Spirulina algae – by doctor Paola Salgarelli

In the last few decades algae have appeared in the western diet, we can find them in restaurants (think about of sushi), or as components of some supplements.
The fact of having introduced them into our diet is good because they contain a wide variety of beneficial compounds for the human body.
For example, spirulina, perhaps the best known among algae, is traditionally considered a super-food. And it is no coincidence that it becomes part of the formulation of the new Bivo Ready to Use Vegetable taste.
Let’s know more about spirulina, starting from the fact that it is called improperly a algae, because it is actually a cyanobacterium, which is a single-celled organism capable of photosynthesis. Its real name is Arthrospira, but it is called Spirulina because of its spiral shape.
Its food use has been documented since ancient times (for example in the Mayan and Aztec civilizations), but it has been in recent decades that there has been a renewed interest in it. In 1974 the United Nations declared Spirulina the “food of the future”, especially for its high protein content useful for various purposes, for example to combat malnutrition.
And it is precisely the high percentage of proteins (65%) one of the most important qualities of this alga. But not only: its proteins are very digestible, even more than those of milk. Taking spirulina, therefore, is an easy and healthy way to enhance the protein intake and can be an important source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. Moreover, these proteins have a good biological value, even if the contents of some essential amino acids are not very high. But it is not a problem: it is enough to consume, together with spirulina, foods that give a good supply of deficient amino acids, such as legumes and nuts.

In addition to the excellent protein content, this superfood has many other virtues, we see the most important:

-reduces triglyceride spikes after a meal rich in fat, increases the amount of cholesterol eliminated in the faeces, reduces the “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases the “good” HDL, all this because it probably stimulates liver function;
-improves resistance to viral infections since it appears to be able to activate certain cells of the immune system such as macrophages and T and B lymphocytes;
-in athletes, supplementation with spirulina increases fatigue resistance and improves performance under stress;
-some studies show that it has protective effects on the cardiovascular system because it seems to inhibit platelet aggregation and reduce blood pressure;
-in some scientific studies it appears that this alga is able to significantly reduce blood sugar. This is thanks to phycocyanins, substances able to protect pancreatic β-cells, responsible for insulin secretion;
-in animal models, a protective action of spirulina against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s has been demonstrated. Still in animals, a high consumption of seaweed has shown significant protective capabilities with respect to stroke. Important data that however require more in-depth studies to evaluate a real usefulness in humans;
-some compounds present in the alga have shown the ability to inhibit the growth of tumor cells in vitro. Results that deserve further study and that for now have little feedback in vivo: the most interesting shows how the consumption of a spirulina-based supplement can reduce oral injuries in heavy smokers;
-Spirulina is one of the few supplements whose ability to bind heavy and toxic metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic has been demonstrated.

After this long list of virtues, we must instead dispel the myth of the high content of vitamin B12 in spirulina algae. Recall that vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in foods of animal origin, with rare exceptions, including, it was thought, spirulina algae. More recent studies have shown that pseudovitamin B12 is present in spirulina, with a similar structure but no activity in the human organism. Consequently, those who follow a vegan diet should obtain their daily requirement of vitamin B12 from supplements or from certain foods such as, for example, fermented soy derivatives (tempeh) and shiitake mushrooms. (ED: Bivo, even though it is a totally vegan product, contains within it the addition of vitamin B12, along with all the other vitamins and mineral salts)

To conclude, it is important to emphasize that spirulina is considered a safe supplement, provided the recommended doses are respected (from 1 to 3 grams per day, up to a maximum of 10 grams in some particular situations). However, since there are no in-depth studies on the dangers of spirulina and derivatives, it is good that some subjects, such as pregnant or lactating women, subjects on dialysis and immunodeficient subjects, abstain from consumption.

For reasons of synthesis, we have made an overview of some of the properties of this precious alga, but the list is even longer, not to mention what will be further discovered in the future, since spirulina is continuously studied. Suffice it to say that even space agencies are interested in this superfood and have proposed it as one of the essential foods in support systems for long-term missions. Spirulina on Mars? Maybe yes, maybe it’s really the food of the future!


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Paola Salgarelli, Nutritionist Biologist, specialist in Food Science