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Spirulina (generic name)

treats Eye disorders, Oral leukoplakia, Chronic viral hepatitis, Malnutrition, High cholesterol, Allergic rhinitis, Weight loss, Chronic fatigu...
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Alternate Title

Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Blue-green algae, Arthrospira plantensis

Category

Herbs & Supplements

Synonyms

AFA, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Arthrospira platensis, BGA, blue-green algae, calcium, copper, cyanobacteria, cyanobacterium, dihe, free fatty acids, iron, Immulina™, klamath, magnesium, manganese, Microcystis aeruginosa, M. wesenbergii, monogalactosyl monoacylglycerols, Multinal, nickel, Nostoc spp., lead, phosphatidylglycerols, phycocyanin, phytoplankton, plant plankton, pond scum, prokaryotic cyanobacterium, Selen-Spirulina, Spirulina fusiformis, S. maxima, S. platensis, Spiruline, tecuitatl, sulfoquinovosyl diacylglycerols, zinc.

Note: Non-spirulina species, such as Anabaena species, Aphanizomenon species, and Microcystis species are possibly unsafe because they are usually harvested naturally and may be subject to contamination.

Background

The term spirulina refers to a large number of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. Both Spirulina spp. and non-Spirulina spp. fall into the classification of cyanobacteria and include: Aphanizomenon spp., Microcystis spp., Nostoc spp., and Spirulina spp. Most commercial products contain Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Sprirulina maxima, and/or Spirulina platensis. These algae are found in the warm, alkaline waters of the world, especially of Mexico and Central Africa. Spirulina spp. are most often grown under controlled conditions and are subject to less contamination than the non-spirulina species that are harvested naturally.

Spirulina is a rich source of nutrients, containing up to 70% protein, B-complex vitamins, phycocyanin, chlorophyll, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and numerous minerals. In fact, spirulina contains more beta-carotene than carrots. Spirulina has been used since ancient times as a source of nutrients and has been said to possess a variety of medical uses, including as an antioxidant, antiviral, antineoplastic, weight loss aid, and lipid-lowering agent. Preliminary data from animal studies demonstrate effectiveness for some conditions as well as safety, although human evidence is lacking. Based on available research, no recommendation can be made either for or against the use of spirulina for any indication.

Evidence

DISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies): Anti-inflammatory properties of spirulina may improve certain aspects of nasal allergies. However, further high-quality studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Grade: C

Arsenic poisoning: Spirulina extract plus zinc may be useful for the treatment of arsenic poisoning. Additional research is needed to confirm these findings.
Grade: C

Diabetes: Preliminary study of people with type 2 diabetes mellitus reports that spirulina may reduce fasting blood sugar levels after two months of treatment. More research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Grade: C

Eye disorders (blepharospasm): Super blue-green algae may decrease eye lid spasms but additional high-quality research is necessary to make a recommendation.
Grade: C

High cholesterol: In animal studies, spirulina has been found to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Preliminary poor-quality studies in humans suggest a similar effect. Better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Grade: C

Malnutrition: Spirulina has been studied as a food supplement in infant malnutrition but results have been mixed. More research is necessary in this area.
Grade: C

Oral leukoplakia (pre-cancerous mouth lesions): Preliminary research has not clearly shown benefits of spirulina in the treatment of oral leukoplakia.
Grade: C

Weight loss: Spirulina is a popular therapy for weight loss and is sometimes marketed as a "vitamin enriched" appetite suppressant. However, little scientific information is available on the effect of spirulina on weight loss in humans.
Grade: C

Chronic fatigue syndrome: There is currently inadequate evidence to recommend the use of spirulina in chronic fatigue syndrome.
Grade: D

Chronic viral hepatitis: Preliminary study of spirulina for chronic viral hepatitis shows negative results.
Grade: D

Tradition

WARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) prevention, anemia, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, anxiety, arthritis, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autoimmune disorders, bowel health, brain damage, cancer prevention, cancer treatment, cirrhosis, colitis, cytomegalovirus infection, depression, digestion, doxorubicin cardiotoxicity, energy booster, fatigue, fatty liver, fibromyalgia, H. pylori infection, hair loss, heart disease, herpes simplex-1 virus (HSV-1), high blood pressure, HIV, immune system enhancement, infectious disease, influenza, iron deficiency, ischemic injury (ischemic reperfusion injury), kidney disease, lead-induced organ damage, leukemia, liver protection, measles, memory improvement, mood stimulant, mumps, nerve damage, obstetric and gynecological disorders, Parkinson's disease, pneumonia, premenstrual syndrome, radiation sickness, radiation-induced damage, skin disorders, stomach acid excess, stress, ulcers, vitamin and nutrient deficiency, warts, wound healing, yeast infection.

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older)

Spirulina has typically been taken by mouth two to three times daily with meals in doses of 1-1.4 grams for diabetes mellitus (type 2), high cholesterol, or oral leukoplakia (pre-cancerous mouth lesions). For weight loss, 200 milligrams of spirulina tablets by mouth three times daily, taken just before eating, has been studied. Two grams of spirulina has been used for nasal allergies. For arsenic poisoning, twice daily doses of 250 milligrams of spirulina extract plus 2 milligrams of zinc may be helpful.

Children (under 18 years old)

Not enough scientific information is available to advise the safe use of spirulina in children.

Safety

DISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

Allergies

Avoid use in individuals with known allergy to spirulina, blue-green algae species, or any of their constituents.

Side Effects and Warnings

Few side effects have been reported with spirulina use. The most frequently reported adverse effects are headache, muscle pain, flushing of the face, sweating, and difficulty concentrating. These have been described in people taking 1 gram of spirulina by mouth daily. Skin reactions have also been reported.

Blue-green algae, especially types that are usually harvested in uncontrolled settings (Anabaena spp., Aphanizomenon spp., and Microcystis spp.), may be contaminated with heavy metals. Liver damage, diarrhea, and vomiting have been reported.

The amino acid phenylalanine in blue-green algae may cause an adverse reaction in people with the genetic condition phenylketonuria (PKU), and should be used cautiously.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

There is not enough information to recommend the safe use of spirulina during pregnancy or breastfeeding. In mice, diets containing up to 30% spirulina are not reported to cause harmful effects to either the mother or the offspring. However, reliable human studies addressing safety during pregnancy or breastfeeding are not available.

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