Spirulina is an ancient cyano-bacteria which for millions of years has populated the earth’s atmosphere with oxygen, Spirulina is a super-abundant source of protein and almost all other micro-nutrients. It is found primarily in algae strains, Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima. It is a highly nourishing superfood which has been used for centuries by several populations across the globe, including the Aztecs in Mexico and the native populations of Hawaii and Nigeria.
The 60-70% protein that spirulina contains has the least environmental footprint in terms of land, water, and soil use as compared to other sources of protein such as soya, eggs, or beef.
Spirulina was rediscovered in the early 70’s by NASA and the UN, and was reintroduced as a food to distribute to malnourished communities, due to its distinct nutritional values. At that time, many international organizations, such as the UN and world health organization, have praised spirulina and targeted it as the best superfood for the future that will help tackle malnutrition in 3rd world countries.
The Natural Origins of Spirulina
Spirulina grows naturally in alkaline waters in warm regions. Its appearance is best described as a form of tiny green filaments coiled in spirals. Depending on the strain, the latter manifest in different tightness and number.
Its cell walls resemble those of Gram-positive bacteria, consisting of glucosamine and muramic acid; although the latter are non-digestible, they are fragile enough to make the content accessible to digestive enzymes. This is a major advantage to other organisms with celluloid cell walls, such as chlorella and yeast.
From a nutritional standpoint, Spirulina contains a balanced protein composition, numerous minerals, vitamin B12 and some rare essential lipids.
The Health Benefits of Spirulina
Spirulina for General Health
Spirulina has been used in treating hay fever, arthritis, AIDS and hyperlipidemia to name a few. It also reduces inflammation and allergies and enhances liver and kidney function.
Spirulina for Detox
Spirulina has proven most effective in detoxification and natural cleansing, improving digestion and reducing cancer risks due to its high level of antioxidants.
At this point, it is recommended to use Spirulina as a nutritional supplement together with a balanced and healthy diet. The nutrients in 1 kg of Spirulina equal 1000 kg of nutrients found in assorted vegetables.
Spirulina for Weight Loss and Fitness
Among its various benefits, Spirulina is known to reduce fatigue, improve digestion, build endurance, detoxify the body, and regulate cardiovascular function.
Spirulina for Disaster-Recovery
In regions hit by natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons, or ravaged by war and famine, Spirulina has had a significant role in reversing the effects of undernourishment in recipients of humanitarian health aid. More Particularly, Spirulina has managed to remove more than 80% of radio active components from the urine of children who were exposed to radiation during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1984.
Spirulina for Malnutrition
Preliminary studies have evaluated the administration of Spirulina on undernourished children. A study of spirulina supplement administration for 8 weeks among malnourished children in Burkina Faso demonstrated improvement in weight gain and higher hemoglobin levels.
The World Health Organization has launched programs to teach local third world country farmers how to grow their own Spirulina.
Spirulina for Obesity
People in Western countries, where obesity is rampant due to excessive consumption of processed food, are also benefiting from the use of Spirulina to attenuate the effects of a toxic diet.
Growing Your Own Spirulina
A trend to grow Spirulina at home is on the rise today, given Spirulina’s high nutritional value and low production costs. Otherwise, Spirulina’s largest commercial producers are located in the USA, Thailand, Taiwan, India and Chile. Spirulina is cultivated in raceway ponds with paddle-wheels to agitate the water, or in photo bioreactors.
Spirulina is easy to harvest given its growth in strands, it is easily scooped with stainless steel screens; this method is far more sustainable and uses less energy than centrifugation, used for harvesting other algae. During the sieving process, spirulina is washed several times with fresh water to ensure its cleanliness and taste. In ponds, Spirulina is harvested to half its depth, leaving the remains for growing the next generation.
For information on how to grow organic spirulina at home, please see: Be the Medicine- A guide to Growing Organic Spirulina at home.