Spirulina could be called the “King of the Superfoods”. It has some of the most concentrated nutrients you can find per ounce than almost any other food on the planet. But before jumping on the Spirulina bandwagon, there are a few things you should know.
Spirulina grows naturally in a few alkaline lakes around the world and has been harvested for thousands of years. The Aztecs & Mayans harvested it from lakes in the Central and South American regions. It is still grown and harvested in the wild in Chad (Central Africa).
Spirulina is a cyanobacterium, which is subject to contamination and mutation. Spirulina, like bacteria, can mutate to a pathogen or toxic compound producing form in one generation cycle. Modern Spirulina farmers have to test batches with every harvest to ensure safety, whereas wild harvesting Spirulina is not tested and can be very dangerous.
The original commercialization of Spirulina started in Lake Tezcuco, Mexico, during the mid-1970’s. Unfortunately these products were often contaminated with heavy metals and bacteria due to agricultural runoff. This led to the emergence of American companies such as Cyanotech (the product is labled as Gandalf in Canada and Nutrex in the USA.) and Earthrise, two of the highest quality Spirulina companies in the world. These companies are situated in Hawaii (Cyanotech) and California (Earthrise) and are widely considered the gold standard of the Spirulina industry. It is important to note that Cyanotech and Earthrise are the only companies producing Spirulina in Hawaii and California.
The Nutrients Found In Spirulina:
* 1 tablespoon of Spirulina contains:
* 20 calories
* 1 gram of healthy fat
* 4 grams of highly absorbable protein
* 40 mg of calcium
* 14 mg of magnesium
* 2 mg of iron
* 95 mg of potassium
* 40 IU of Vitamin A
This Means By Comparable Weight Spirulina Has:
* 3900% more beta carotene than carrots
* 375% more protein than tofu
* 300% more calcium than bovine (cow’s) milk
* 2300% more iron than spinach
Potential Health Benefits Of Spirulina:
Over 200 studies have been done on Spirulina demonstrating numerous health benefits:
*It contains strong synergistic antioxidants: Potent free radical scavenger, Pinero et al, 2001
*It protects the liver: Hepatoprotective (Liver), Vadiraja et al, 1998; Gorban et al, 2000
*It protects the kidneys: Protection against renal damage (kidney), Farooq et al 2005
*It protects the brain: Reduced ischemic brain damage & improved post-stroke locomotor activity, (Wang et al 2005)
*It stimulates the immune system: Potentially useful botanical or pharmaceutical to improve immune function, Pasco et al, 2006
*It is anti-inflammatory: Reduced age related brain degradation and reduced pro-inflammatory cytokines, (Gemma et al, 2002)
Choosing A Brand Of Spirulina:
When purchasing a spirulina supplement or a product that uses blue green algae, be sure to ask for the source of the spirulina. There are many products that have been tested by a 3rd party lab that reveal an unacceptable level of contaminants even when they are certified organic. Organic certification does not include testing for heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead or mercury. It also does not include testing for bacterial contamination. This is a serious issue as heavy metals accumulate in the body and some bacteria can make you very sick! Ask to see the 3rd party lab results of the product you are buying. Companies such as Cyanotech have these lab results listed right on their website.
Whichever brand you chose, be sure to ask to see the heavy metal levels on the product. If they exceed these numbers, do not use the product:
*Lead < 0.2 ppm
*Mercury < 0.025 ppm
*Cadmium < 0.2 ppm
*Arsenic < 0.5 ppm
Note: Due to the radiation contamination of the Pacific Ocean, it is now important that we start to ask all companies to provide the radiation levels found in their products.
Spirulina As A Vegan Vitamin B12 Source
Spirulina is an organism that is, in some ways, similar to bacteria that create B12 in the soil, but it's actually an evolutionary branch-off. It's called a micro-algae or blue-green algae. It's basically something that isn't bacteria but isn't algae, think of it as plant based bacteria. The same formation of B12 can take place in Spirulina as a B12 (culture) laboratory vat. The primary issue with Spirulina is that it's usually grown for protein, EFAs, and anti-oxidants (like chlorophyll, not for B12 production. This means that without cobalt explicitly added to the growth pond (which is usually not the case) another B12 'analog' is formed.
Some manufacturers claim human form B12 is in their Spirulina product. Herbert et al. [1984 and 1988] explained that the B12 measurement when checking spiraling shows total coronoids--that is, true B-12 plus analogues (forms of B-12 that are not metabolically active in the body)--and the analogues have the potential to block the absorption of true B-12 by occupying B-12 receptor sites. Not all Spirulina makes cobalamin because of a lack of useable cobalt. That's why you see vegan pages saying it's not a dependable source of Vitamin B12. They don't know (or don't have the resources) to look at every brand and source.
What are your thoughts on Spirulina? Do you have a favourite use for Spirulina? Leave me a comment below or share your favourite recipe.
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