Major varieties: Spirulina pacifica, Spirulina platensis, Spirulina maxima, Spirulina fusiformis
Spirulina, Tecuitlatl (Aztec), Dihe (African)
Algae (powder, flakes, or cakes)
History, Facts, and Legends
Spirulina belongs to an ancient class of single-celled, blue-green spiral algae. At least thirty-five varieties of spirulina still exist in various lakes and waterways across the Earth.
Spirulina are freshwater-growing, alkaline-environment, microscopic algae that have been living on the planet since the appearance of life on Earth. Spirulina form spiraling, helical, microscopic strands that are smaller than the human eye can detect. The name “spirulina” comes from this superfood’s spiral character.
Spirulina’s green color is derived from chlorophyll and the blue color is derived from the exotic pigment phycocyanin.
As one of the simplest life-forms, spirulina has an extraordinarily long history of helping to sustain and develop the food chain. It is clear that ancient algae and plankton life-forms from the Earth’s lakes and oceans provide the fundamental nutrient and food sources for all life. They are the basis and beginning of the food chain. Through photosynthesis algae and plankton convert sunlight into pure protein, fatty acids, carbohydrates, and nearly every other nutrient essential to life.
Spirulina are hardy survivors. Some spirulina varieties survive in a dormant state even when water evaporates. They can dry out on rocks as hot as 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this heat resistance, spirulina retains its nutrients even when exposed to high temperatures during travel and food processing.
Spirulina algae cells grow naturally in warm, alkaline lakes and waterways where toxic organisms cannot endure, so spirulina harvesting can be achieved with a high degree of sterility without contamination from other organisms.
Historically, two civilizations were known to enjoy spirulina on a large scale: the peoples of Mexico City in Central America and those in the area of Lake Chad in Africa.
In modern times, significant commercial harvesting of spirulina began in the 1970s, with initial harvests nearing one hundred tons per year. Worldwide production of spirulina is expected to reach 220,000 tons annually by the year 2020.
Spirulina was the primary protein source for citizens of Mexico City for several thousand years. Spirulina grows wildly in some of the lakes that once surrounded Mexico City, now engulfed by the sprawl of the world’s biggest city. One of these, Lake Texcoco, still produces some of the world’s best spirulina. The last great Aztec dynasties, before the arrival of the Spanish in 1519, revered spirulina as a superfood and were known to mix it with chocolate. Chocolate (cacao) and spirulina have been eaten together since Mexico City was founded. The Aztecs knew spirulina by their word tecuitlatl.
The spirulina currently grown on the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii is a variety that was isolated from the streams and waterways of Hawaii. This is Spirulina pacifica and it is grown by the spirulina farming company Cyanotech. While there is no record of the ancient Hawaiians consuming this spirulina that I know of, consuming spirulina with Polynesian foods such as coconuts, noni, and turmeric indicates the obvious synergy between these tropical foods and spirulina.
African peoples living near Lake Chad have been consuming spirulina since the beginning of human inhabitation in the area. They call their wild spirulina dihe. The spirulina is sifted off the top of the lake, dried on rocks or racks, and sold in the regional markets.
Spirulina contains an astounding array of nutrients, including chlorophyll, protein, vitamins, major minerals, trace minerals, essential fatty acids, nucleic acids (RNA and DNA), polysaccharides, and a vast spectrum of antioxidants. Spirulina is so rich in nutrition that it is believed by some that you could live on spirulina alone for quite some time.
· Is an algae superfood that consists of 65–71 percent protein (the highest concentration of protein found in any food)
· Is a complete protein source. It contains all eight essential amino acids, and eighteen amino acids in total
· Is rich in vitamins A (beta-carotene), B1, B2, B6, E, and K
· Is an abundant natural source of chlorophyll, salts, phytonutrients, and enzymes
· Provided the primary protein requirements for millions of people in Mexico City for an estimated five thousand years!
· Is the best source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an anti-inflammatory essential fatty acid necessary for a healthy nervous system
· Contains phycocyanin, a potent health-building pigment that also gives spirulina its unique blue tint
Spirulina contains the highest concentration of protein (by weight) of any food known, between 65 and 71 percent protein, depending upon the variety.
Protein is not just useful for building muscle and strength; it is also useful for endurance, balanced blood sugar, balanced brain chemistry, neurological health, rapid healing, building strong bones, and nearly every other aspect of healthy living.
The challenge we face in deriving our protein from animals is that “high-protein” animal foods involve killing, gruesome slaughterhouses, environmentally destructive factory farming, chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, Orwellian breeding and genetic modification programs, government subsidization, and more. All of these animal foods must then be cooked to death in order to kill pathogenic E. coliand Salmonella organisms that often contaminate such products.
In his book Rainbow Green Live-Food Cuisine, Dr. Gabriel Cousens cites research done by the Max Planck Institute on protein. This research demonstrates that 50 percent of the protein present in food is lost when our food is cooked. Given this, all listed protein values for meat (other than sushi) are probably inflated by a factor of two.
Spirulina, unlike animal foods, is a pure, raw source of complete protein. It is never cooked and never needs to be cooked. The spirulina organism converts sunlight to protein more efficiently than any other living thing. Switching from animal protein to spirulina protein is one of the most effective ways to conserve natural resources and improve the environment. Spirulina protein is also more readily absorbed than animal protein because it can be easily blended into water, beverages, smoothies, and shakes without coagulation or heat. Each gram of spirulina protein is four times more absorbable than the same gram of protein in beef.
Spirulina yields two hundred times more protein per acre than beef. Spirulina does not deplete any topsoil and can actually improve topsoil if used as a fertilizer (“vegan manure”). One kilo (2.2 pounds) of beef protein causes 145 kilos (320 pounds) of topsoil loss.
As for water savings, spirulina uses only 2 percent of the water required for beef protein. Spirulina uses about six gallons (23 liters) of water for a 0.35 ounce (10 gram) serving. Cow’s milk uses 65 gallons (246 liters), a chicken’s egg uses 136 gallons (36 liters), and beef uses a shocking 1,303 gallons of water for a 0.35 ounce (10 gram) serving.
Balanced Brain Chemistry
Full-spectrum protein sources such as spirulina are known for their importance in balancing brain chemistry. The absence of certain protein building blocks known as amino acids may create a cascade of problems. For example, the absence of the amino acid tryptophan in the diet will lead to a deficiency in serotonin (which the body creates from tryptophan). Serotonin is essential for generating feelings of well-being. Serotonin is also a “stress-defense shield” that helps us cope with hardships. A serotonin deficiency has been associated with depression, chronic stomach problems, and neurological disorders. We can readily see from just this example the importance of just one amino acid.
As exposure levels of artificial chemicals, pesticides, and radioactive materials continue to increase, more and more people are becoming interested in eating lower on the food chain (rather than eating animal products such as meat and dairy that are high on the food chain where toxins accumulate). This means eating more and more plants, especially algae.
The effects of eating animal products—excessive cholesterol, saturated fat, weight gain, and ingestion of artificial chemicals (pesticides, injected hormones, animal vaccinations, etc.) if you’re not eating organic—are causing millions of people to seek refuge in more humane, sustainable, and pure vegetarian, vegan, and raw-food approaches to diet and lifestyle. Of course, vegetarian sources of protein must be found, and spirulina is at the top of the list.
Experience has taught me that the studies and anecdotal stories about spirulina helping alleviate anemia, increasing hemoglobin, improving blood quality, and increasing red blood cell formation are true. Why?
· Spirulina contains as much iron as red meat.
· Spirulina contains high concentrations of chlorophyll, a known blood-builder.
· Spirulina is rich in a brilliant blue polypeptide known as phycocyanin. This blue pigment helps induce the production of more stem cells found in bone marrow. Stem cells are the beginning rudimentary cells that can develop into both red and white blood cells. Some Chinese scientists document phycocyanin as stimulating the creation of blood, a process known as hematopoiesis.
The antioxidants in spirulina had to protect this algae and its DNA from ultraviolet radiation early in the Earth’s history, when the atmosphere was much thinner than it is today and the plants were mostly blue instead of green, due to differences in our sun’s spectrum of radiation in the Cambrian geological period. When we ingest spirulina, its antioxidant green-and-blue pigments become available to our cells and thus we become more significantly protected from ultraviolet radiation at the cellular level.
Over the course of time, our DNA is damaged by free radicals generated as a byproduct of normal metabolism and by exposure to toxins and radiation. Damage to our DNA opens the door to illness and accelerates aging. Although our bodies are equipped to continually repair themselves, they can become overwhelmed by too many free radicals, especially as we age. This results in the premature death of healthy cells, which may contribute to a variety of degenerative diseases and the accelerated development of mutated cells that can lead to cancer—unless antioxidants counter the onslaught.
Spirulina contains the following antioxidants:
· Beta-carotene (and other carotenoids). Carotenoids are natural fat-soluble antioxidants that are known to increase life span and improve the immune system.
· Chlorophyll: a blood builder and purifier par excellence.
· Zeaxanthin: the most important antioxidant for improving vision.
· Superoxide dismutase (SOD): generally regarded as one of the most important health-enhancing metabolic enzymes and antioxidants.
· Phycocyanin: an extraordinary blue pigment known to help stimulate the production of stem cells. (Note: Color pigments in plants are antioxidants.)
Topical antioxidants protect our skin from excessive sun exposure. For those with sensitive skin, one can create a sunscreen at home by adding spirulina (as needed) to a simple 50/50 mixture of raw organic coconut oil and raw organic cacao butter. The more spirulina added, the greater will be the protection, however, the mixture will continue to become more blue-green, creating a blue-green lotion that may or may not be considered “sexy” at the beach.
Immune System Booster
Spirulina is a powerful tonic for the immune system. In scientific studies of humans, mice, rats, hamsters, chickens, turkeys, cats, and fish, the introduction of spirulina into the diet consistently improves immune system function. Spirulina accelerates production of the humeral aspect of the immune system by helping to increase the production of antibodies and cytokines, including interferons and interleukins, allowing the body to better protect against invasive microbes and viruses.
Spirulina accelerates the production of the cellular immune system by helping to increase the production of bone marrow stem cells, T-fighter cells, macrophages, B-cells, and the anti-cancer natural killer (NK) cells. Scientists have almost universally observed that spirulina causes macrophages to increase in population and to become more effective at killing microbes even in spite of stresses from environmental toxins and infectious agents.
Once the production of new immune system cells circulate in the blood, they begin to concentrate in the adenoids (tonsils), appendix, bone marrow, liver, lymph nodes, spleen, and thymus, increasing overall health and immunity.
The primary active phytonutrients in spirulina responsible for improving the immune system include:
· Research indicates that the more beta-carotene you have in your diet, the longer you will live. Plant- and algae-derived beta-carotene inhibits the replication of certain cancers in animals and in humans.
· A type of lipo-polysaccharide known as LPS a long, complex sugar molecule attached to a molecule of fat/oil via a covalent bond.
· The stem-cell-producing blue antioxidant known as phycocyanin.
A double-blind peer-reviewed human study conducted in India and published in Nutrition and Cancer, found that the consumption of one gram of spirulina daily for one year resulted in a 45 percent remission of oral precancerous lesions in tobacco chewers compared to a 7 percent response in the placebo group.
Gamma-Linolenic Acid (GLA)
The richest whole-food sources of GLA are mother’s milk, spirulina microalgae, and the seeds of borage, black currant, and evening primrose. GLA is important for growth and development, and is found most abundantly in mother’s milk; spirulina is the next-highest whole-food source. We often recommend spirulina for people who were never breastfed, in order to foster the hormonal and mental development that may never have occurred because of lack of proper nutrition in infancy. The dosage is the amount of oil that provides 150–350 mg GLA daily. A standard 10-gram dosage of spirulina provides 131 mg of GLA.
—Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods
Spirulina is the only green food rich in the essential fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). The only other major superfood with concentrations of GLA similar to spirulina is hempseed.
Because it is an essential fatty acid, GLA makes one’s skin and hair shiny and strong, yet soft.
GLA has been shown to inhibit the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins and arachidonate metabolites. Spirulina is an excellent superfood to help fight the inflammatory symptoms of arthritis.
GLA may be a contributing factor in spirulina’s observed ability to reduce allergies.
Studies showed that 270 children living in highly radioactive areas near Chernobyl had chronic radiation sickness and elevated levels of Immunoglobulin E (IgE), a marker for high allergy sensitivity. Thirty-five preschool children were prescribed 20 spirulina tablets per day (about 5 grams) for 45 days. Consuming spirulina lowered the levels of 2IgE in the blood, which then normalized allergic sensitivities in the body.
In studies with rats, spirulina inhibited allergic reactions by inhibiting the release of histamine in a dose-dependent fashion, again suggesting that GLA may be a primary contributing factor to spirulina’s allergy-fighting properties.
Spirulina also contains several bioavailable forms of the mineral sulfur. Sulfur may be detected in spirulina as a “hard-boiled egg” type of taste. A good source of dietary sulfur such as spirulina will improve the immune system, physical strength, flexibility, agility, complexion, hair’s luster, speed of healing, and the functionality of your liver and pancreas. Sulfur can also help to rid our tissues of toxins.
The forms of sulfur in spirulina include sulfur-bearing amino acids, sulfoglycolipids, and calcium-spirulan.
Sulfur-bearing amino acids such as cysteine and methionine help the liver and nervous system detoxify poisons. Researchers generally consider spirulina to possess valuable detoxification properties.
Spirulina may help ADHD by removing aluminum, carbon tetrachloride, and other toxins from the body.
—Donald R. Yance, Herbal Medicine, Healing & Cancer
Calcium-spirulan is a polymerized sugar molecule unique to spirulina, containing both sulfur and calcium. Hamsters treated with a calcium-spirulan extract had better recovery rates when infected with an otherwise lethal herpes virus. When attacking a cell, a herpes virus first attaches itself to the cell membrane; however, at that point the calcium-spirulan blocks the herpes virus from entering the cell. The virus gets stuck on the membrane and is unable to replicate. It is eventually cleaned off by the immune system.
The vitamin B12 in spirulina has not been observed to increase B12 in human blood in clinical research done by Dr. Gabriel Cousens. Therefore, the conclusion, at this point in the research is that even though spirulina contains vitamin B12, it does not increase vitamin B12 in the human body and does not reverse a vitamin B12 deficiency, although it may reverse many symptoms often related to a vitamin B12 deficiency such as anemia.
What to Look For …
Spirulina Product Types
Spirulina is usually available as a deep-green, slightly blue, richly pigmented, dry algae powder. Spirulina tastes somewhat like a cross between chlorophyll and fish, with a slightly sulfur-rich aftertaste. When purchasing dried spirulina, look for the following characteristics:
1. Certified organic spirulina is usually, but not always, superior to other types of spirulina. If you have found a nonorganic brand of spirulina that you enjoy, and you are satisfied with the way the spirulina is produced, then stick with it.
2. Select spirulina with a “fresh” smell. When spirulina starts to go bad, it smells sour and rancid.
3. Avoid spirulina brands that use “tableting agents,” which help keep spirulina tablets from crumbling to powder. Spirulina naturally clings to itself and can be pressed into tablets without tableting agents.
Below is a list of spirulina product types to look for on the Internet or in your health food store or supplement shop.
Spirulina powder (dried)
Spirulina powder (with lecithin)
Spirulina protein powder products
Spirulina blue pigment extracts
Raw spirulina chocolate bars and spirulina energy bars
How to Use Spirulina
Spirulina is “cooling” and “wet” by nature. This means that if you have a hot, dry metabolism, spirulina is a great food choice for you because spirulina will tend to balance out the tendency to be too hot or dehydrated. Spirulina’s cooling and wet signature also make it a great food for hot, dry climates. This is one of the reasons why Native Americans who lived in pre-Columbian Mexico City used spirulina as their primary source of protein. It is a perfect food for the climate there.
Spirulina can easily be added into superfood smoothies, fresh juices, raw chocolate (cacao) concoctions, homemade salad dressings, and even sprinkled on top of salads. After experimenting with spirulina for a few weeks, you will notice how extraordinary this super-protein is in nutrition, compared to animal protein and/or simple fruits and vegetables.
· Beginner or Child (ages 2–9): 3–5 grams a day
· Normal or Child (ages 10–18): 6–10 grams a day
· Therapeutic dose: 11–20 grams a day
· Super-Athlete dose: as much as 30+ grams a day
Can you have too much spirulina? Like any other food or superfood, this is of course possible. If you have too much, it will simply pass through you. The caloric value of spirulina is so low that it can never be fattening. Spirulina contains approximately four calories per gram.
Spirulina comes in handy for more than just personal nutrition. Recently Sacred Chocolate ordered 404 kilograms of spirulina for our Hawaiian chocolate farm from Cyanotech Corporation, a spirulina growing facility on the Big Island of Hawaii. The company sells “throw away” spirulina that fell on the packaging facility floor, or for some other reason cannot be sold for consumption. We use it as fertilizer instead of manure.
Spiry Salad Dressing
½ cup organic hempseed
1 handful fresh dill (stems and everything)
2–3 cloves garlic (depends how spicy it is)
2 tbsp. spirulina
1 tsp. Celtic sea salt
1 cup fresh spring water
Blend in a high-speed blender until creamy and smooth. Serve on a fresh, garden-picked salad for optimal pleasure!
¼ hempseed (ground or whole)
½ cup cacao powder
2 tbsp. spirulina
1 tbsp. tocotrienols (optional and delicious)
2 tbsp. coconut oil
3 tbsp. organic or wild, raw honey (already softened is easier)
1 pinch of Celtic sea salt (finely ground)
1 inside of vanilla bean, or 1 tsp. vanilla bean powder
Thoroughly mix with love, roll into little balls, freeze for about 15 minutes, and enjoy.
Delicious tip: drink hemp milk with these amazing spirulina cookie balls.
Amazing Guacamole—Real Mexican Style
2–3 ripe, organic avocados, diced or mashed
1 organic tomato, diced
1 small organic red onion, finely diced
1 handful fresh organic cilantro, finely diced
1 tbsp. spirulina
1 pinch Celtic sea salt
juice of 1 organic lime
Stir gently, preferably with a wooden salad fork, and enjoy!
And of course, the infamous …
Mixture of Hempseed, Spirulina, and Celtic Sea Salt
Start off with these amounts, and play around till you find your favorite combination.
1 cup organic hempseed
2 tbsp. spirulina
1 tsp. Celtic sea salt (coarse or fine)
Shake all ingredients in a jar. Snack on this mixture like a trail mix. Use a spoon to dip in.
*All spirulina recipes concocted by Camille “Super Goji Girl” Perrin—tried, tested, and enjoyed by fellow Superheroes.