Spirulina: a journey from pond scum to outer space

Just as life depends on water, the life in water provides important contributions to our health. There are over 40,000 species of microalgae, which include edibles that we’ve come to know and sort of love such spirulina and chlorella. These relatively simple substances produce complex, health-giving products, including essential amino acids and enzymes.

The nutritional value of spirulina and chlorella

The nutritional value of spirulina was already known to the Aztecs, who harvested the algae from Texcoco Lake, near Mexico City, where it was sold as cakes and used as a daily staple. Science had now validated that spriulina is a rich source of vitamins, minerals, β-carotene, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants, and its consumption has been shown to have positive cardiovascular effects such as lowering blood pressure and reducing cholesterol. It is also noteworthy for its oil content, in quantity (7%) and in quality (α-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and arachidonic acid (AA). Chlorella also shares an array of proteins, amino acids, minerals and vitamins with spirulina.

Spirulina doesn’t actually contain vitamin B12

It is worth mentioning, since spirulina contains about 60% protein, it’s often used to supplement vegetarian diets, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t naturally supply vitamin B12. It actually contains pseudovitamin B12, which is inactive in humans.

It’s rare that a component of petroleum is not just suited for, but recommended for human ingestion, but in this case, algae’s energy-rich oils serve as not only a new potential source of fossil fuel, but also an ideal food (Cosmonaut Yury Viktorovich Romanenko successfully tested chlorella as food for long space journeys).

References

Ciferri O. Spirulina, the edible microorganism. Microbiol. Rev. 1983;47:551–578.
Campanella L., Russo M.V., Avino P. Free and total amino acid composition in blue-green algae. Ann. Chim. 2002;92:343–352. 
Habib M.A.B., Parvin M., Huntington T.C., Hasan M.R. A Review on Culture, Production and Use of Spirulina as Food for Humans and Feeds for Domestic Animals and Fish. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; Rome, Italy: 2008.
Nyenje M.E., Ndip R.K. The Challenges of foodborne pathogens and antimicrobial chemotherapy: A global perspective. Afric. J. Microb. 2013;7:1158–1172.
Del Castillo B. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico, 1517–1521. Routledge; London, UK: 1928. p. 300.
Capelli B., Cysewski G.R. Potential Health Benefits of Spirulina Microalgae: A Review of the Existing Literature. Cyanotech Corporation; Kailua-Kona, HI, USA: 2010.
Juarez-Oropeza M.A., Mascher D., Torres-Durán P.V., Farias J.M., Paredes-Carbajal M.C. Effects of Spirulina on vascular reactivity. J. Med. Food. 2009;12:15–20.
Watanabe F., Katsura H., Takenaka S., Fujita T., Abe K., Tamura Y., Nakatsuka T., Nakano Y. Pseudovitamin B(12) is the predominant cobamide of an algal health food, spirulina tablets. J. Agric. Food Chem. 1999;47:4736–4741.
Watanabe F. Vitamin B12 sources and bioavailability. Exp. Biol. Med. (Maywood) 2007;232:1266–1274.