Spirulina and the deadliest diseases

Spirulina is trending and while some people are giving it no attention, it is growing in popularity due to all its potentially big benefits and its rather attractive color.

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We are aware that death is imminent, but most of us are oblivious to its major causes and the hold that these causes have on the global population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were approximately 56.9million deaths in 2016 alone. This figure is significant, but what is most unsettling about it is that over 50% of these deaths are directly attributable to the world’s top 10 deadliest diseases.

spiru graph

Source: Statista

The black plague claimed many lives and AIDS has had its share but, the deadliest diseases are mostly silent killers.  Not sure what these 10 deadliest diseases are? We are talking about ischemic heart disease, diabetes, cancer, cirrhosis, ischemic stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. These diseases are responsible for more than half of the deaths worldwide, but a fact that is often omitted is that most of them are easily averted through lifestyle changes.

There is a good common factor with 50% of these deadly diseases– their effects are vastly improved by some muck that is found on top of ponds called Spirulina. Most of us recognize Spirulina as [1]algae, but more specifically, it is the dried biomass of Arthrospira platensis, a species of photosynthetic bacteria that is safe for human consumption. Spirulina is now in the top-tier of superfoods, and although it has only recently started trending, its consumption roots are traceable back to the successful cultivation of Arthrospira platensis as early as the 9th century in Chad. The deep bluish-green hue of the Spirulina makes it visually appealing to most people, and the algae has a lot of benefits which make it even more appealing to the body, especially when we consider their work against some of the deadliest diseases.

spiru

Spirulina, a blue-green microalgae

 Heart Disease

Ischemic heart disease continues to top the list of the world’s deadliest diseases, but Spirulina can improve heart health in a number of ways. Spirulina has been found to target and destroy LDL, the bad cholesterol which hardens arteries, while leaving the HDL, which is the good cholesterol required by the body.

The algae also contains a pigment called phycocyanin which gives it antihypertensive capabilities and allows it to lower blood pressure. The Spirulina’s combined ability to decrease blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol helps to prevent heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders.

Stroke

Lower levels of LDL not only significantly reduce the chances of getting heart disease, but they play a vital role in decreasing the chances of suffering from a stroke.  Although a stroke can occur all on its own, there is a correlation between preventing it and preventing heart disease. This is because a person suffering from heart disease is likely to have a stroke. Besides this relationship, lab tests have also shown that Spirulina has the potential to protect the nervous system and this can help in protecting against stroke.

Cancer

Cancer cases are on the rise and Spirulina has been found to boost immunity in cancer patients through its ability to produce antibodies and antioxidants. This helps to fight and prevent cancer cells from replicating. Additionally, studies have shown that Spirulina’s active compounds, which have anti-proliferative effects, are capable of destroying malignant cancer cells.

Diabetes

Spirulina can regulate blood sugar levels and it can prevent the adverse side effects of diabetes. Here, the phycocyanin plays two important roles which are beneficial to diabetes patients – stimulating the body’s insulin function and improving insulin resistance. Some studies have even shown Spirulina to be just as effective in treating diabetes as some top pharmaceutical drugs including Metformin.

Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias

Although there is no proper regulation of Spirulina-based medication, studies have shown a relationship between consumption of the algae and protection against neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Not only is the phycocyanin found in Spirulina an antioxidant, but it also has an anti-inflammatory effect. Inflammation in the brain plays a big role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, and Spirulina can decrease this condition.

A Word of Caution

Consuming properly harvested and processed Spirulina is normally safe, however, there are specific people who should stay away from this algae despite all its benefits. People with any form of auto-immune diseases or those who have phenylketonuria​(PKU) are forbidden from consuming Spirulina. The algae contains large amounts of phenylalanine and people with PKU cannot metabolize this amino acid because they lack or have insufficient amounts of the phenylalanine hydroxylase enzyme. Introducing the phenylalanine amino acid to people with PKU will aggravate the disease’s symptoms.

Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should also avoid the algae unless specifically told by a physician as it is possible that their babies have PKU. Anyone on any form of prescription drugs should also consult with a physician before taking any Spirulina as it has been known to interact with some medication.

Consuming untreated spirulina is fatal in most cases, therefore, you need to know where yours comes from. If the spirulina you eat comes from water with a high concentration of heavy metals and other contaminants, you may end up ingesting these dangerous substances. Spirulina can also contain excessive amounts of iodine if it is found in water that contains high amounts of the mineral. Consumption of iodine quantities over 1,100micrograms daily can disrupt thyroid function and increase the risk of developing thyroid cancer.

The research to unlock the full potential of Spirulina is still underway, but there is a general consensus that this superfood is packed with nutrients. If consumed in moderation after some consultation with a medical practitioner, and if coupled with a healthy lifestyle and diet, Spirulina can play a big role in preventing and combating some of the deadliest diseases.

 

[1] Algae has been used in this article as a collective noun.

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