Spirulina (dietary supplement)
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 Nutrient and vitamin content
- 2 Risks
- 3 Etymology and ecology
- 4 Historical use
- 5 Research
- 6 Advocates
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Nutrient and vitamin content
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||1,213 kJ (290 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||3.6 g|
|Aspartic acid||5.793 g|
|Glutamic acid||8.386 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
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.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine concludes that blue-green algae is no better than milk or meat as a protein source and is about 30 times more expensive.
Spirulina's lipid content is about 7% by weight, 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). Spirulina contains vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E. It is also a source of potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium, and zinc. Spirulina contains many pigments which may be beneficial and bioavailable, including beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, 7-hydroxyretinoic acid, isomers, chlorophyll-a, xanthophyll, echinenone, myxoxanthophyll, canthaxanthin, diatoxanthin, 3'-hydroxyechinenone, beta-cryptoxanthin, and oscillaxanthin, plus the phycobiliproteins c-phycocyanin and allophycocyanin.
Vitamin B12 controversy
Spirulina is not considered to be a reliable source of vitamin B12. Spirulina supplements contain predominantly pseudovitamin B12, which is biologically inactive in humans. Companies that grow and market spirulina have claimed it to be a significant source of B12 on the basis of alternative, unpublished assays, although their claims are not accepted by independent scientific organizations.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. The medical literature similarly advises that spirulina is unsuitable as a source of B12.
Toxicological studies of the effects of spirulina consumption on humans and animals, including feeding as much as 800 mg/kg, and replacing up to 60% of protein intake with spirulina, have shown no toxic effects. Fertility, teratogenicity, peri- and postnatal, and multigenerational studies on animals also have found no adverse effects from spirulina consumption.
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. 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.
These toxic compounds are not produced by spirulina itself, 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., no active, industry-wide regulation of its production occurs and no enforced safety standards exist for its production or purity. 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. 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.
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.
Safety issues for certain target groups
Like all protein-rich foods, spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine (2.6-4.1 g/100 g), 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.
Etymology and ecology
The maxima and plaetensis species were once classified in the genus Spirulina. They are now agreed to be in fact Arthrospira; nevertheless, and somewhat confusingly, the older term Spirulina remains in use for historical reasons.
Arthrospira species 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. A. platensis occurs in Africa, Asia, and South America, whereas A. maxima is confined to Central America. Most cultivated spirulina is produced in open channel raceway ponds, with paddle-wheels used to agitate the water. The largest commercial producers of spirulina are located in the United States, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar), Greece, and Chile.
Spirulina thrives at a pH around 8.5 and above, 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 has to have an ensemble of nutrients to thrive in a home aquarium or pond. A simple nutrient feed for growing it is:
- Baking soda- 16 g/L (61 g/US gal)
- Potassium nitrate- 2 g/L (7.6 g/US gal)
- Sea salt- 1 g/L (3.8 g/US gal)
- Potassium phosphate- 0.1 g/L (0.38 g/US gal)
- Iron sulphate- 0.0378 g/L (0.143 g/US gal)
which can all be found in aquarium or else in the agricultural division, all commonly occurring compounds except for the iron sulphate. The algae has actually been tested and successfully grown in human urine at 1:180 parts. After 7days, 97% of NH4+-N, 96.5% of total phosphorus (TP) and 85–98% of urea in the urine (about 120-diluted) were removed by the microalgae under autotrophic culture (30 °C).
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. The Aztecs called it "tecuitlatl".
Spirulina was found in abundance at Lake Texcoco by French researchers in the 1960s, but no reference to its use was made 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. The first large-scale spirulina production plant, run by Sosa Texcoco, was established there in the early 1970s.
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.
At present, research is preliminary. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, scientific evidence is insufficient to recommend spirulina supplementation for any human condition, and more research is needed to clarify its benefits, if any.
Administration of spirulina has been investigated as a way to control glucose in people with diabetes, but the EFSA rejected those claims in 2013. Live cultures of Spirulina (Arthospira) sp grown in open raceway ponds were used for removal of lead from waste water.
In 1974, the World Health Organization described spirulina as "an interesting food for multiple reasons, rich in iron and protein, and is able to be administered to children without any risk," considering it "a very suitable food."  The United Nations established the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition in 2003.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Spirulina.|
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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.
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The results presented here strongly suggest that spirulina tablet algal health food is not suitable for use as a B12 source, especially in vegetarians.
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