So what's the deal with this marine green—and is spirulina good for you? To find out, we caught up with Global Healing Center founder Edward Group, DC and NP, who spent five years researching various types of algae. The expert shared with Well+Good spirulina's bevy of health benefits, how to safely consume it to reap the most benefits, and why it's important to identify a high-quality product before adding it to your cart.
What does spirulina do to your body, according to an algae expert
According to Dr. Group, there are literally thousands of different types of algae, but three are by far the most popular: spirulina (the main ingredient in those strikingly blue lattes), AFA, and chlorella. "They all have very high concentrations of nutrients and vitamins, including protein, iron, potassium, zinc, calcium, and B vitamins," Dr. Group says.
What's more, a whopping 60 percent of algae is made up of protein. Though other vegetarian-friendly protein sources, like soy, contain comparable amounts of protein, a growing number of food companies are turning to algae due to the bevy of nutrients and protein this marine green has to offer. (Win-win!) And aside from the high protein content, the trio—spirulina, AFA, and chlorella—research shows that they also serve as a magnet for toxins, like arsenic, in the body.
8 impressive health benefits of spirulina
1. Contains a powerhouse of nutrients
2. Detoxifies naturally
Spirulina is a powerful detoxifier and can be used as a natural water filter, helping to eliminate lead, mercury, and other seriously harmful toxins from drinking water. The reason why it works so well is that it contains proteins and peptides that are particularly good at binding to such toxins and thus help excrete them out of the body. That way, they aren't being absorbed into your bloodstream and working their way into your system.
3. Boosts the immune system
Spirulina contains a compound called phycocyanin, an antioxidant that fights against free radicals that can damage your cells. If you feel a cold coming on—or everyone around you seems to be sick—it can't hurt to add some spirulina into your diet to give your immune cells that extra boost of protection.
4. May lower blood pressure
The same antioxidant effect works in favor of blood pressure, too, by helping increase blood flow. Spirulina increases the production of nitric oxide, a gas molecule that helps widen blood vessels. This more fluid blood flow supports heart health.
5. Increases endurance for athletes
Are spirulina protein bars the next big thing? Maybe they should be. Studies show that taking it on a regular basis can up athletes' endurance. Why? Better blood flow is a main contributing factor. Spirulina can positively facilitate blood flow to help boost stamina during a rigorous workout.
6. Helps muscular endurance
Spirulina can also help support muscular endurance. Studies have shown that athletes who take spirulina on a regular basis had better stamina while lifting weights compared to the folks who didn't consume it. This, again, comes down to better blood flow supported by the marine green. Not to mention, the high protein content of spirulina can also play an important role when it comes to athletic endurance and recovery.
7. Prevents reoccurring yeast infections
For those that suffer from chronic yeast infections, spirulina can help balance vaginal bacteria. Similar to how spirulina attracts toxins, like heavy metals, it also has the ability to attract candida cells and can help flush them out of the body. Additionally, spirulina can do more than help maintain healthy vaginal bacterial levels, it can support a healthy gut, too.
8. Helps fight allergies
If pollen, dog hair, grass, or other environmental factors are putting your allergies into overdrive, spirulina can help mitigate these symptoms. But how much spirulina per day should you consume, you may wonder? The recommended dosage is two grams a day to keep your eyes clear and your nose from running. Not to mention, this is a great all-natural alternative to OTCs.
9. Can help you sleep better
Spirulina is considered a complete source of protein. This means that it contains all nine amino acids, including tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. What's more, serotonin is the precursor to melatonin, which research shows is the perfect recipe for helping catch some major Zs and can help you sleep better.
Why sourcing high-quality spirulina is important, according to an algae expert
According to Dr. Group, sourcing good-quality spirulina is a priority for reaping the most benefits. "[My team and I] tested spirulina, AFA, and chlorella from all over the world and found that the majority of them were contaminated with different types of metals such as arsenic, aluminum, mercury, or lead," Dr. Group reveals.
Why the high levels of contamination? It comes down to low-quality products, which you should be mindful of when shopping for the right product to take home. "A lot of companies use fillers, whether they're selling the spirulina in capsules or using it as a food ingredient—like a flour; it's not the spirulina itself that's toxic, but what it's being mixed with," Dr. Group explains. "When you start mixing it with genetically modified maltodextrin, soy protein isolates, or other compounds, a lot of times that can cause contamination."
Despite the contamination risks, Dr. Group notes that "algae is one of the world's most nutrient-dense foods—I would never want to deter someone from taking it." The key is simply paying close attention to the source, like any other product sold on the market. Of course, it's also important to know the difference between chlorella and spirulina, and any other algae (ahem, sea moss), to pick the right one based on your dietary needs.
How to pick a high-quality spirulina product when shopping
To make sure the spirulina you buy is free of any harmful toxins, Dr. Group advises sticking with companies that are organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free—which will reduce the risk of cross-contamination. He also recommends checking out brands' websites to see if they call out where their spirulina is sourced from and whether any testing has been done to verify that it's clean and high quality. If they're not touting that information, it may be best to go with a different option. However, if it's beyond your control and you're picking up a smoothie at a local juice shop, it's best to double-check with a staff member to confirm the ingredients they're using to see if it's in line with Dr. Group's recommendations for picking a high-quality spirulina product.
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