Benefits of Spirulina and Why Quality Differs Widely

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that naturally occurs in tropical and subtropical areas in fresh water lakes with a high pH.[1]  Let’s take a look at why so many people like to consume spirulina and why all spirulina products are not of equal quality.

In 1974, the World Health Organization described spirulina as “an interesting food for multiple reasons, rich in iron and protein, and … able to be administered to children without any risk.” They called it “a very suitable food.”[2]

Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, both NASA and the European Space Agency stated that spirulina should be one of the primary foods to be cultivated during long-term space missions.[3][4]

In 2003 the United Nations established the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina against Malnutrition.[5]  

Spirulina was a food source for the Aztecs in Mexico from the 14th to 16th century. They harvested spirulina from Lake Texacoco as noted by one of Cortes’ soldiers.[6][7]

There are different varieties of spirulina available, spirulina platensis and spirulina maxima are the most common. Platensis occurs in Africa, Asia and South America, maxima is found in Central America and spirulina pacifica is endemic to the Hawaiian Islands.[8]

Dried spirulina is extremely protein rich and contains approximately 60% protein.[9][10] It has an easily digestible complete protein containing all essential amino acids. The protein in spirulina is superior to most plant proteins such as that from legumes.[9][11][12]

Spirulina is an excellent source of beta-carotene; perhaps ten times more concentrated than that of carrots. It is also an excellent source of many B-vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin.

Spirulina contains ample amounts of many essential minerals such as iron, potassium, manganese and magnesium.

Spirulina’s lipid profile is also impressive. It contains about 8% lipids by weight and its awesome array is made up of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), LA (linoleic acid), SDA (stearidonic acid) EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA, (docosahexaenoic acid) and AA (arachidonic acid).[13][14][15][16]

The largest commercial producers of spirulina are located in the USA, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Burma, Greece, and Chile.[8] But it is also being grown on a smaller scale in many places around the globe.

There is a huge difference in quality between the different growers and harvesters. For example, spirulina is being grown in India and China where there are few regulations on pesticides and the use of irradiation. Heavy metal pollution is also of concern in many countries.

Spirulina grown in and around cities may be contaminated with pollution common to cities. For example, Bangkok Thailand is a polluted city, yet someone decided that a good place to grow spirulina is on a rooftop inside the city.

Some spirulina is being harvested out of polluted lakes. In many developing countries natural water sources are also used to bathe and may contain sewage.

Numerous studies have been conducted on spirulina. A study published in April 2016 concluded, “Spirulina platensis is a good source of antioxidant peptides”. [17]

A ground-breaking study also published in April 2016 concluded that spirulina extract inhibited viral replication and reduced virus induced mortality in a broad range of influenza viruses. [18]

And another study published in May 2016 found that spirulina platensis has anti-inflammatory properties.[19]

I choose to take only the highest quality spirulina grown at almost 9000 feet above sea level high in the Andes Mountains. At that pristine elevation far from polluted cities Andes spirulina is fed minerals from pure glacial water.

Being grown at such a high elevation the algae receives more photon energy from the sun resulting in a vibrant product. Andes spirulina is dried at low temperature to preserve nutrients.


[1] Habib, M. Ahsan B.; Parvin, Mashuda; Huntington, Tim C.; Hasan, Mohammad R. (2008). “A Review on Culture, Production and Use of Spirulina as Food for Humans and Feeds for Domestic Animals and Fish” (PDF). Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations.

[2] “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..

[3] Characterization of Spirulina biomass for CELSS diet potential. Normal, Al.: Alabama A&M University, 1988.

[4] 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

[5] “Charter” (PDF). Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition. 5 March 2003. Retrieved 2 July 2014.

[6] Diaz Del Castillo, B. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517–1521. London: Routledge, 1928, p. 300.

[7] Osborne, Ken; Kahn, Charles N. (2005). World History: Societies of the Past. Winnipeg: Portage & Main Press.ISBN 1-55379-045-6.

[8] Vonshak, A. (ed.). Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira): Physiology, Cell-biology and Biotechnology. London: Taylor & Francis, 1997.

[9] Khan, Z; Bhadouria, P; Bisen, PS (October 2005). “Nutritional and therapeutic potential of Spirulina.”. Current pharmaceutical biotechnology 6 (5): 373–9.doi:10.2174/138920105774370607PMID 16248810.

[10] 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.

[11] b c Ciferri, O (December 1983). “Spirulina, the edible microorganism”. Microbiol. Rev. 47 (4): 551–78.PMC 283708PMID 6420655.

[12] 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.

[13] 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-2004-1-212PMID 15018053.

[14] 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.

[15] 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.

[16] 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.