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Spirulina tablets

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium (blue-green algae) that can be consumed by humans and other animals. There are two species, Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima.

Arthrospira is cultivated worldwide; used as a dietary supplement as well as a whole food; and is also available in tablet, flake and powder form. It is also used as a feed supplement in the aquaculture, aquarium and poultry industries.[1]

Nutrient and vitamin content[edit]

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,213 kJ (290 kcal)
23.9 g
Sugars 3.1 g
Dietary fiber 3.6 g
7.72 g
Saturated 2.65 g
Monounsaturated 0.675 g
Polyunsaturated 2.08 g
57.47 g
Tryptophan 0.929 g
Threonine 2.97 g
Isoleucine 3.209 g
Leucine 4.947 g
Lysine 3.025 g
Methionine 1.149 g
Cystine 0.662 g
Phenylalanine 2.777 g
Tyrosine 2.584 g
Valine 3.512 g
Arginine 4.147 g
Histidine 1.085 g
Alanine 4.515 g
Aspartic acid 5.793 g
Glutamic acid 8.386 g
Glycine 3.099 g
Proline 2.382 g
Serine 2.998 g
Vitamin A equiv.
29 μg
342 μg
0 μg
Thiamine (B1)
2.38 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
3.67 mg
Niacin (B3)
12.82 mg
3.48 mg
Vitamin B6
0.364 mg
Folate (B9)
94 μg
Vitamin B12
0 μg
66 mg
Vitamin C
10.1 mg
Vitamin D
0 IU
Vitamin E
5 mg
Vitamin K
25.5 μg
120 mg
28.5 mg
195 mg
1.9 mg
118 mg
1363 mg
1048 mg
2 mg
Other constituents
Water 4.68 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database


Dried spirulina contains about 60% (51–71%) protein.[2][3] It is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, though with reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine when compared to the proteins of meat, eggs, and milk. It is, however, superior to typical plant protein, such as that from legumes.[2][4][5]

Blue-green algae, however, is thirty times more expensive and, from a nutritional point of view, no better than other protein sources like dairy or meat.[6]

Other nutrients[edit]

Provided in its typical supplement form as a dried powder having 5% water (table), a 100 gram amount of spirulina supplies 290 Calories and is an excellent source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of numerous nutrients, particularly B vitamins (thiamin and riboflavin, 207% and 306% DV, respectively) and dietary minerals, such as iron (219% DV) and manganese (90% DV) (table).

Spirulina's lipid content is 8% by weight (table),[7] providing gamma-linolenic acid,[8][9] alpha-linolenic acid, linoleic acid, stearidonic acid,[10] eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, and arachidonic acid.[5][11]

Vitamin B12 controversy[edit]

Spirulina does not contain vitamin B12 naturally (table) and is not considered to be a reliable source of vitamin B12 added to spirulina supplements.[12][13] Spirulina supplements contain predominantly pseudovitamin B12, which is biologically inactive in humans.[12] Companies that grow and market spirulina have claimed it to be a significant source of B12 on the basis of alternative, unpublished assays, although their claims are not accepted by independent scientific organizations. The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada in their position paper on vegetarian diets state that spirulina cannot be counted on as a reliable source of active vitamin B12.[13] The medical literature similarly advises that spirulina is unsuitable as a source of B12.[12][14]


Toxicological studies[edit]

Toxicological studies of the effects of spirulina consumption on humans and animals, including feeding as much as 800 mg/kg,[15] and replacing up to 60% of protein intake with spirulina,[16] have shown no toxic effects.[17] Fertility, teratogenicity, peri- and postnatal, and multigenerational studies on animals also have found no adverse effects from spirulina consumption.[18]

Quality-related safety issues[edit]

Spirulina is a form of cyanobacterium, some of which are known to produce toxins such as microcystins, BMAA, and others. Some spirulina supplements have been found to be contaminated with microcystins, albeit at levels below the limit set by the Oregon Health Department.[19] Microcystins can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and, in the long term, liver cancer. The effects of chronic exposure to even very low levels of microcystins are of concern, because of the potential risk of cancer.[19]

These toxic compounds are not produced by spirulina itself,[20] but may occur as a result of contamination of spirulina batches with other toxin-producing blue-green algae. Because spirulina is considered a dietary supplement in the U.S., no active, industry-wide regulation of its production occurs and no enforced safety standards exist for its production or purity.[19] The U.S. National Institutes of Health describes spirulina supplements as "possibly safe", provided they are free of microcystin contamination, but "likely unsafe" (especially for children) if contaminated.[21] Given the lack of regulatory standards in the U.S., some public-health researchers have raised the concern that consumers cannot be certain that spirulina and other blue-green algae supplements are free of contamination.[19]

Heavy-metal contamination of spirulina supplements has also raised concern. The Chinese State Food and Drug Administration reported that lead, mercury, and arsenic contamination was widespread in spirulina supplements marketed in China.[22]

Safety issues for certain target groups[edit]

Like all protein-rich foods, spirulina contains the essential amino acid phenylalanine (2.6-4.1 g/100 g),[23] which should be avoided by people who have phenylketonuria, a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine, which then builds up in the brain, causing damage.[24]

Etymology and ecology[edit]

Main article: Arthrospira

The maxima and plaetensis species were once classified in the genus Spirulina. They are now agreed to be in fact Arthrospira; nevertheless, and somewhat confusingly, the older term Spirulina remains in use for historical reasons.[1][4]

Arthrospira species are free-floating filamentous cyanobacteria characterized by cylindrical, multicellular trichomes in an open left-hand helix. They occur naturally in tropical and subtropical lakes with high pH and high concentrations of carbonate and bicarbonate.[23] A. platensis occurs in Africa, Asia, and South America, whereas A. maxima is confined to Central America.[1] Most cultivated spirulina is produced in open channel raceway ponds, with paddle-wheels used to agitate the water.[23] The largest commercial producers of spirulina are located in the United States, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Burma (Myanmar), Greece, and Chile.[1]

Spirulina thrives at a pH around 8.5 and above, which will get more alkaline, and a temperature around 30 °C (86 °F). They are able to make their own food, and do not need a living energy or organic carbon source. In addition, spirulina has to have an ensemble of nutrients to thrive in a home aquarium or pond. A simple nutrient feed for growing it is:

which can all be found in aquarium or else in the agricultural division, all commonly occurring compounds except for the iron sulphate. The algae has actually been tested and successfully grown in human urine at 1:180 parts.[25] After 7days, 97% of NH4+-N, 96.5% of total phosphorus (TP) and 85–98% of urea in the urine (about 120-diluted) were removed by the microalgae under autotrophic culture (30 °C).[26]

Historical use[edit]

Spirulina was a food source for the Aztecs and other Mesoamericans until the 16th century; the harvest from Lake Texcoco and subsequent sale as cakes were described by one of Cortés' soldiers.[27][28] The Aztecs called it "tecuitlatl".[23]

Spirulina was found in abundance at Lake Texcoco by French researchers in the 1960s, but no reference to its use was made by the Aztecs as a daily food source after the 16th century, probably due to the draining of the surrounding lakes for agricultural and urban development.[4][23] The first large-scale spirulina production plant, run by Sosa Texcoco, was established there in the early 1970s.[1]

Spirulina has also been traditionally harvested in Chad. It is dried into cakes called dihé, which are used to make broths for meals, and also sold in markets. The spirulina is harvested from small lakes and ponds around Lake Chad.[29]


At present, research is preliminary. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, scientific evidence is insufficient to recommend spirulina supplementation for any human condition, and more research is needed to clarify its benefits, if any.[21]

Administration of spirulina has been investigated as a way to control glucose in people with diabetes, but the EFSA rejected those claims in 2013.[30] Live cultures of Spirulina (Arthospira) sp grown in open raceway ponds were used for removal of lead from waste water.[31]


In 1974, the World Health Organization described spirulina as "an interesting food for multiple reasons, rich in iron and protein, and is able to be administered to children without any risk," considering it "a very suitable food." [32] The United Nations established the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition in 2003.[33]

In the late 1980s and early 90s, both NASA (CELSS)[34] and the European Space Agency (MELISSA)[35] proposed spirulina as one of the primary foods to be cultivated during long-term space missions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Vonshak, A. (ed.). Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira): Physiology, Cell-biology and Biotechnology. London: Taylor & Francis, 1997.
  2. ^ a b Khan, Z; Bhadouria, P; Bisen, PS (October 2005). "Nutritional and therapeutic potential of Spirulina.". Current pharmaceutical biotechnology 6 (5): 373–9. doi:10.2174/138920105774370607. PMID 16248810. 
  3. ^ Campanella, L; Russo, MV; Avino, P (April 2002). "Free and total amino acid composition in blue-green algae.". Annali di chimica 92 (4): 343–52. PMID 12073880. 
  4. ^ a b c Ciferri, O (December 1983). "Spirulina, the edible microorganism". Microbiol. Rev. 47 (4): 551–78. PMC 283708. PMID 6420655. 
  5. ^ a b Babadzhanov, A. S.; Abdusamatova, N.; Yusupova, F. M.; et al. (2004). "Chemical Composition of Spirulina Platensis Cultivated in Uzbekistan". Chemistry of Natural Compounds 40 (3): 276–279. doi:10.1023/b:conc.0000039141.98247.e8. 
  6. ^ "Blue-green algae". Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Consumer Version. November 18, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2011. 
  7. ^ http://www.ejbiotechnology.info/content/vol9/issue4/full/5/
  8. ^ Colla, LM; Bertolin, TE; Costa, JA (2003). "Fatty acids profile of Spirulina platensis grown under different temperatures and nitrogen concentrations.". Zeitschrift für Naturforschung C 59 (1-2): 55–9. doi:10.1515/znc-2004-1-212. PMID 15018053. 
  9. ^ Golmakani, Mohammad-Taghi; Rezaei, Karamatollah; Mazidi, Sara; Razavi, Seyyed Hadi (March 2012). "γ-Linolenic acid production by Arthrospira platensis using different carbon sources". European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology 114 (3): 306–314. doi:10.1002/ejlt.201100264. 
  10. ^ Jubie, S; Ramesh, PN; Dhanabal, P; Kalirajan, R; Muruganantham, N; Antony, AS (August 2012). "Synthesis, antidepressant and antimicrobial activities of some novel stearic acid analogues.". European journal of medicinal chemistry 54: 931–5. doi:10.1016/j.ejmech.2012.06.025. PMID 22770606. 
  11. ^ Tokusoglu, O.; Unal, M.K. "Biomass Nutrient Profiles of Three Microalgae: Spirulina platensis, Chlorella vulgaris, and Isochrisis galbana". Journal of Food Science 68 (4): 2003. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.2003.tb09615.x. 
  12. ^ a b c Watanabe, F (2007). "Vitamin B12 sources and bioavailability.". Exp. Biol. Med. (Maywood) 232 (10): 1266–74. doi:10.3181/0703-MR-67. PMID 17959839. Most of the edible blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) used for human supplements predominantly contain pseudovitamin B(12), which is inactive in humans. The edible cyanobacteria are not suitable for use as vitamin B(12) sources, especially in vegans. 
  13. ^ a b American Dietetic, Association; Dietitians of, Canada (June 2003). "Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Vegetarian diets.". Journal of the American Dietetic Association 103 (6): 748–65. doi:10.1053/jada.2003.50142. PMID 12778049. 
  14. ^ Watanabe, F; Katsura, H; Takenaka, S; et al. (1999). "Pseudovitamin B(12) is the predominant cobamide of an algal health food, spirulina tablets.". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 47 (11): 4736–41. doi:10.1021/jf990541b. PMID 10552882. The results presented here strongly suggest that spirulina tablet algal health food is not suitable for use as a B12 source, especially in vegetarians. 
  15. ^ Krishnakumari, M.K.; Ramesh, H.P.; Venkataraman, L.V. (1981). "Food Safety Evaluation: acute oral and dermal effects of the algae Scenedesmus acutus and Spirulina platensis on albino rats". J. Food Protect. 44 (934). 
  16. ^ Bizzi, A.; et al. (1980). Materassi, R., ed. "Trattamenti prolungati nel ratto con diete conntenenti proteine di Spirulina. Aspetti biochimici, morfologici e tossicologici" [Extended Treatment of Rats with Diets Containing Spirulina. Biochemical, morphological, and toxicological aspects.]. Prospettive della coltura di Spirulina in Italia (Accademia dei Geo rgofili, Firence) 205. 
  17. ^ Salazar, M; Martínez, E; Madrigal, E; et al. (October 1998). "Subchronic toxicity study in mice fed Spirulina maxima". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 62 (3): 235–41. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(98)00080-4. PMID 9849634. 
  18. ^ Chamorro-Cevallos, G.; Barron, B.L.; Vasquez-Sanchez, J. (2008). Gershwin, M.E., ed. "Toxicologic Studies and Antitoxic Properties of Spirulina". Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health (CRC Press). 
  19. ^ a b c d Gilroy, D.; Kauffman, K.; Hall, D.; et al. (2000). "Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements". Environmental Health Perspectives 108 (5): 435–439. doi:10.2307/3454384. JSTOR 3454384. PMC 1638057. PMID 10811570. 
  20. ^ Belay, Amha (2008). "Spirulina (Arthrospira): Production and Quality Assurance". Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health, CRC Press: 1–25. 
  21. ^ a b "Blue-green algae". MedlinePlus. National Institutes of Health. July 6, 2011. Retrieved October 4, 2011. 
  22. ^ "China’s drug agency rejects state media claims of cover-up in lead found in health supplement". Washington Post. April 10, 2012. Retrieved April 23, 2012. 
  23. ^ a b c d e Habib, M. Ahsan B.; Parvin, Mashuda; Huntington, Tim C.; Hasan, Mohammad R. (2008). "A Review on Culture, Production and Use of Spirulina as Food dor Humans and Feeds for Domestic Animals and Fish" (PDF). Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations. Retrieved November 20, 2011. 
  24. ^ Robb-Nicholson, C. (2006). "By the way, doctor". Harvard Women's Health Watch 8. 
  25. ^ Feng, DL; Wu, ZC (January 2006). "Culture of Spirulina platensis in human urine for biomass production and O(2) evolution". Journal of Zhejiang University. Science. B 7 (1): 34–7. doi:10.1631/jzus.2006.B0034. PMC 1361757. PMID 16365923. 
  26. ^ Chang, Yuanyuan, et al. "Cultivation of Spirulina platensis for biomass production and nutrient removal from synthetic human urine." Applied Energy 102 (2013) C 427-431. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2012.07.024
  27. ^ Diaz Del Castillo, B. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517–1521. London: Routledge, 1928, p. 300.
  28. ^ Osborne, Ken; Kahn, Charles N. (2005). World History: Societies of the Past. Winnipeg: Portage & Main Press. ISBN 1-55379-045-6. 
  29. ^ Abdulqader, G., Barsanti, L., Tredici, M. "Harvest of Arthrospira platensis from Lake Kossorom (Chad) and its household usage among the Kanembu." Journal of Applied Phycology. 12: 493-498. 2000.
  30. ^ Buono, S; Langellotti, AL; Martello, A; Rinna, F; Fogliano, V (August 2014). "Functional ingredients from microalgae.". Food & Function 5 (8): 1669–85. doi:10.1039/c4fo00125g. PMID 24957182. 
  31. ^ Siva Kiran RR, Madhu GM*, Satyanarayana SV, Kalpana P, Bindiya P, Subba Rangaiah G. "Equilibrium and kinetic studies of lead biosorption by three Spirulina (Arthrospira) species in open raceway ponds." Journal of Biochemical Technology Vol. 6, no. 1 (2015): 894-909.
  32. ^ "What the United Nations says about Spirulina" (PDF). Spirulina and the Millennium Development Goals. Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition. December 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2014. 
  33. ^ "Charter" (PDF). Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition. 5 March 2003. Retrieved 2 July 2014. 
  34. ^ Characterization of Spirulina biomass for CELSS diet potential. Normal, Al.: Alabama A&M University, 1988.
  35. ^ Cornet J.F., Dubertret G. "The cyanobacterium Spirulina in the photosynthetic compartment of the MELISSA artificial ecosystem." Workshop on artificial ecological systems, DARA-CNES, Marseille, France, October 24–26, 1990

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spirulina_(dietary_supplement) — Please support Wikipedia.
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2 news items

Food Consumer

Food Consumer
Wed, 24 Apr 2013 16:42:46 -0700

The Spirulina dietary supplement did not affect high density lipoprotein cholesterol while a tendency to slightly increase was observed. Spirulina did not change serum concentrations of triglycerides and body weight. And no adverse effects were ...

Economic Times

Economic Times
Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:54:54 -0700

The company makes Spirulina dietary supplement and herbal extracts. He is also chairman of Ayurvet, a marketing company responsible for sales, distribution and promotion of herbal veterinary products. This is not the first time Burman's name has ...

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