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Spirulina: Fact or Fiction?

Health junkies have raved about the green, powdery ‘superfood’ for years now, and it finally seems the world is beginning to take note. According to Allied Market Research, “The global spirulina market size was $348 million in 2018, and is projected to reach $779 million by 2026.” 

This is phenomenal growth for what was a relatively unknown product in the mainstream until recently. But are these sales more reflective of the accountability of the product, or the vulnerabilities of an increasingly health-obsessed consumer? 

 

What are the facts?

 

Spirulina is one of the oldest and most nutrient-rich life forms on Earth. It is technically a “cyanobacteria”, or a type of blue-green algae which grows in the subtropical climates of countries such as Mexico, Kenya, Chad and even India. It has been used as a food source in parts of the world for centuries – most notably by the Aztecs – and is often celebrated for its high nutritional content; with each serving containing around 55% to 70% protein as well as high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), beta carotene, chlorophyll, and 8 essential and 10 non-essential amino acids. [.]

 

Spirulina is available to buy internationally without prescription and comes in capsules, tablets, and powder. It can be ingested alone, but it most often mixed into food or drinks as many find the taste to be quite pungent.

 

Real Talk

 

Though it is rich in nutrients and was even lauded by NASA, who put it forth as a food suitable for astronaut consumption, overall there is a lack of evidence regarding the positive impact it has on human physiology. As well as this, many have noted it’s high heavy metal content and suggested that this could even be counter intuitive with regards to health. “Relatively few studies have reported on the quantities of heavy metals/minerals they contain and/or their potential effects on the population’s health”, states Naif Abdullah Al-Dhabi of the Department of King Saud University, in Saudi Arabia [.] Though he also notes that “tested Spirulina food samples were all within the daily intake levels” of heavy metals. Regarding this, it seems that as with any supplement it should be used discerningly at the recommended dose of 1-8 g per day, as no food can really be considered to have real life superpowers.