Drugs A - Z
Generic Name: Spirulina
CategoryHerbs & Supplements
AFA, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Arthrospira platensis, BGA, blue-green algae, calcium, copper, cyanobacteria, cyanobacterium, dihe, free fatty acids, iron, Immulina™, klamath, magnesium, manganese, Microcystis aeruginosa, M. wesenbergii, monogalactosyl monoacylglycerols, Multinal, nickel, Nostoc spp., lead, phosphatidylglycerols, phycocyanin, phytoplankton, plant plankton, pond scum, prokaryotic cyanobacterium, Selen-Spirulina, Spirulina fusiformis, S. maxima, S. platensis, Spiruline, tecuitatl, sulfoquinovosyl diacylglycerols, zinc.
Note: Non-spirulina species, such as Anabaena species, Aphanizomenon species, and Microcystis species are possibly unsafe because they are usually harvested naturally and may be subject to contamination.
The term spirulina refers to a large number of cyanobacteria or blue-green algae. Both Spirulina spp. and non-Spirulina spp. fall into the classification of cyanobacteria and include: Aphanizomenon spp., Microcystis spp., Nostoc spp., and Spirulina spp. Most commercial products contain Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Sprirulina maxima, and/or Spirulina platensis. These algae are found in the warm, alkaline waters of the world, especially of Mexico and Central Africa. Spirulina spp. are most often grown under controlled conditions and are subject to less contamination than the non-spirulina species that are harvested naturally.
Spirulina is a rich source of nutrients, containing up to 70% protein, B-complex vitamins, phycocyanin, chlorophyll, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and numerous minerals. In fact, spirulina contains more beta-carotene than carrots. Spirulina has been used since ancient times as a source of nutrients and has been said to possess a variety of medical uses, including as an antioxidant, antiviral, antineoplastic, weight loss aid, and lipid-lowering agent. Preliminary data from animal studies demonstrate effectiveness for some conditions as well as safety, although human evidence is lacking. Based on available research, no recommendation can be made either for or against the use of spirulina for any indication.
EvidenceDISCLAIMER: These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Allergic rhinitis (nasal allergies):
Anti-inflammatory properties of spirulina may improve certain aspects of nasal allergies. However, further high-quality studies are needed to confirm these findings.
Spirulina extract plus zinc may be useful for the treatment of arsenic poisoning. Additional research is needed to confirm these findings.
Preliminary study of people with type 2 diabetes mellitus reports that spirulina may reduce fasting blood sugar levels after two months of treatment. More research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
In animal studies, spirulina has been found to lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Preliminary poor-quality studies in humans suggest a similar effect. Better research is needed before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Spirulina has been studied as a food supplement in infant malnutrition but results have been mixed. More research is necessary in this area.
Oral leukoplakia (pre-cancerous mouth lesions):
Preliminary research has not clearly shown benefits of spirulina in the treatment of oral leukoplakia.
Spirulina is a popular therapy for weight loss and is sometimes marketed as a "vitamin enriched" appetite suppressant. However, little scientific information is available on the effect of spirulina on weight loss in humans.
Chronic fatigue syndrome:
There is currently inadequate evidence to recommend the use of spirulina in chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic viral hepatitis:
Preliminary study of spirulina for chronic viral hepatitis shows negative results.
TraditionWARNING: DISCLAIMER: The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
Anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) prevention, anemia, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, anxiety, arthritis, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autoimmune disorders, bowel health, brain damage, cancer prevention, cancer treatment, cirrhosis, colitis, cytomegalovirus infection, depression, digestion, doxorubicin cardiotoxicity, energy booster, fatigue, fatty liver, fibromyalgia, H. pylori infection, hair loss, heart disease, herpes simplex-1 virus (HSV-1), high blood pressure, HIV, immune system enhancement, infectious disease, influenza, iron deficiency, ischemic injury (ischemic reperfusion injury), kidney disease, lead-induced organ damage, leukemia, liver protection, measles, memory improvement, mood stimulant, mumps, nerve damage, obstetric and gynecological disorders, Parkinson's disease, pneumonia, premenstrual syndrome, radiation sickness, radiation-induced damage, skin disorders, stomach acid excess, stress, ulcers, vitamin and nutrient deficiency, warts, wound healing, yeast infection.
Adults (18 years and older)
Spirulina has typically been taken by mouth two to three times daily with meals in doses of 1-1.4 grams for diabetes mellitus (type 2), high cholesterol, or oral leukoplakia (pre-cancerous mouth lesions). For weight loss, 200 milligrams of spirulina tablets by mouth three times daily, taken just before eating, has been studied. Two grams of spirulina has been used for nasal allergies. For arsenic poisoning, twice daily doses of 250 milligrams of spirulina extract plus 2 milligrams of zinc may be helpful.
Children (under 18 years old)
Not enough scientific information is available to advise the safe use of spirulina in children.
SafetyDISCLAIMER: Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.
Avoid use in individuals with known allergy to spirulina, blue-green algae species, or any of their constituents.
Side Effects and Warnings
Few side effects have been reported with spirulina use. The most frequently reported adverse effects are headache, muscle pain, flushing of the face, sweating, and difficulty concentrating. These have been described in people taking 1 gram of spirulina by mouth daily. Skin reactions have also been reported.
Blue-green algae, especially types that are usually harvested in uncontrolled settings (Anabaena spp., Aphanizomenon spp., and Microcystis spp.), may be contaminated with heavy metals. Liver damage, diarrhea, and vomiting have been reported.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There is not enough information to recommend the safe use of spirulina during pregnancy or breastfeeding. In mice, diets containing up to 30% spirulina are not reported to cause harmful effects to either the mother or the offspring. However, reliable human studies addressing safety during pregnancy or breastfeeding are not available.
Interactions with Drugs
Spirulina may interact with certain drugs taken for immune system disorders, high blood pressure (ACE inhibitors), inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol, neurologic conditions, and viruses as well as blood thinners and antihistamines.
Spirulina may also interact with drugs taken for weight loss, cancer, heart disorders, and osteoporosis. There is a possible interaction when taking spirulina with drugs that are potentially toxic to the kidney.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
Small increases in calcium levels have been reported, although it is unclear whether this is due to the effects of spirulina alone. Use of spirulina and calcium supplements together may further increase calcium levels.
Spirulina may interact with certain dietary supplements taken for immune system disorders, high blood pressure, cancer, weight loss, heart disorders, inflammation, diabetes, high cholesterol, neurologic conditions, blood clots, and viruses. Use cautiously with antihistamines or any herb or supplement that is potentially toxic to the kidney.
This information is based on a professional level monograph edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com): Ethan Basch, MD (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center); Steve Bent, MD (University of California San Francisco); Heather Boon, B.Sc.Phm, PhD (University of Toronto); Dawn Costa, BA, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Dana A. Hackman, BS (Northeastern University); Sadaf Hashmi, MD, MPH (Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health); Paul Hammerness, MD (Harvard Medical School); Jenna Hollenstein, MS, RD (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Beth N. Kerbel, PharmD (Northeastern University); Erica Seamon, PharmD (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Michael Smith, MRPharmS, ND (Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine); David Sollars MAc, HMC (New England School of Acupuncture); Shaina Tanguay-Colucci, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD (Massachusetts General Hospital); Wendy Weissner, BA (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Jen Woods, BS (Natural Standard Research Collaboration); Robert Zori, MD (University of Florida), Katie Nummy, BS (Northeastern University).
BibliographyDISCLAIMER: Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
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Mathew B, Sankaranarayanan R, Nair PP, et al. Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis. Nutr Cancer 1995;24(2):197-202.
Misbahuddin M, Islam AZ, Khandker S, et al. Efficacy of spirulina extract plus zinc in patients of chronic arsenic poisoning: a randomized placebo-controlled study. Clin Toxicol (Phila) 2006;44(2):135-41.
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Samuels R, Mani UV, Iyer UM, et al. Hypocholesterolemic effect of spirulina in patients with hyperlipidemic nephrotic syndrome. J Med Food 2002;5(2):91-96.
Shih SR, Tsai KN, Li YS, et al. Inhibition of enterovirus 71-induced apoptosis by allophycocyanin isolated from a blue-green alga Spirulina platensis. J Med Virol 2003;70(1):119-125.
Watanabe F, Takenaka S, Kittaka-Katsura H, et al. Characterization and bioavailability of vitamin B12-compounds from edible algae. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 2002;48(5):325-331.
Yang HN, Lee EH, Kim HM. Spirulina platensis inhibits anaphylactic reaction. Life Sci 1997;61(13):1237-1244.