Pregnancy comes with a lot of dos and don’ts. Everything — from eating sushi and sitting in a hot tub to sleeping on your stomach and using dietary supplements like spirulina — seems to come with a warning label full of possible risks.
But if you’re pregnant and wondering whether you can have spirulina, which is generally considered safe and beneficial for people who aren’t pregnant, we’ve got all the deets here.
Spirulina is a type of cyanobacteria, a microscopic organism found naturally in all types of water. It’s often referred to as blue-green algae, and some countries have used spirulina for years as a food source.
Many people include spirulina in their diet because it’s packed with nutrients that can positively affect overall health. It also contains a healthy dose of plant protein, which is often lacking from heavily processed and sugar-filled diets.
If you’re looking for evidence supporting the safety of spirulina during pregnancy, you might come up empty-handed.
“The experts aren’t in agreement on the safety of spirulina during pregnancy because there haven’t been many studies conducted in humans,” says Nicole Avena-Blanchard, PhD, an assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York and author of “What to Eat When You’re Pregnant.”
Because of this, Avena-Blanchard says it’s best to talk with your doctor before using spirulina.
Spirulina has several health benefits, which is why it’s often referred to as a superfood.
Kecia Gaither, MD, double board certified in OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, outlines the most notable benefits for pregnancy, including:
- It contains antioxidants, which are protective against inflammation and oxidative damage from free radicals.
- It’s full of nutrients, like vitamins B1, B2, and B3; iron; and folic acid, which is helpful for baby’s brain development.
- It has both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids — specifically, gamma-linolenic acid, which is a plant-derived omega-6 fatty acid. Omegas are great for your little one’s brain development.
- It can help prevent atherosclerosis (artery hardening) because it promotes the production of “good” cholesterols in the body while decreasing the “bad” ones.
- It’s helpful in the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells, which is great for anemia and fatigue. It also helps relax blood vessels, lowering blood pressure and potentially decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- It can help reduce allergic rhinitis symptoms like inflammation and swelling in the sinuses and nasal cavities.
- It may help increase energy.
- It may help decrease glucose levels, which is potentially helpful for pregnant people and people with diabetes.
- It decreases the incidence of candidiasis (yeast infections) in the vagina and oral cavity.
In general, spirulina is considered safe. That said, the specific risks and side effects during pregnancy are unknown.
Kari Pitts, RD, LDN, in-house registered dietician for Preg Appetit!, says that more studies of pregnant people and more research are needed before recommendations for spirulina intake during pregnancy can occur.
This is due to the potential risk of spirulina being contaminated with microcystins (toxins) and heavy metals such as mercury.
“Heavy metals like mercury can damage a developing baby’s nervous system and brain, and microcystins can cause liver damage,” Pitts says.
She also points out that unborn babies are more at risk for the dangers of potential spirulina contamination than adults.
To be on the safe side, Pitts says it’s best to avoid spirulina intake until you talk to a medical provider about its use during pregnancy.
One of the biggest concerns with spirulina is using a source that was harvested in the wild. This increases the risk of contamination from mercury and other heavy metals and harmful bacteria.
Additionally, Gaither says individuals who have clotting disorders, autoimmune diseases, or phenylketonuria should contact their doctor to see whether their particular condition means they shouldn’t consume spirulina.
You can buy spirulina online or over the counter at:
- grocery stores
- health food stores
- certain healthcare offices
You can get spirulina in several forms, including:
Like other dietary supplements, it’s not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way as prescription medications. This means there’s no guarantee of safety or potency.
To ensure the highest quality, consider purchasing spirulina products through a:
- healthcare provider
- compounding pharmacy
- reputable supplement company
When choosing a supplement brand, look at where they source the product.
Also, take some time to read the nutrition label, which must include:
- names and quantities of dietary ingredients
- the serving size
- the number of servings per container
Take note of the dietary ingredients and amounts on each label, and consider any other food products or supplements you’re taking that may also contain similar ingredients.
What makes spirulina so versatile is the ability to add it to recipes. If you don’t like taking pills, you can mix powder into smoothies, yogurt, and other dishes. Here are some ways to add spirulina into your day:
- Mix it into a protein-and-fruit smoothie.
- Add it to Greek yogurt.
- Stir a small amount into a glass of water or freshly squeezed juice, like orange or pineapple.
- Sprinkle a small amount in salad dressing or hummus.
- Mix it into homemade pudding or other healthy sweet recipes that can mask its bitter taste.
The safety of spirulina during pregnancy hasn’t been determined. In people who aren’t pregnant, it’s generally considered safe and beneficial for overall health.
Spirulina is available over the counter in powder, capsule, and tablet form.
If you have questions about taking spirulina while pregnant, talk with your doctor. They’ll be able to determine whether this dietary supplement is safe for you.