Getting the Scoop on Spirulina

Is Spirulina safe
Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

Are you wondering if you should incorporate Spirulina into your SuperFoods diet? Is Spirulina safe, and what the heck is it, anyway? Here’s the deal:

Spirulina is a form of blue-green algae that does boast a pretty big bang of SuperFoodiness. It’s high in protein; in fact, according to our friends at the University of Maryland, it’s composed of 62% amino acids, the protein builders.  Spirulina is also a potent antioxidant, helping to keep inflammation and oxidative damage at bay. It’s also a rich source vitamins A and E, and minerals such as copper, zinc, and selenium. Sounds good, right?

Hold your horses, there is a small catch. Because there are many types of blue-green algae — some safe, some not — there have been reported cases of health problems linked to contaminated Spirulina supplements. Some batches of Spirulina have accidentally contained other types of toxic blue-green algae.  The resultant health problems have ranged from liver dysfunction and neurologic problems, to potential problems in newborns whose mother’s took Spirulina during pregnancy.

If you’re going to incorporate Spirulina into your diet, make sure the brand is third party tested for contaminants; that means it was studied by a company that didn’t get paid by the manufacturer. This might involve a bit of research on the part of you, the consumer. You should also talk to your doctor about it if you are pregnant or might become pregnant.

As it happens, Spirulina has quite a potent taste. Not many people I know are scarfing it down because of that. So here’s a thought, maybe skip it in lieu of safer green SuperFoods like kale, chard, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, and collard greens. On the whole, they’re a bit tastier, and less risky.

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