Spirulina: Why Your Gut Biome Needs This Superfood

Spirulina has been a term that has been making the gut health and wellness rounds on the internet recently. Often, you will hear about it being a superfood, or see that it is added into nutrition shakes and protein shakes. Heck, spirulina is even in pill form as a supplement. But what exactly IS spirulina, and why is it so crucial for a healthy gut diet plan?

What is Spirulina?

In short, spirulina is biomass derived from a cyanobacterium. This alga is vividly blue-green, and it is often consumed in a dry powder form. Once upon a time, spirulina was considered to be a plant, due to its ability to photosynthesize. However, the classification changed later on.

Aerial view of a spirulina farm

Due to its high nutritional content, this dark algae has been consumed for many years as a dietary supplement.

So, that being said, what are the benefits of spirulina? Why should you incorporate it into a healthy gut diet plan?

Superoods High in Nutrients

It may not come to a shock to many that spirulina is high in micronutrients. Why else would they offer algae wraps at the spa?


Nutritional data and images courtesy of www.NutritionData.com.

However, spirulina is also reasonably high in protein as well. A single tablespoon of the stuff contains 4 grams of protein, as well as 22% of your daily value of copper, as well as a fair amount of B vitamins, and Iron [1]. These can be very helpful, especially if you are on a plant-based diet.

That being said, there are some claims about the nutritional value of spirulina that do not hold up under scrutiny. For example, despite what some people may claim, there is no B12 in Spirulina. So please do not try to use this supplement as an alternative to B12, this is especially true for vegans.

Spirulina as an Anti-inflammatory

This cyanobacteria also has what is called phycocyanin. This not only gives the superfood its unique coloration, but there is evidence that shows that it helps to reduce markers for inflammation [2] including:

  • Alkoxyl Radicals
  • Hydroxl Radicals
  • Peroxyl Radicals
  • Prostaglandin (PGE(2))
  • Leukotriene (LTB(4))

Although it is important to note that these results were mainly seen in animal studies. The supposed anti-inflammatory effects of spirulina may work entirely differently in the gut biome.

All-Natural Anemia Treatment

The main idea behind this claim is because spirulina has a fair amount of iron per tablespoon…at about 11% of your Daily Recommended Intake. As a result, adding spirulina to a healthy gut diet can increase your iron levels. That is, as long as you are incorporating other gut healing foods to complement the micronutrient intake.

Spirulina Dosage
Looks like a child nightmare gone to life, but is a wellness dream

One very small scientific study was also done to see the benefits of spirulina on anemia patients.

Results showed that elderly people with low iron levels benefited from taking spirulina supplements [3].

The improvement is due to compounds within spirulina helping the hemoglobin attach to the blood cells. However, since this study is relatively small, it is not recommended to take this as an alternative to a doctors treatment for anemia.

May Potentially Lower Blood Sugar

More and more people being diagnosed with diabetes on an annual basis. Finding ways to change our lifestyle to alleviate symptoms can be vital. Spirulina may be the answer to your gastrointestinal distress and high blood glucose levels. At least it is for mice.

Phycocyanin and Blood Glucose Levels in Mice

Our old friend, phycocyanin, has been linked to helping lower weight, as well as fasting glucose. A 2013 study on phycocyanin and diabetes in mice was conducted using
a KKAy mouse [4].

KKay mice are spontaneously diabetic mammals. Many of them exhibit obesity. This makes them a grand stand-in for staunch followers of the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Results found:

The antidiabetic effect of PC on KKAy mice is most likely due to its ability to enhance insulin sensitivity, amelioration of insulin resistance of peripheral target tissues and regulation of glucolipide metabolism. Therefore, PC may have a potential clinical utility in combating type-2 diabetes

Pharm Biol.

While promising, when it comes to humans, the studies are not that reliable. This is mainly due to a small sample size not being able to provide any significant results. With that being said, the effects on a small mammal are pretty promising.

Spirulina and Fasting Blood Glucose in Humans

There is one study with humans we’d like to shed light upon. 25 people showed lower and more stable fasting glucose
[5].

A real prick

Sounds ideal, but keep in mind, this is an extremely small study. More evidence is needed to draw stronger conclusions. But there does not seem to be any evidence that spirulina hurts blood sugar levels.

Therefore, taking a spirulina supplement as a diabetic can have benefits elsewhere, such as improved intestinal flora and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Spirulina and Allergies

Throughout time, spirulina has been known for being able to treat allergies. As a result, it was a popular natural treatment. But is there any scientific evidence that might back up these claims?

In a double-blind study, spirulina was able to reduce markers for allergies by 32% in comparison to placebo [6].

Another double-blind placebo-controlled trial took place in Turkey. Results from this study also showed that people who took spirulina had fewer symptoms of allergies as compared to people who merely took a placebo [7].

Spirulina and Potential Cancer Prevention?

When it comes to things that are believed to reduce or cure cancer, you are going to find a lot. People claim that this, that, or the other are miracle cures! However, there does seem to be some evidence in both animal and human studies that spirulina can help with certain cancers.

Spirulina and Liver Disease

A study in 2009 has concluded that when taken orally, mice had significantly reduced liver tumor size [8]. Research indicates phycocyanin ramps up p21 expression. These cells help fight off the growth of cancer cells.

Spirulina and Oral Cancer

Perhaps the most comprehensive study on spirulina and cancer is one on oral cancer. There was one study conducted on tobacco chewers in India.

Research found:

“Complete regression was seen in 16 of 28 (57%) subjects with homogeneous leukoplakia, 2 of 8 with erythroplakia, 2 of 4 with verrucous leukoplakia, and 0 of 4 with ulcerated and nodular lesions.

Nutr. Cancer

Further driving home the importance of continuing to supplement, nine out of 20 (45%) saw their lesions return one year later.

Spirulina and Lung Cancer

What’s tobacco-chewing without talking about lung cancer? A more recent study from 2018 showed that spirulina was able to reduce certain forms of lung cancer [10].

In vitro, spirulina stopped the growth of human non-small-cell lung carcinoma A549 cell. They found that spirulina stopped this cell in the G1 phase of cell cycle. This allowed no room for division of the cancer cells.

How to Take Spirulina

Chef chef Fernando Aciar told Bon Apetit-

“Spirulina is galactic: funky, savory, and loaded with protein.”

– Chef Fernando Aciar told Bon Apetit

Great. We want in! So, how to take spirulina, you ask? By the spoonful! You can just pop it in your mouth in a less dangerous version of the Cinnamon Challenge. Also, follow our Spirulina Recipes Pinterest Board for more recipes and ideas!

Spirulina Water

Spirulina WAter
Open wide!

Otherwise, just stir into a glass of water. If you can handle “funky, savory, and loaded with protein,” spirulina is an acquired taste.

If you can acquire it, it’s a great way to consume a food in your healthy gut diet plan without many calories. Forewarning, spirulina water or popping a spoonful may change your teeth and tongue into a greenish-blue hue. Therefore, you might want a clean glass of water handy to chase the spirulina water.

Spirulina Smoothies

Hoping to avoid the green teeth? Throw the spirulina into a smoothie. This is a great way to add natural energy boosters to your workout routine or boost your immune system during a travel day.

Spirulina Supplements

Otherwise, spirulina is available in capsules. This is ideal for those who genuinely don’t enjoy the flavor. Also, the serving sizes will be regimented so you can get a more accurate representation of the nutrients you consume.

Spirulina Confections

People have gotten clever. They will add spirulina to anything!
Seriously though, if you came at us with that spirulina birthday cake…

spirulina cake
Happy birthay to you…

Anyway, those who love spirulina love spirulina. You can bake with it, add it into a yogurt parfait, or sprinkle some into your pesto. Using spirulina will give your meal or dessert a turn toward a healthy gut diet plan.

Supplement with Spirulina and Microbiome Testing

As a whole, spirulina is an alga that is rushing to the forefront of diet and nutrition. With such a large amount of nutrients as well as the potential for good, it is just a matter of time before more people catch onto the gut biome benefits.

While adding spirulina to your diet can be a game-changer, this alga can’t do it alone. Get your gut biome in shape with microbiome testing.

With a Thryve At-Home Gut Health Test Kit, you can determine the stomach bacteria giving you gastrointestinal distress. From there, we formulate personalized probiotics to help spark the growth of beneficial intestinal flora.

To help your probiotic bacteria grow, Thryve also helps you concoct a healthy gut diet plan. Yes, that means spirulina too!

There seems to be a lot of benefits of spirulina, with minimal downsides. So, include this superfood into your morning smoothie for a good nutritional boost!

Thryve Probiotics Gut Health

Resources:

[1] Seaweed, spirulina, dried Nutrition Facts & Calories. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2765/2

[2] Romay, C., González, R., Ledón, N., Remirez, D., & Rimbau, V. (2003, June). C-phycocyanin: A biliprotein with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12769719

[3] Selmi, C., Leung, P. S., Fischer, L., German, B., Yang, C., Kenny, T. P., . . . Gershwin, M. E. (2011, May). The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4012879/

[4] Ou, Y., Lin, L., Yang, X., Pan, Q., & Cheng, X. (2013, May). Antidiabetic potential of phycocyanin: Effects on KKAy mice. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23368938

[5] Parikh, P., Mani, U., & Iyer, U. (2001). Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12639401

[6] Mao, T. K., Van de Water, J., & Gershwin, M. E. (2005). Effects of a Spirulina-based dietary supplement on cytokine production from allergic rhinitis patients. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15857205

[7] Cingi, C., Conk-Dalay, M., Cakli, H., & Bal, C. (2008, October). The effects of spirulina on allergic rhinitis. Retrieved April 11, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18343939/

[8] Ismail, M. F., Ali, D. A., Fernando, A., Abdraboh, M. E., Gaur, R. L., Ibrahim, W. M., … Ouhtit, A. (2009). Chemoprevention of rat liver toxicity and carcinogenesis by Spirulina. International journal of biological sciences, 5(4), 377–387.

Mathew, B., Sankaranarayanan, R., Nair, P. P., Varghese, C., Somanathan, T., Amma, B. P., . . . Nair, M. K. (1995). Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8584455

Czerwonka, A., Kaławaj, K., Sławińska-Brych, A., Lemieszek, M. K., Bartnik, M., Wojtanowski, K. K., . . . Rzeski, W. (2018, October). Anticancer effect of the water extract of a commercial Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis) product on the human lung cancer A549 cell line. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29966973