Spirulina is a nutrient-rich, blue-green freshwater algae that is increasingly coming under the microscope due to its health-enhancing properties.

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is a type of algae - blue-green in colour - rich in vitamin, minerals and antioxidants. Evidence is mounting to suggests spirulina may be protective against a range of illnesses.

Spirulina is available as a supplement in tablet form, as a powder or in flakes. You may also find spirulina sold in juices or smoothies.

Why do I need Spirulina?

Spirulina is bursting with goodness. It contains B complex vitamins and vitamin E. It’s also packed with minerals including: zinc, copper, iron, selenium and manganese. And it contains gamma-linolenic acid which is an omega-6-fatty acid essential for brain function. Furthermore, it’s a good source of protein and contains carotenoids - antioxidants that protect against cell damage and ageing.

Studies on spirulina suggest it boosts the immune system by increasing the number of antibodies that fight infection. So far, research has only been carried out on animals and in the test tube. More studies are needed to know if the same holds true for people.

Spirulina may also protect against allergic reactions. In animal studies, spirulina supplement has stopped the release of histamine - the chemical that causes allergic symptoms such as a hives and itchy eyes. Researchers have yet to test if spirulina can help humans in this way.

In a recent academic paper, neuroscientists from the University of South Florida speculated that a spirulina-supplemented diet may help people with motor neuron disease. In studies on mice, spirulina appeared to delay the onset and progression of the disease.

Some scientists also believe spirulina has antiviral properties. In test tube studies it has been shown to work against herpes, flu and HIV. It may even be protective against liver failure and some cancers. But more research is needed in all these areas.

Can too much Spirulina be bad for you?

Because spirulina is an algae it can contained toxins so it’s important to buy spirulina from a reputable source. A standard dose is around 4-6 tablets a day containing 500mg each.

Spirulina contains an amino acid called phenylalanine. Some people have a rare disorder called phenylketonuria. This metabolic condition prevents the body from processing phenylalanine. Anyone with this condition should not take spirulina.