Health Benefits Of Spirulina (2022)

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that’s packed with nutrients and often considered a superfood. It’s been used as a food source for several centuries in Mexico and some African countries, and in the U.S., it’s been sold in supplement form since the 1970s.

Today, spirulina is available in capsule, tablet or powder form and is a common ingredient in smoothies and other household snacks like popcorn and energy bars. “Research shows there are many health benefits that go with it,” says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RDN, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University in New York City.

If you’re interested in adding spirulina to your diet, here’s what you need to know about its health benefits and potential side effects. Speak with your doctor to determine if spirulina is right for you before incorporating it into your wellness regimen.

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What Is Spirulina?

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids and antioxidants. “It’s typically found in the waters of warmer climates,” says Maryann Walsh, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator based in Palm Beach, Florida. “[Spirulina is] rich in flavonoids and polyphenols, such as phycocyanin, which help contribute to its high antioxidant levels,” she says.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1 teaspoon of spirulina contains:

  • 5 calories
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates
  • 1.08 milligrams of iron
  • 30 milligrams of potassium
  • 0 milligrams of cholesterol
  • 0 milligrams of sodium

How to Use Spirulina

Spirulina has a mostly “neutral” taste that some find to be “slightly bitter,” says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in New York City. She recommends adding spirulina powder to your favorite smoothie, sprinkling it into salads and soups or mixing a spoonful into your morning oatmeal. “There’s a lot to do with it,” Gans says. “You could bake with it. You could even stir it into a glass of juice or water and drink it straight.”

Health Benefits of Spirulina

Spirulina is linked to many health benefits spanning from heart health and blood pressure to weight loss. However, Gans notes it’s not a magic pill. “Can it possibly do all these wonderful things that are claimed? Yes. But it should only be one part of what you’re doing,” she says.

Here’s a look at some of spirulina’s potential health benefits.

Heart Health

Spirulina supplements can help lower levels of total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides significantly, according to a 2018 study in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy. In this study, participants consumed 1 to 19 grams of spirulina a day for two to 48 weeks before researchers concluded that spirulina has a “favorable effect” on these cardiac measures.

Another study notes blue-green algaes like spirulina can be effective natural options for improving blood lipid profiles, preventing inflammation and oxidative stress, and protecting against cardiovascular disease. Experts attribute spirulina’s cardiovascular benefits to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

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Gut Health

Though limited, research on spirulina’s impact on gut health is promising. A 2017 study on older mice showed it helped preserve gut function during aging, and it may help preserve a “healthy gastrointestinal microbial community” as well.

“Spirulina has prebiotic properties and the good bacteria in your gut feed on that,” says Gans. However, while studies show promising results, Gans adds that more research is needed.

Cholesterol Management

“[Spirulina] fights cardiovascular disease by lowering harmful LDL cholesterol levels while promoting healthy HDL cholesterol levels,” says Jamie Hickey, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer based in Philadelphia.

Indeed, a study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found adults with high cholesterol who consumed spirulina for three months experienced improvements in their triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels. By supplementing with 1 gram of spirulina a day for 12 weeks, participants lowered their triglycerides by 16% and LDL by 10%.

Additional research indicates that spirulina supplements can have a significant effect in reducing plasma concentrations of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while elevating HDL (good) cholesterol.

Weight Loss

Spirulina can help encourage “significant reductions in body fat percentage and waist circumference,” says Walsh. When people who were overweight regularly ate spirulina for three months in a 2016 study, they experienced an improvement in their body mass index.

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Reduced Blood Pressure

Hypertension—or high blood pressure—affects nearly half of U.S. adults and heightens risk of heart disease and stroke. Spirulina can help lower blood pressure levels—in fact, recent research notes it’s a “promising non-pharmacological approach” to treating hypertension.

Muscle Strength

When it comes to exercise and fitness benefits, spirulina can help enhance muscle strength, endurance and performance. In one study, men who took a 6-gram spirulina supplement every day for four weeks enjoyed longer periods of exercising without fatigue than those who didn’t.

Supports Anemia

Anemia—or a lack of healthy red blood cells—causes extreme fatigue. Spirulina has been shown to help counteract anemia in certain cases. In a study focused on senior citizens with anemia, for instance, spirulina supplements were found to increase the hemoglobin content of red blood cells, specifically benefitting older women.

Potential Anti-Cancer Properties

Some health experts have also tested spirulina for anti-cancer benefits. “The active compound in spirulina is phycocyanin, which contains strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a healthy food to prevent cancer and other diseases,” says Young.

Diabetes Control

Spirulina has been shown to have benefits in the prevention and management of diabetes as well. A 2018 review study found supplementing with spirulina significantly lowered people’s fasting blood glucose levels. “It contains around 4 grams of protein per tablespoon, which is good for blood sugar control and diabetes control,” says Young, who recommends sprinkling it into everyday favorites, such as coffee drinks and acai bowls.

Though these early findings are promising, Gans cautions that they should be kept in proper perspective. “I would never say to start adding spirulina and go off any medication that you’re on,” she says. “But, if it’s looking like you’re starting to have some insulin resistance, perhaps this could be one tool out of many in your toolbox.”

Reduces Allergies

Spirulina supplementation is also linked to protection against allergic reactions, as it can help stop the release of histamines, which cause allergy symptoms. One study found people with allergic rhinitis who consumed 2 grams of spirulina a day experienced significant improvement in symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, nasal congestion and itching.

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Metabolism Support

Spirulina may boost a person’s metabolism, which can make them feel more energized, Young says. It also means they would burn more calories each day, which can help with weight loss.

Mental Health

Spirulina may also support mental health—perhaps even playing a role in treating mood disorders. The superfood has been found to contain tryptophan—an amino acid that increases the amount of serotonin in the brain—and may be a helpful supplement in preventing and controlling some mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, eating and anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, among others.

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Risks of Spirulina

Though it’s full of benefits, consuming spirulina does come with some risk. During algae’s growth cycle in marine environments, it may accumulate heavy metals, harmful bacteria or microcystins, which can be harmful to the liver, says Walsh. Spirulina also has anticoagulant (or blood-thinning) effects, which means individuals with clotting disorders or who are on blood thinner medications should use it with caution, she adds.

Additionally, spirulina contains phenylalanine, an amino acid that’s harmful to those with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU). People with autoimmune disorders may also experience adverse reactions to the algae, says Walsh.

Any time you buy a supplement, it’s important to check that it’s been third-party tested, which ensures it’s safe for consumption, Gans says. She also recommends following the dose recommended on the product label. “Supplements are meant to be taken as recommended, not on a whim,” she says.

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FAQs

How much spirulina should I take daily for health benefits? ›

You can take spirulina tablets or use spirulina powder in your diet. In total, you should aim to have 5 grams of spirulina a day (most studies research the health benefits based on a 1-10 gram a day dose). You should avoid spirulina altogether if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

How long does it take spirulina to work? ›

It takes about 1-3 weeks for you to notice a change in energy levels. The results differ from person to person and obviously depend on your condition. Tip; drink plenty of water every day. Most people around normally ask, where can spirulina be found?

What happens to your body when you take spirulina? ›

It fights cancer cells and inflammation

"There are many benefits to spirulina, including the fact that it can help fight inflammation, boost your immune system, improve your gut health, and regulate blood sugar levels."

Is spirulina safe to take everyday? ›

Yes, it is safe to take spirulina every day. However, 5- 8 grams is considered to be a safe daily dosage. If consumed in high amounts, it may cause some side effects.

Is 500mg of spirulina enough? ›

How much Spirulina should you take, and when? As a dietary supplement, the recommended minimum amount is three grams daily – one teaspoon of powder or six 500 mg tablets. Since it is a pure and natural food, you may safely take more, to suit your personal health program.

How long can you take spirulina for? ›

Spirulina is a blue-green algae product. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people have used doses of up to 19 g per day for a maximum of 2 months and up to 10 g per day for a maximum of 6 months. People should not exceed the dose stated on the product label.

When should I take spirulina morning or night? ›

When should I take spirulina? Generally, it doesn't matter how and when you take spirulina, the supplement will still be effective. However, some specialists recommend taking it at least four hours before going to bed.

Does spirulina make you sleepy? ›

Spirulina can cause the body to detoxify, which is generally a good thing. It may, however, cause unpleasant side effects, including itchy skin, excessive gas and sleepiness.

What is the best form of spirulina to take? ›

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Does spirulina detox the body? ›

Spirulina is a nutrient-rich food that contains vital vitamins and minerals. It helps to alkalize the body and remove toxins and pollutants. Besides detoxing the body, spirulina improves overall health and protects the immune system. Spirulina is high in antioxidants which makes it an excellent detox food.

Who should avoid spirulina? ›

You should avoid spirulina if you take blood thinners or have an autoimmune condition, bleeding disorder, allergies, or PKU. If you're unsure whether this supplement is right for you, consult your doctor.

Can spirulina cause kidney problems? ›

These researchers, however, go on to suggest that it is not prudent to eat more than 50 g of spirulina daily. The reason they give is that the plant contains a high concentration of nucleic acids, substances related to DNA. When these are metabolized, they create uric acid, which could cause gout or kidney stones.

Can you take spirulina long term? ›

Spirulina supplements are generally considered safe to consume, but they aren't designed to be taken long-term. The U.S. National Library of Medicine recognizes Spirulina as "possibly safe," as long as it's consumed in doses of up to 19 grams for up to 2 months or up to 10 grams for 6 months.

Is spirulina good for liver? ›

There is evidence that suggests Spirulina may help to protect against liver damage, cirrhosis and liver failure in those with chronic liver disease.

Does spirulina contain vitamin D? ›

Additionally, spirulina is rich in essential fatty acids and contains vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E.

What age can you take spirulina? ›

Although spirulina has been used in children, researchers don't know the safe and effective dose for those under 18. Don't give spirulina to a child without talking to your doctor first.

Should you keep spirulina in the fridge? ›

It's recommended to store spirulina in a fridge for no more than 7-10 days. If you want to prolong the algae's shelf life, you can also freeze it in a resealable container.

Is spirulina good for your kidneys? ›

Spirulina and phycocyanin prevent the progression and complication of chronic kidney disease. Spirulina and phycocyanin delay chronic kidney disease. Spirulina and phycocyanin may be treatments for chronic kidney disease.

Does spirulina lower blood pressure? ›

According to a recent study, spirulina may help to reduce blood pressure. The researchers also identify the active compound that produces this benefit.

Is spirulina high in omega 3? ›

Spirulina. Spirulina is also another source of omega-3 from plants and shares similar characteristics with seaweeds. Vegan DHA content in this food is low, but it has high amounts of EPA and omega-6 fatty acids. What's more, it is a powerful antioxidant and an alternative to the commercial sugary protein shakes.

What is the safest brand of spirulina? ›

What is the safest spirulina? The most reliable spirulina brands include FUL®, NOW Foods, New Farmers, Earthrise, Zhou's Non-GMO Spirulina Powder, HealthForce Spirulina Manna, and Sari Foods.

Is green or blue Spirulina better? ›

If you're on a quest for a supplement that will boost your entire body's health, green spirulina wins, hands down. Green spirulina can deliver more health benefits and provides much more than just one powerful antioxidant.

How do you know if spirulina is safe? ›

In order to ensure that you are getting a quality product, the label must include terms such as “spirulina”, “spirulina platensis”, or “Arthrospira platensis”. When purchasing tablets, the spirulina content should be at least 98% and they must not contain any preservatives or artificial colorings.

Does spirulina get rid of parasites? ›

“Together, increases in these cytokines suggest that spirulina is a strong proponent for protecting against intracellular pathogens and parasites and can potentially increase the expression of agents that stimulate inflammation, which also helps to protect the body against infectious and potentially harmful micro- ...

Does spirulina remove heavy metals? ›

Certain foods, such as spirulina and cilantro, may help transport excess heavy metals out of the body. According to one 2013 review , the following foods may be effective for heavy metal detoxification: Dietary fiber: Various foods rich in fiber, such as fruit and grains with bran, may help remove heavy metals.

Is spirulina good for hair? ›

Benefits of Spirulina for Hair

Fights dandruff: Due to antimicrobial properties as well as the presence of zinc content, spirulina is great at fighting dandruff. Moisturizes and hydrates the scalp: The hygroscopic molecules in microalgae take water particles from the environment and deliver them to the scalp and skin.

When should I take spirulina morning or night? ›

When should I take spirulina? Generally, it doesn't matter how and when you take spirulina, the supplement will still be effective. However, some specialists recommend taking it at least four hours before going to bed.

How much spirulina is too much? ›

Tip. A February 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition Research recommends consuming about 4 grams of spirulina per day. However, it's possible to safely consume about 7 grams per day, and you shouldn't regularly consume more than 15 grams per day.

Who should not take spirulina? ›

Who should not take Spirulina?
  • PKU - phenylketonuria.
  • poisoning by heavy metals.

Can you take spirulina long term? ›

Spirulina supplements are generally considered safe to consume, but they aren't designed to be taken long-term. The U.S. National Library of Medicine recognizes Spirulina as "possibly safe," as long as it's consumed in doses of up to 19 grams for up to 2 months or up to 10 grams for 6 months.

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