Spirulina powder is a health supplement made from the spirulina cyanobacteria. In addition to spirulina powder, one often finds spirulina tablets and spirulina flakes to be taken as supplements as well. Spirulina powder is also used as a supplement to a number of animal feeds, especially for aquaculture and aquariums. A decent amount of research has been done on the health benefits of this powder, and it seems to support many of the health benefits claimed by its supporters.
In fact, spirulina may have been in use as a dietary supplement more than a thousand years ago in Chad. There is evidence to suggest that as far back as the days of the Kanem Empire, spirulina cakes, or Dihé, were made and eaten as supplements. These cakes are still made and sold in modern Chad, and they are used as a sort of bouillon for some broths. Many people also believe the Aztecs cultivated and used spirulina as a supplement, as described by a soldier with Cortés in the 16th century. The Aztec word for spirulina, Tecuitatl, means literally the excrement of the stone.
As a dietary supplement, spirulina has a number of components that make it very desirable. It contains many vitamins, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), nicotinamide (B3), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E. Although B12 is present, whether or not it is bioavailable in meaningful amounts is in dispute, and so many vegetarian dieticians recommend not depending on spirulina powder as a source of B12. Spirulina also contains many different minerals, including calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium, zinc, and large amounts of potassium.
Additionally, spirulina is, by weight, a good source of protein, with around 60% of its dry weight consisting of proteins. Although containing reduced amounts of cysteine, lysine, and methionine when compared to egg or meat proteins, the amino acid content is still significantly higher than that of most plant proteins. It is a very easily-digestible form of protein, as well, and in combination with its other components is very close to a “perfect food.&rdquo
Because of its low cost, large amount of vitamins and minerals, high protein content, and ease of production, spirulina has often been looked at as a superfood of the future. Especially as a potential candidate to battle malnutrition on a global scale, spirulina has received a great deal of support from groups like the United Nations. Some proponents visualize enormous spirulina ponds feeding thousands of people and helping to supplement their nutrient-poor diets to keep them healthy.
One additional benefit of spirulina, which is a reason many people take spirulina powder daily, is that it is believed to reduce allergic reactions. A small dose taken daily can reduce the amount of interleukin-4 in the body noticeably, helping to reduce the strength of allergy responses. For people with mild allergies, such as hay fever or animal allergies, this little bit can be just enough to keep the body functioning at full strength.