.; Goven, D.; Aubier, M.; Dureuil, B.; El-Benna, J.; Motterlini, R.; Boczkowski, J. (2005). “Bilirubin decreases NOS2 expression via inhibition of NAD(P)H oxidase: Implications for protection against endotoxic shock in rats”. The FASEB Journal 19 (13): 1890–1892. doi:10.1096/fj.04-2368fje. PMID 16129699.  edit
  29. Jump up ^ Ayehunie, S. et al. “Inhibition of HIV-1 Replication by an Aqueous Extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis).” JAIDS: Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes & Human Retrovirology. 18, 1, May 1998: 7-12.
  30. Jump up ^ Barmejo-Bescós, P., Piñero-Estrada, E., &Villar del Fresno, A. (2008). “Neuroprotection by Spirulina platensis protean extract and phycocyanin against iron-induced toxicity in SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells”. Toxicology in Vitro 22 (6): 1496–1502. doi:10.1016/j.tiv.2008.05.004. PMID 18572379. 
  31. Jump up ^ Radioprotective effect of extract from spirulina in mouse bone marrow cells studied by using the micronucleus test, by P. Qishen, Kolman et al. 1989. In Toxicology Letters 48: 165-169. China.
  32. Jump up ^ Khan M. et al. (December 2005). “Protective effect of Spirulina against doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity”. Phytotherapy Research 19 (12): 1030–7. doi:10.1002/ptr.1783. PMID 16372368. 
  33. Jump up ^ Wang, Y., et al. “Dietary supplementation with blueberries, spinach, or spirulina reduces ischemic brain damage.” Experimental Neurology. May, 2005 ;193(1):75-84.
  34. Jump up ^ Gemma, C., et al. “Diets enriched in foods with high antioxidant activity reverse age-induced decreases in cerebellar beta-adrenergic function and increases in proinflammatory cytokines.” Experimental Neurology. July 15, 2002; 22(14):6114-20.
  35. Jump up ^ Kulshreshtha, A., Zacharia, J., Jarouliya, U.,Bhadauriya, P., Prasad, G.B.K.S., & Bisen, P.S. (2008). “Spirulina in Health Care Management”. Current Pharmaceutical Biotechnology 9 (5): 400–405. doi:10.2174/138920108785915111. PMID 18855693. 
  36. Jump up ^ “ALSUntangled No. 9: Blue-green algae (Spirulina) as a treatment for ALS”. Amyotroph Lateral Scler 12 (2): 153–5. March 2011. doi:10.3109/17482968.2011.553796. PMID 21323493. 
  37. Jump up ^ Chen, LL, et al. “Experimental study of spirulina platensis in treating allergic rhinitis in rats.” ??????(???) = Journal of Central South University (Medical Sciences). Feb. 2005. 30(1):96-8.
  38. Jump up ^ Simpore, J., et al. “Nutrition Rehabilitation of HIV-Infected and HIV-Negative Undernourished Children Utilizing Spirulina.” Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. 49, 2005: 373-380.
  39. Jump up ^ Mir Misbahuddin, AZM Maidul Islam, Salamat Khandker, Ifthaker-Al-Mahmud, Nazrul Islam and Anjumanara. Efficacy of spirulina extract plus zinc in patients of chronic arsenic poisoning: a randomized placebo-controlled study. (Risk factors ). Journal of Toxicology: Clinical Toxicology. 44.2 (March 2006): p135(7).
  40. Jump up ^ Mao TK et al. (Spring 2005). “Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients”. Journal of Medicinal Food. 8 (1): 27–30. doi:10.1089/jmf.2005.8.27. PMID 15857205. 
  41. Jump up ^ Cingi, C., Conk-Dalay, M., Cakli, H., & Bal, C. (2008). “The effects of Spirulina on allergic rhinitis”. European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Larynology 265 (10): 1219–1223. doi:10.1007/s00405-008-0642-8. PMID 18343939. 
  42. ^ Jump up to: a b Park, H.; Lee, Y.; Ryu, H.; Kim, M.; Chung, H.; Kim, W. (2008). “A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans”. Annals of nutrition & metabolism 52 (4): 322–328. doi:10.1159/000151486. PMID 18714150.  edit
  43. Jump up ^ Torres-Duran PV, Ferreira-Hermosillo A, Juarez-Oropeza MA (2007). “Antihyperlipemic and antihypertensive effects of Spirulina maxima in an open sample of Mexican population: a preliminary report”. Lipids Health Dis 6: 33. doi:10.1186/1476-511X-6-33. PMC 2211748. PMID 18039384. 
  44. Jump up ^ Lu, H.K., Hsieh, C.C. Hsu, J.J., Yang, Y.K., & Chou, H.N. (2006). “Preventative effects of Spirulina platensis on skeletal muscle damage under exercise induced oxidative stress”. European Journal of Applied Physiology 98 (2): 220–226. doi:10.1007/s00421-006-0263-0. PMID 16944194. 
  45. Jump up ^ “What the United Nations says about Spirulina”. Spirulina and the Millennium Development Goals. Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition. December 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2014. 
  46. Jump up ^ “Charter”. Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition. 5 March 2003. Retrieved 2 July 2014. 
  47. Jump up ^ Characterization of Spirulina biomass for CELSS diet potential. Normal, Al.: Alabama A&M University, 1988.
  48. Jump up ^ Cornet J.F., Dubertret G. “The cyanobacterium Spirulina in the photosynthetic compartment of the MELISSA artificial ecosystem.” Workshop on artificial ecological systems, DARA-CNES, Marseille, France, October 24–26, 1990

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