Back in the day, marine scientists came up with the term ‘spirulina’ to refer to a species of blue-green algae.
Algaes, also known as “pond scum,” are aquatic bacterial organisms found in oceans, seas, or other freshwater surfaces. There’s an estimate of over 28,000 algae species, but the blue-green algae (scientifically called arthrospira platensis) are said to be the oldest of all.
This is because the blue-green algae comprise cyanobacteria, a nearly 3.5 million-year-old single-celled species. Hence, it goes without saying that the discovery of the blue-green algae was exciting for marine scientists. Interestingly, this discovery also invoked the interest of another group—food scientists.
Today, on the contrary, spirulina has become a common buzzword in the context of food and nutrition amongst the general population. The significant context shift is primarily due to increased awareness about the effects of spirulina in terms of the health benefits to humankind.
What Is Blue Spirulina?
Blue spirulina is a concentrated extract of a blue-colored pigment called phycocyanin, uniquely found in blue-green algae. Typically, blue-green algae grow in freshwater lakes, but many man-made reservoirs are now being built as an alternative.
In Kona Coastline, Hawaii, ponds the size of football fields are made into blue-green algae reservoirs. These ponds are strictly regulated with fresh, vitamin-rich water and maximum sun exposure to ensure optimal blue-green algae growth. Besides growing, the process of extracting the blue pigment phycocyanin itself isn’t an easy one as it involves molecular-level extractions.
Firstly, manufacturers will thoroughly crush a blue-green algae batch to cause breakage in its cell wall. Then, adding chemical compounds under specific temperatures will effectively separate phycocyanin pigments from their cell components. Finally, the yield of extracted phycocyanin will be verified, dried, and sent for packaging.
Blue Spirulina Vs Green Spirulina
Even though both green and blue spirulina originate from the blue-green algae, they have notable differences. While blue spirulina is only the pigment of phycocyanin from blue-green algae, green spirulina is the whole species of algae manufactured into edible goods.
Therefore, quite obviously, green spirulina is mostly green while blue spirulina is of striking blue color (thanks to its blue pigment!) In terms of taste, green spirulina has a stronger fishy taste, but blue spirulina has a comparatively mild taste but a more striking blue color.
Another interesting difference between these two types of blue-green algae spirulina is that blue spirulina is the only natural blue pigment certified as a food additive. So, you can often see people adding blue spirulina to cooking or confections such as cake toppings or jellies because it is a healthy alternative that’s just as good as artificial coloring.
Nevertheless, when it comes to health benefits, both forms of spirulina provide outstanding nutritional values. They offer much-need vitamins, minerals, and protein that will undoubtedly boost one’s health. The cost of spirulina may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but in general, blue spirulina is more expensive than green spirulina.
Is Blue Spirulina Good For You?
Yes, in fact, spirulina is considered a superfood (edibles that are exceptionally high in nutrients and health benefits). Here are the four main categories of nutrients you can expect:
About 65% of a daily healthy diet should be carbohydrates because it’s the primary energy source. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to meet the daily carbohydrate requirement with infrequent meals and a busy lifestyle. Blue spirulina contains moderate levels of carbohydrates that’ll help to remove the feeling of tiredness and sluggishness in your day-to-day life.
Proteins are essential for our body to maintain cellular metabolism, build muscles, and repair damaged cells or tissues. Pure blue spirulina is an excellent source of protein because it contains roughly 57% of protein and essential amino acids per 100 grams of spirulina — that’s far more than the protein content of red meat or tuna!
Moreover, protein coming from spirulina is also easily digestible by our body as it is natural and doesn’t have any cellulose (a cell wall component that the human body cannot digest). Many fitness companies add blue spirulina to their protein shake powder because it gives a supply of quality protein for use quickly.
Our body produces adequate antioxidants to keep free radicals away from damaging delicate structures such as DNA.
Many studies have concluded spirulina supplements to have good antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can combat oxidative stress and activate efficient immune system response (i.e., macrophages, B and T cells) when necessary.
Several studies also suggest that the anti-inflammatory properties of spirulina are associated with improved management of allergic rhinitis, reduced heart disease risk, and even anti-cancer properties. Nonetheless, more clinical research is warranted to confirm these claims.
- Vitamin B
Vitamin B is one of the building blocks of red blood cells, alongside iron and folate. Without a sufficient supply of vitamin B, you may develop anemia, a health condition where there are low amounts of red blood cells in the body to supply oxygen to the body parts.
The blue-green algae contain vitamins B1, B2, B3, and also vitamin B12. Henceforth, many people with anemia or vitamin B deficiency opt for blue spirulina as a dietary supplement to obtain their daily vitamin B supply.
What Does Blue Spirulina Taste Like?
Since blue spirulina is just the extract of blue-green algae, its taste is rather bland. People describe it as neutral or tasteless. This is great news for those consuming blue spirulina capsules or tablets because it’s unlikely to leave an awful aftertaste.
However, the lack of flavor in blue spirulina may negatively impact the taste buds when taken as protein shakes or powder mixes. Luckily, blue spirulina comes with the freedom of addition to any of your daily foods without nutritional value compromises.
For example, you can add a scoop of blue spirulina powder to your oatmeal or porridge. By pairing blue spirulina with other foods, you can avoid laboring over the feeling of eating “nothing” and instead enjoy it!
On top of that, the aesthetically pleasing blue color that comes with mixing it into your foods also instantly gives a touch of “Instagrammable” to your regular meal.
Is Blue Spirulina Harmful For You?
The stomach and digestion processes are unique to each individual. Hence, there’s no guarantee that a meal that works well for one would do the same for another—that’s the case with blue spirulina.
While the Internet is largely packed with the magic and wonders of blue spirulina, there are cases of spirulina being not-so-good for some. Spirulina allergy, indigestion, or even toxicity do exist, so avoid being ignorant about them.
Here are some signs of intolerance you may want to look out for, especially when trying it for the first time:
- Abdominal pain/stomach cramps
If you have any of these medical conditions, please consider seeking medical advice from specialists or dieticians on blue spirulina:
- Known allergy to seafood: may aggravate allergy reaction
- Rheumatoid arthritis: blue spirulina may aggravate autoimmune diseases
- Multiple sclerosis: blue spirulina may aggravate autoimmune diseases
- Phenylketonuria disease: people with phenylketonuria cannot metabolize amino acid phenylalanine in spirulina
- Pregnant or breastfeeding: lack of evidence on safety
- Gout or kidney stones: spirulina may worsen or flare up these conditions
Other than that, some spirulina products may contain heavy metals substances. Hence, always perform background research on the company and only purchase from reputable or trustworthy brands to ensure the product has been drawn from clean sources.
FAQ: Blue Spirulina
Is Blue Spirulina Healthier Than Green?
In general, both forms of spirulina offer similar health benefits, and they both contain the same type of nutrients, including antioxidants and B vitamins.
However, blue spirulina is essentially extracted phycocyanin (a powerful antioxidant compound), meaning you’ll be more likely to reap antioxidant benefits from consuming blue spirulina. Nonetheless, it may contain lower quantities of the nutrients available in whole spirulina supplements, such as healthy fatty acids and vitamin A, C, D, and K.
Is It Okay To Take Spirulina Everyday?
It’s acceptable to consume spirulina daily. However, please be aware that there isn’t much research evidence on the ideal amount of spirulina intake. Nonetheless, the usual recommendation from manufacturers is 3000 milligrams of spirulina per day.
Another noteworthy point is that you may have to cut down on other supplements or nutritional products when consuming spirulina daily. This is because spirulina itself comes with various vitamins and nutrients, so taking it with some other supplements may cause a vitamin overdose and complications.
Henceforth, if you take supplements other than spirulina regularly, we’d encourage you to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about it.
Does Spirulina Increase Weight?
Weight gain and weight loss are subjective; however, clinical studies lean more towards supporting the argument of spirulina reducing weight. In 2016, a randomized study recruited 78 elderly participants to investigate the lipid-lowering effect of spirulina.
The participants were given either placebo or spirulina supplementation for a total of 12 weeks. In the end, the researchers observed a significant reduction in total cholesterol levels of those taking spirulina supplementation.
This study also showed the potential of spirulina in helping people to lose weight by reducing LDL, triglyceride, fatty acids, and cholesterol levels.
Even if you don’t notice any differences in weight, do not worry because spirulina has many more health benefits than that.
Is Spirulina Safe For Kidneys?
There is evidence suggesting spirulina has side effects of uric acid build-up that’s unsafe for people with kidney stones. However, for people with healthy kidneys, spirulina can protect and prevent the development of chronic kidney diseases.
If you are uncertain of the consequences of spirulina on your kidneys, we highly recommend you talk to your healthcare providers for medical advice.
Bottomline: Blue Spirulina Benefits & Side Effects
Blue-green alga is a nutrition-dense organism that brings a lot of wellness to the health of human beings. Supplying protein, increasing antioxidant levels, and improving energy levels are just to name some of the health benefits of spirulina.
It’s phenomenal to think of how we’ve been able to extract the most nutritious pigment, phycocyanin, in the blue-green algae using scientific advancements. On top of that, you can find blue spirulina in many forms: spirulina tablets, capsules, or even powder.
So it’s no doubt that you’ll find a blue spirulina product that works the best for you. That said, it is still essential for you to check the quality of blue spirulina and if it has been produced ethically before purchasing spirulina supplements.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- Algae Growing Ponds. (2017). Retrieved August 12, 2021, from Atlas Obscura website: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/algae-growing-ponds
- Marks, D. (2011, January 8). Allergies to Spirulina. Retrieved August 12, 2021, from Healthfully website: https://healthfully.com/352496-allergies-to-spirulina.html
- Spirulina Extraction Process; Methods; Techniques | Agri Farming (2018). Retrieved August 12, 2021, from Agri Farming website: https://www.agrifarming.in/spirulina-extraction-process-methods-techniques
- Park, H.-J., & Lee, H.-S. (2016). The influence of obesity on the effects of spirulina supplementation in the human metabolic response of Korean elderly. Nutrition Research and Practice, 10(4), 418. https://doi.org/10.4162/nrp.2016.10.4.418
- Karkos, P. D., Leong, S. C., Karkos, C. D., Sivaji, N., & Assimakopoulos, D. A. (2011). Spirulinain Clinical Practice: Evidence-Based Human Applications. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011, 1–4. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2011/531053/