What is Spirulina?

Spirulina has originated from the Latin word ‘SPIRAL’ for its coiled shape. As a phytoplankton with characteristics of 4 living organisms including plants, animals, seaweeds, and bacteria, it is multi-cellular eukaryote microorganism with the length of 0.3~0.5mm and width of 0.005~0.008mm. It is classified as micro blue green algae. It has been a staple of Aztecan and Mayan in Mexico and African areas in 16th century. It only lives in extreme environment with high temperature of 40’C, salinity 6~7 times higher than the sea water, proton ion concentration of PH 9~11 which is strong alkali. It contains 49 types of nutrients composing the five representative nutrients required to maintain the human beings. It has high digestion-absorption rate of 95% for it has almost the same composition rate as human body. Also, it is concentrated by diverse nutrient elements of 20~30 thousand kinds. Major compounds included in Spirulina are proteins, carbohydrates, water-soluble digestive fibers, anti-oxidant pigments (chlorophyll, carotinoid, phycocyanin), anti-oxidant enzyme (SOD), gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), and others. It also has a variety of vitamins such as beta-carotene, vitamin B1 · B2 · B6 · B12, E, inositol, folate, and others. Minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, selenium, germanium, and others are also included. Especially, Spirulina has higher contents of proteins (69.5%) compared to chlorella (50%) which is famous to have lots of proteins and it contains balanced essential amino acids. When compared to the foods famous for lots of proteins such as soybeans (39%), beef (20%), and egg (12%), it is obvious that Spirulina has much higher content of proteins. Also, Spirulina’s digestion-absorption rate is high (95.1%) because it has no cellular wall as a multi-cellular organism. However, chlorella has low digestion-absorption rate (73.6%) for its thick cellular wall as an unicellular organism.

It has pigments such as yellow carotinoid, green chlorophyll, blue phycocyanin and others. As a bile-acid pigment included in Spirulina not in chlorella, phycocyanin helps digestion of lipid just like animal bile acid pigments and show anti-oxidant activity. Also, it contains lots of anti-oxidants such as tocopherol, beta-carotene and others. Chlorophyll is called ‘Blood of green’ to make the plants look green. For high contents of chlorophyll and beta-carotene which are the characteristics of yellow-green vegetables, 4g of Spirulina powder is known to be able to replace over 40g of yellow-green vegetables.

Effects

It has anti-viral, anti- hypercholesterolemia, anti-oxidant, liver-protective, anti-allergic, and immune-control activities.

Summary of study results

1. Anti-viral effect

Anti-oxidized polysaccharides called calcium spirulan which has been extracted from Spirulina platensis (Arthrospria platensis) is known to inactivate viruses including herpes simplex virus 1 (hsv-1), cytomegalovirus, morbillivirus, mump virus, and HIV-1. In vitro, calcium spirulan has inhibited the infiltration of these viruses into the host cells. Also, it has increased the survival time of hamsters infected by HSV-1 significantly. This is considered to attribute to the inhibition of viral infiltration into the cells not killing virus directly.

Recently, there are increasing interests on the function of Spirulina extracts inhibiting the replication of HIV-1 in human T-cell lines, Langerhans cells (LC) and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC). Also, it has been reported that water-soluble Spirulina Platensis extracts have potential anti-retroviral activities. In another recent study, it has been reported that Spirulina Platesnsis has anti-viral activity by influencing the regeneration of bacteriophage in coli B.

2. Anti-hypercholesterolemia effect

Spirulina has shown effects on hyper cholesterolemia in vivo in unknown mechanism. In a recent clinical study, Spirulina capsules were prescribed on the patients with hyperlipidemic kidney symptoms and elevated lipid level was decreased.

3. Anti-oxidant effect

Phycocyanin, a pigment of Spirulina, has been proved to act as an anti-oxidant by removing peroxyl radicals.  In a recent study, it has been reported that C-phycocyanin (C-PC) which is one of the major biliproteins of Spirulina Platensis showed anti-oxidant activities in RAW264.7 cells by removing radicals.

4. Liver protective effect

Phycocyanin has been reported to protect liver cells in vivo (mouse) which is considered to attribute to the anti-oxidant effect. Spirulina Maxima extracts have also protected the mouse from liver toxicity induced by carbon tetrahydrochloride. In conclusion, Spirulina compounds administered into the visceral cavity substantially decreased the liver toxicity induced by tetrahydrochloride. In another in vivo study, single IP administration of C-phycocyanin (200mg/kg) 1~3 hours prior to the administration of tetrahydrochloride (0.ml/kg) has significantly reduced the liver toxicity.

5. Anti-allergic effect

It has been discovered that the allergic response induced by giant cells in mouse is suppressed by Spirulina. It is estimated to have contributed by certain compounds included in Spirulina influencing on the cellular walls of giant cells to inhibit their degranulation. Also, it has been reported that it significantly inhibits the chemical-induced anaphylactic shock (hypersensitivitity shock) and serum histamine level. It leads to a conclusion that it inhibits the degranulation of giant cells once again. In another in vivo study in mice, it has been reported that it doesn’t induce or promote food allergic reaction related to IgE at least.

6. Immune system control

Spirulina Platensis extracts have been proved to enhance the function of giant cells in cats. Also, they enhanced both humoral and cellular immune activities in chickens in unknown mechanism. In a recent in vitro study, the polysaccharides obtained from Spirulina Platensis showed 100~1000 times more potential immune-stimulating activity compared to the existing ones which have been used for immunotherapy of cancer.

Cautions and side effects

Heavy metals such as mercury from polluted water can be accumulated in Spirulina. Therefore, it is important to purchase Spirulina supplements which are not contaminated by any kind of heavy metals. Gastric symptoms such as nausea have been reported as side effects as well as allergic response to the supplements containing Spirulina