Spirulina is a blue green algae that is classified as a cyanobacteria. It has been used around the world as a food source for hundreds of years. Blue spirulina is the latest form of this algae to be promoted for its outstanding health benefits.
Spirulina and blue spirulina come from the blue green algae botanically known as Arthrospira platensis. The first time you see blue spirulina you’ll likely be shocked by its incredibly vibrant hue.
Just like green spirulina, blue spirulina is packed with nutrients, including protein, vitamins A, B12, and K, and iron and manganese. This algae is also rich in phytonutrients and antioxidants including carotenoids, superoxide dismutase, and GLA.
Arthrospira platensis can be found in many tropical or subtropical areas around bodies of water with a high-salt content. There are some types of blue green algae that grow near freshwater lakes as well. The intensity of the color is affected by the temperature, the amount of sun exposure, and the altitude where it is grown.
It is important to choose a supplement that has been tested for microcystins, bacteria, and heavy metals and is free from these potentially dangerous contaminants. And it is essential to purchase spirulina supplements only from a reliable source as, like any hot trend, fake or inferior products are flooding the market.
Researchers around the globe are studying spirulina health benefits rigorously. In a number of clinical trials, spirulina has been shown to fight certain types of cancer cells, reduce cholesterol levels, and spur weight loss—and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
What Is Blue Spirulina?
Blue spirulina is the blue pigment extracted from the blue green algae. It is a phycocyanin that is rich in vitamins, minerals, protein, antioxidants, and carotenoids. Blue spirulina is cultivated from the same algae species as green spirulina, but the walls of the cells are broken and the phycocyanin is separated through centrifuge extraction.
If you are looking for a nutrient-dense food, spirulina may be for you. Spirulina protein levels are often lauded as extraordinary. And while it does contain a healthy amount of protein, take all claims of protein density with a grain of salt and read the labels carefully for serving size.
For example, some natural health professionals claim that “a single ounce contains 39 grams of protein” but what they aren’t telling you is that an ounce is more than 14 to 28 times the typical spirulina serving of 1 to 2 grams.
Please note that the nutrient content below is based on 1 tablespoon of spirulina—more than 6 to 12 times the typical recommended serving size of 1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon of blue spirulina.
Protein: 4 grams
Thiamin: 11% DV
Riboflavin: 15% DV
Iron: 11% DV
Copper: 21% DV
Omega-3 fatty acids: 57.6 milligrams
Omega-6 fatty acids: 87.8 milligrams
Spirulina vs. Chlorella
Chlorella is another supplement that gets a ton of buzz. And it is true that spirulina and chlorella are often confused. Chlorella is also an algae, but it grows exclusively in fresh water—not salt water like many blue green algae.
Chlorella is also a good source of protein, fiber, chlorophyll, vitamins, and minerals, and early research indicates that chlorella might reduce the risk of anemia in pregnant women.
Spirulina is a much larger plant with the iconic blue-green color, whereas chlorella is a solid almost murky green. Spirulina and chlorella also differ in their nutrient makeup, with spirulina offering more amino acids, iron, protein, and vitamins than chlorella.
Spirulina Health Benefits
Spirulina demonstrates strong anti-viral properties, strengthens the immune system, repairs DNA, and fights cancer. It is important to note that the research below focuses on spirulina as a whole—not specifically blue spirulina.
1. Supports Type 1 Diabetic Health
Researchers from Korea have found in a clinical study that spirulina extract enhances the survival and reduces beta-cell destruction in type 1 diabetics. In an animal trial published in the international journal Nutrients, researchers discovered that spirulina extract may preserve pancreatic viability and function.
2. Fights Cancer
Spirulina is studied for its anti-cancer effects and chemopreventive role. Researchers from the Czech Republic have found that spirulina platensis is a natural source of bilirubin-like tetrapyrrole compounds that substantially decrease the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells in animal studies.
And in a study published in the journal Food Function, researchers have found that spirulina extract exhibits anti-proliferation activity on cancer cells and demonstrates low toxicity on healthy cells.
Spirulina extract inhibits tumor growth and suppresses mammary tumors according to a clinical trial published in the journal Oncology Reports.
A 2018 clinical study published in the peer-reviewed journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy indicates that spirulina demonstrates strong anti-cancer activity against lung cancer cells and actually reduces lung cancer cell viability and limits proliferation.
Another 2018 study shares the exciting news that spirulina exhibits anti-cancer activity, including inhibiting cell proliferation and reduction in colony formation in triple-negative breast cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer does not respond to hormonal therapies and is unresponsive to conventional breast cancer treatments. According to the nonprofit Breastcancer.org intense research is ongoing for an effective treatment for this type of breast cancer.
Spirulina’s cancer-fighting potential doesn’t stop there. In a laboratory study published in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology researchers indicate that selenium-enriched phycocyanin from spirulina fights liver tumors and enhances antioxidant enzymes in laboratory studies.
3. Treats Obesity
Spirulina supplementation significantly decreases body mass, waist circumference, and LDL cholesterol levels in obese subjects according to a recent study published in the journal European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. This randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study gave participants 2 grams of spirulina a day for three months, or a placebo. The authors of the study also note improvement in oxidative stress biomarkers, inflammation, and insulin sensitivity.
Another double-blind randomized controlled trial is currently recruiting study participants with obesity to test spirulina’s effects. This will be a 12-week study that supplies 4.5 grams of spirulina supplementation a day to the control group of overweight or obese adults. Researchers are focusing on how spirulina affects cardiovascular disease, physical exercise, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and more.
4. Fights Influenza
Spirulina demonstrates significant antiviral activity against a broad range of influenza viruses according to a recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The authors of the study note that spirulina extract may be a safe and effective agent to manage influenza outbreaks and they urge further clinical study.
5. Reduces Oxidative Stress
A small study has found a direct correlation between an imbalance of oxidative stress levels, antioxidant levels, and lipid profiles in patients with COPD. In the study published in the journal BioMed Research International, researchers studied the effects of giving participants 500 milligrams twice a day or 500 milligrams four times a day for 60 days.
The researchers found both doses produced a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol and reduced oxidative stress. Interestingly, spirulina supplementation for two months did not affect HDL cholesterol levels.
6. Reduces Inflammation in the Brain
Researchers in the United States have found that a spirulina-enhanced diet reduces inflammation in the brain in animal studies. The study published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One, notes that spirulina derived from blue green algae may protect the brain from neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
Other researchers are finding that spirulina extracts not only protect the brain but also improve cognitive function. This recent animal study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences looked at spirulina’s impact on learning and memory impairment in mice. The results are promising—researchers found that spirulina may reduce the plaque (amyloid-β) linked to Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment.
7. Improves Liver Function
A pilot study conducted in Greece has found that 6 grams of spirulina daily for six months improves quality of life, cholesterol levels, and overall liver function, and spurs weight loss in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The researchers note that this high dose of spirulina significantly improved triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol while significantly increasing HDL. It also resulted in noteworthy weight loss.
Promising Emerging Research on Spirulina
Currently, there are 37 clinical studies listed in the NIH’s U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Clinical Trials database. Spirulina is being researched for its beta-carotene content, for infant growth, cardiovascular disease, arsenic poisoning, obesity, hepatitis C in children, benign thyroid nodules, HIV, and so much more.
How to use Blue Spirulina
Blue spirulina is sold as a powder. It dissolves well in smoothies and healthy shakes, and it imparts a gorgeous blue hue to any food (or clothing!) it touches.
Smoothie bowls are an excellent way to incorporate a ton of nutrient-dense foods into your diet. If you haven’t tried a smoothie bowl yet, it is basically a blended shake topped with fresh fruits, nuts, and seeds to add texture. Smoothie bowls are typically more satisfying than drinking a smoothie, as there is actual chewing involved.
From Kale & Chocolate comes the Tropical Blue Smoothie Bowl, a delicious and vibrant smoothie bowl packed with healthy fats, protein, potassium, and antioxidants when it is topped with fresh berries. This recipe is an artful combination of coconut milk, avocado, banana, pineapple, and blue spirulina, and it comes together in just moments in a high powered blender.
Nourishing Blue Smoothie Bowl from XOXO Bella is a gorgeous and healthy combination of blue spirulina, bananas, peaches, pineapple, and almond milk. Bella suggests topping this smoothie bowl with cacao nibs and frozen berries for an added punch of flavor and nutrition.
Or you can go straight up smoothie with VeggieShake’s Summer in a Smoothie, a delectable blend of spirulina, banana, cauliflower, avocado, and butterfly pea flower tea for an extra pop of blue!
If you have little fussy eaters, you must try this recipe for Mermaid Toast. It is a great way to sneak spirulina health benefits into a breakfast or snack. Use any bread you like, and then mix softened cream cheese with blue spirulina and spread onto the toast. Sprinkle with some edible glitter and a few berries or sliced fruit, and presto, you’ve got a fun (and healthy!) breakfast for the pickiest of eaters.
Spirulina Side Effects and Precautions
Blue green algae supplements that are free of contaminants including toxic metals, bacteria, and microcystins are considered possibly safe for most people.
Contaminated spirulina supplements can cause:
- Liver damage
- Abdominal pain
- Rapid heartbeat
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you should avoid blue green algae products.
Talk to your natural health care provider to determine if blue spirulina is safe for children.
Individuals with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and others, should avoid spirulina products, as blue green algae can cause the immune system to become more active, increasing the symptoms of these diseases.