Open a magazine, turn on your television, or log onto the Internet and you'll find people talking about "superfoods." You might be wondering: What exactly are they? What's all the hoopla about? Are they really something you should be consuming? Or is what's being said about them mostly hype?
Superfoods are real. A "superfood" is a term given to a plant that contains exceptional amounts of nutrients and health-promoting properties. As an example, let's take a close look at one of the most remarkable superfoods, a blue-green microalgae (cyanobacterium) that grows in water, called Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis). In fact, researchers state that Spirulina is "nature's richest and most complete source of nutrition," because it contains a "unique blend of nutrients that no other single source has to offer" (Kulshreshtha 2008).
What's in it that makes it so super?
Spirulina contains a rich amount of a wide spectrum of health-promoting and therapeutic nutrients including B-complex vitamins, minerals, proteins, amino acids, trace elements and gamma-linolenic acid (a healthy-type of omega-6 fatty acid also found in evening primrose oil). It also possesses potent antioxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamin E.
All of these nutrients add up to give Spirulina substantial preventative and healing benefits. Best known for its ability to help the body detoxify, Spirulina also has antibacterial, antiviral, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, and anti-diabetic properties (Ouhtit 2014) (Lee 2008). In addition, research shows that Spirulina protects the liver and kidney from damage by toxins (McCarty 2013) (Ponce-Canchihuaman 2010), and promotes the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria (Kulshreshtha 2008) (Chamorro 2002).
Lowers lipidsOne of the most clinically researched benefits of Spirulina is its outstanding ability to lower blood lipids, including triglycerides and cholesterol. For example, in a prospective study published in 2013 in the Journal of Food Science and Agriculture, 52 adults recently diagnosed with hyperlipidemia (elevated blood lipids) were given one gram of Spirulina daily for 12 weeks. At the end of this 3 month period, a significant decrease was found in the average levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and total cholesterol (Mazokopakis 2013). In another study, 36 Mexican adults were given 4.5 grams of Spirulina daily for 6 weeks. These subjects experienced a statistically significant drop in blood lipids, as well as systolic and diastolic blood pressure (Torres-Duran 2007). A third study (randomized double-blind and placebo-controlled) looked at the effects of Spirulina in elderly Koreans. The seniors were given either 8 grams of Spirulina a day, or a placebo. After 4 months, those taking Spirulina were found to have a significant reduction in plasma cholesterol and a noteworthy increase in total antioxidants and immune function (Park 2008).
Great for diabeticsType 2 diabetes mellitus is now near epidemic proportions in our population. This disease is fraught with numerous life-threatening complications, including cardiovascular disease caused primarily from elevated blood lipids and inflammation. Korean researchers conducted a randomized study in 2008 to establish the effects of Spirulina on type 2 diabetics. Patients were given either Spirulina (8gms/day) or a placebo for 12 weeks. Those taking Spirulina were found to have significantly lower triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL-cholesterol. The greatest benefits were seen in those who initially had the highest blood lipid levels. Researchers also noted that Spirulina caused an improvement in inflammatory markers and antioxidant levels (Lee 2008).
How to take itSpirulina can be taken in capsules, or it comes in many green drinks. The taste of pure Spirulina can be challenging for some, which is why consuming it in a delicious smoothie is a great choice. Spanish researchers have another yummy suggestion-combine Spirulina with cocoa powder! They point out that the Kuna Indians of Panama, who regularly consume large amounts of flavonoid-rich cocoa, are virtually free of hypertension and strokes-even though they salt their food. Therefore, they submit that cocoa powder would not only add to the health benefits of Spirulina, but would also mask the "somewhat disagreeable" flavor of the algae. The therapeutic dose of Spirulina ranges from 1 to 8 grams a day.
Super easyAdding the extraordinary health benefits of a superfood to your diet every day is super easy. If you are like most Americans, your diet is not supplying you with all the nutrients you need. Adding some nutritional supplements and superfoods can provide dramatic health-boosting and protective effects. Because it is so super easy to consume these every day, you should start taking them today! Add a little exercise, get to bed by 10 PM, and take a few minutes out each day to take some deep breaths and you'll be amazed at how much better you look and feel.
- Kulshreshtha, et al. "Spirulina in health care management." Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2008 Oct;9(5):400-405.
- Ouhtit, et al. "Chemoprevention of rat mammary carcinogenesis by spirulina." Am J Pathol. 2014 Jan; 184(1):296-303.
- Lee, et al. "A randomized study to establish the effects of spirulina in type 2 diabetes mellitus patients." Nutr Res Pract. 2008 Winter;2(4): 295-300.
- McCarty, MF. Nutraceutical strategies for ameliorating the toxic effects of alcohol." Med Hypotheses. 2013 Apr;80(4):456-462.
- Ponce-Canchihuaman, et al. Protective effects of Spirulina maxima on hyperlipidemia and oxidative-stress induced by lead acetate in the liver and kidney." Lipids Health Dis. 2010 Mar 31;9:35.
- Chamorro, et al. "Update on pharmacology of Spirulina (Arthrospira), an unconventional food." Arch Latinoam Nutri. 2002 Sep;52(3):232-240.
- Mazokopakis, et al. The hypolipidaemic effects of Spirulina (Arthrospira plantensis) supplementation in a Cretan population: a prospective study." J Sci Food Agric. 2013 Jun 10.doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6261.
- Torres-Duran, et al. "Antihyperlipemic and antihypertensive effects of Spirulina maxima in an open sample of Mexican population: a preliminary report. Lipids Health Dis. 2007 Nov 26;6:33.
- Park, et al. "A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study to establish the effects of spirulina in elderly Koreans." Ann Nutr Metab. 2008; 52(4):322-328.
- Deng, R. and Chow, t. "Hypolidemic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory activities of microalgae Spirulina." Cardiovasc Ther. 2010 Aug;28 (4):e33-45.
- McCarty et al. "Potential complementarity of high-flavonol cocoa powder and spirulina for health protection." Med Hyypthesis. 210 Feb; 74(2):370-3.