Just 1 TBSP a Day: An Easy Way to Lower Your Cholesterol, Blood
by Joseph Mercola: This
Almost Perfect Food Gobbles Up Your Body's Toxins
What if consuming
a tablespoon or two per day of a simple food could drastically lower
your chances of developing cancer, heart disease or stroke, or of
contracting a life-threatening virus such as HIV?
interest be piqued?
There is a
unique freshwater plant that has been of enormous interest to nutritional
scientists over the past decade, and it shows promise for doing
all of the above and then some. It's one of the most nutrient-packed
dynamos of the superfood world.
food is spirulina.
posted a report about the radioprotective effects of spirulina.
But its health benefits go far beyond that application. But what
exactly is spirulina? You may be surprised!
One of Nature's Near-Perfect Foods
similar to sea vegetables such as dulse, kelp, nori, Kombu, arame,
and wakame. Along with its cousin chlorella
(another one of my favorites), spirulina is a member of the "blue-green"
family but this family is actually not truly algae.
will often hear the term "blue-green algae," spirulina and its kin
are actually cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are classified as bacteria
because their genetic material is not organized in a membrane-bound
nucleus. Unlike other bacteria, they have chlorophyll and use the
sun as an energy source, in the way plants and algae do.
primarily produced by two species: Arthrospira platensis
and Arthrospira maxima.
One of the
special traits of spirulina is its rich protein content it's
50 to 70 percent protein by weight and contains all of the essential
amino acids. Records of the Spanish conquistadors suggest that the
Aztecs consumed spirulina as a food source, and the Kanembu people
of Central Africa harvested it from what is now called Lake Chad.
grows in the alkaline lakes of Mexico and on the African continent,
although it is commercially grown and harvested all over the world.
It reproduces quickly, and because the individual organisms tend
to clump together, it's easy to harvest. Commercial production of
spirulina is estimated to reach 220,000 tons by the year 2020. Japan
is the largest producer of spirulina, as well as the largest consumer.
Packs Quite a Nutritional Punch
one of the most nutritious and concentrated food sources on the
planet. As a result, it's appearing more frequently all the time
in natural foods and beverages, such as green foods and drinks,
energy bars and oral supplements.
boasts an amazing protein level of 60 percent on average
even better than red meat, which is about 27 percent protein. And
spirulina's protein is biologically complete, containing all of
the essential amino acids needed for human health. Spirulina also
contains a potent array of other beneficial nutrients, including
vitamins (including exceptionally high B-12), vitamin K, and
rich in iodine
(including calcium, iron, magnesium, selenium, manganese, potassium,
best known sources of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA, an important
fatty acid for heart and joints)
fatty acids, including sulfolipids, which may be protective
against HIV infection of T-helper cells
(phycocyanin, chlorophyll, and carotenoids)
compounds (proteins combined with metals that bind heavy radioactive
carbohydrates (15-20 percent)
different amino acids
concentrations of the above-mentioned nutrients in spirulina, refer
to Table 1 in this
spirulina report by S. Thomas of Parry Nutraceuticals.) In addition
to this rich nutritional blend, spirulina has the following special
- The proteins
in spirulina are of a highly digestible type (83 to 90 percent
digestible), due to the fact that it does not have cellulose walls,
like yeast and chlorella do. Therefore, the net protein utilization
(NPU) is high (between 53 and 61 percent) and requires no cooking
to increase the bioavailability of its proteins.
confirm a very high "protein efficiency ratio" (PER) for spirulina,
meaning your body will be able to efficiently use these amino
acid is rarely this high in ANY food and normally has to be synthesized
by your body from linoleic acid. GLA is a precursor to important
biochemicals such as prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes,
which serve as chemical mediators for inflammatory and immune
has no fatty acids with uneven carbon numbers and very low-level
branched-chain fatty acids two types of lipids that higher
order animals, like you and me, cannot metabolize.
has about the same calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium content
as milk, a vitamin E (tocopherol) level comparable to wheat germ,
and four times as much vitamin B12 as raw liver!
Health Benefits of Spirulina
Now that you
have spirulina's nutritional overview, let's take a look at what
this unique blue-green cyanobacteria can do for your health. The
health benefits of spirulina continue to be widely researched. As
a result, there is really no way to cover all of the literature
related to its potential benefits because there are so many! There
are scientific studies supporting spirulina's potential usefulness
in preventing and/or treating the following health conditions:
(Age-related macular degeneration)
disease, including hypertension
(Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease)
health and decreased damage from heavy metal exposure
disease (including stroke)
diseases, such as iron deficiency anemia, pernicious anemia
(B12 deficiency), vitamin A deficiency, and kwashiorkor
disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's
from HIV and other viruses
protection (LINK to recent spirulina radiation article)
marrow and blood health (especially during use of anticancer
defenses and modulating inflammatory response
pain sensitivity by inhibiting prostaglandins, which contribute
to pain and inflammation
of arthritis symptoms
from the damage of ionizing radiation
As you can
see, the health benefits of spirulina are truly far-ranging. The
remainder of this report will focus on how spirulina can address
some of the diseases listed in the above table (the ones shown in
and Your Eyes
As the population
ages, the prevalence of Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD)
is on the rise. ARMD is the deterioration of your macula (the region
in your eye that controls acute vision), which typically occurs
later in life. ARMD is the leading cause of blindness today.
macular membranes contain several carotenoid pigments called xanthophylls
lutein, zeaxanthin, and possibly astaxanthin, if you're getting
it as part of your diet. These special pigments help
protect your eyes from damage by slowing down ultraviolet-induced
oxidation of lipid membranes, thereby helping prevent degeneration
of your macula.
xanthophylls may be effective in preventing cataracts. Spirulina
provides 3,750 to 6,000 mcg zeaxanthin per serving size (3 grams).
Eggs are another excellent source of both lutein and zeaxanthin
(200mcg zeaxanthin per yolk). Astaxathin is also another marine
based nutrient that is in the carotenoid family and is also a potent
preventor of ARMD.
and Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes
is an epidemic in the Western world today. It is really a cluster
of related pathologies, including insulin resistance, obesity, dyslipidemia
and hypertension. Spirulina has been shown to benefit diabetics
in the following ways:
systemic inflammation. (Insulin resistance has come to be associated
with a state of systemic low-grade inflammation.)
altering your lipid profile by reducing serum triglycerides and
vasodilation in those who are obese as a result of high fructose
diets (which has benefits for diabetics, as well as for those
with hypertension and cardiovascular disease).
and Your Cardiovascular Health
cardiovascular health are intimately connected, so it's no surprise
that spirulina shows great potential for people with cardiovascular
disease, in terms of creating better lipid profiles, controlling
hypertension, and increasing blood vessel elasticity. Diabetic patients
given 2 grams per day of spirulina showed improved glycosylated
hemoglobin and better lipid profiles in this
2001 study. And in this
study of the Mexican population, 4.5 grams per day of spirulina
significantly reduced serum triglyceride levels and total cholesterol,
boosted HDL, and reduced blood pressure in test subjects.
It is thought
that the lipid action of spirulina may be due to its phycocyanin
content, which inhibits pancreatic lipase activity, and this in
turn causes higher excretion of triglycerides through your feces.
animal study, spirulina prevented hypertension and vasoconstriction
in rats fed fructose-rich diets, but rats fed fructose-rich diets
without spirulina had those adverse health effects. Hamsters consuming
spirulina were protected from developing atherosclerosis in this
and Your Liver
of fats in your liver is closely associated with metabolic syndrome
and strongly raises your risk for dying from cardiovascular disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common cause
of chronic liver disease in North America and notoriously difficult
to treat, at least with traditional medical measures.
suggest spirulina can protect your liver, probably as a result of
its high antioxidant properties and its ability to synthesize or
release nitric oxide. Studies show that spirulina does
the following for your liver:
the buildup of triglycerides in your liver
your liver from damage by heavy metals, like lead and mercury
and Your Brain
The third leading
cause of death in the U.S. is stroke. Diets high in antioxidants
have been shown to lower your risk for stroke. Two studies (one
in the Journal
of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the other in the British
Journal of Nutrition) showed that Spirulina reduces platelet
aggregation, which plays an important role in vascular diseases
by reducing your risk for thromboembolism.
study, three antioxidant-rich diets (blueberries, spinach, and
spirulina) were compared for their neuroprotective effects. Spirulina
was found to have the highest neuroprotective effect, possibly due
to its ability to squelch free radicals and reduce inflammation.
And in an Oregon
State University study of rats that had induced strokes, the
group fed spirulina showed brains lesions that were 75 percent smaller
than those in control groups.
is one major source of inflammation, and in your brain, it can result
in loss of dopamine neurons and lead to neurodegenerative disorders
such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. An enzyme complex called NADPH
oxidase has been shown to play a role in these diseases, and the
phycocyanin in spirulina can suppress NADPH oxidase, lowering
your risk for these age-related brain diseases. (I will go into
this further in the next section.)
studies, diets enriched with spirulina were found to reverse
the inflammation that can lead to diminished neurogenesis (production
of new neurons), which is another factor in degenerative diseases
of the brain. Bob
Capelli, of Cyanotech Corporation said:
has long been associated with immune building and anti-viral properties,
eye and brain health and cardiovascular health, but we now see that
spirulina also has anti-inflammatory properties through this research
on one of the principal constituents in spirulina, phycocyanin.
study isolates the mechanism of action for phycocyanin
as an anti-inflammatory."
a little more at the antioxidant properties of spirulina
in particular, its special pigmented component, phycocyanobilin.
contained in spirulina is a close chemical relative of bilirubin.
In mammalian cells, phycocyanobilin is converted into phycocyanorubin,
a compound nearly identical to bilirubin. Bilirubin is the chemical
responsible for the yellow color of bruises, urine, and jaundice
and occurs as a breakdown product of your red blood cells (heme).
When a newborn baby gets jaundice, he is placed under "bili lights"
in the hospital nursery to prevent brain damage (kernicterus), if
his bilirubin levels become too high. The lights break down the
bilirubin so it can be excreted.
at appropriate levels, has a strong free radial scavenging effect.
scientists were not aware that bilirubin may actually have anti-inflammatory,
antioxidant, and atheroprotective properties and there is
a growing body of scientific and clinical evidence to support this.
From an evolutionary/biological perspective, it makes sense that
nature would have created
a way for your body to break down heme, which can be toxic if
The way bilirubin
is thought to provide these health benefits is through its ability
to inhibit NADPH oxidase, a metabolic enzyme that is activated in
a large number of pathological conditions and generates a great
deal of oxidative stress in your body. In fact, NADPH overactivity
appears to play a significant roll in a wide range of adverse health
conditions, including but not limited to the following:
diseases and vascular complications of other diseases (diabetes,
kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, etc.)
disorders, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
- Many human
to be a chemical that can be helpful or harmful, depending on how
much of it is circulating at the time, so it needs to be carefully
regulated by your body. For example, NADPH oxidase plays a key role
in helping your immune system fight bacteria and helps your T-cells
to function properly.
follows then that preventing many chronic diseases would require
finding a means of inhibiting or modulating NADPH oxidase.
now believed to assist with this modulating effect.
Gilbert Syndrome comprise 5-10% of the population and illustrate
this phenomenon very nicely they are genetically predisposed
to chronically elevated levels of unconjugated bilirubin. These
individuals, having two to three times as much bilirubin as the
rest of us, enjoy a greatly reduced risk for coronary artery disease,
hypertension and carotid atherosclerosis, and these
protections are thought to be related to their high bilirubin levels.
I happen to be one of those with Gilbert's and did not realize
until reviewing the research for this article that my elevated bilirubin
levels were actually a major benefit.
is a very close relative of bilirubin and spirulina is a
great source of phycocyanobilin spirulina
has enormous clinical potential due to its NADPH oxidase inhibiting
effect. This is why phycocyanobilin has been the focus of a
large amount of research of late. Phycobilin extracts have been
shown to inhibit NADPH oxidase activity in human aortic endothelium,
aortic smooth muscle, and renal cell cultures. And bilirubin protects
against diabetic nephropathy via downregulation of NADPH oxidase
evidence for spirulina's health benefits is abundant, frequently
showing remarkable clinical results. And spirulina's safety is equally
impressive! Rodents show no ill effects when fed diets very high
in Spirulina. And remember, it was a major component of the Aztec
even good for your pet (be he dog, cat, bird, fish or reptile) promoting
a strong immune system, a healthy coat, heart and joint health,
and even fresher breath which is why I now offer SpiruGreen
Superfood for Pets. It appears this is a near-perfect food for
everyone in your family one more natural way to take charge
of your health.
2011 Dr. Joseph Mercola
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