Is Spirulina An Antioxidant? Can It Fight Off Cell Damage?

is spirulina an antioxidant

Article at a glance:

  • Antioxidants play an immensely important role in protecting our bodies from chronic diseases.
  • Various studies have shown vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients (especially phycocyanin) naturally found in spirulina may have potent antioxidant activity.
  • Is the spirulina antioxidant profile enough to enhance the body’s fight against oxidative stress that causes cell damage?


Out of all the nutrients that need to be in your diet, antioxidants are the ones you can’t skip. While the human body can make some antioxidants to protect the cells, that may not be enough to stop free radicals from causing severe cell damage.

This is where antioxidant-rich supplements become incredibly helpful. So keep reading as we dive deep into the question, is spirulina an antioxidant?


Spirulina as a Superfood


Centuries before the term “superfood” was coined, it can be said that spirulina was already considered one. Aztec messengers going on marathons in the 16th century used spirulina as a food source to boost endurance.

Now, we have a much better understanding of why spirulina has joined the list of superfoods and why scientists have paid attention to the health benefits of spirulina over the past decades.

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that can naturally grow in freshwater. However, it’s been widely cultivated in shallow bodies of water that mimic the conditions of alkaline lakes and ponds. It’s one of the algal food sources with a high protein content, which accounts for 60% of its dry weight. It’s a great protein source for people on a plant-based diet or if you’re looking to hit your daily protein target without increasing your calorie and fat intake.

Spirulina contains both non-essential and essential amino acids and several healthy fatty acids. It’s surprisingly rich in gamma-linoleic acid (GLA) that may improve inflammation, among other health benefits.

If we’re talking about spirulina’s antioxidant properties, though, we should pay close attention to the vitamins and minerals present in this superfood. Nutritional analyses of spirulina and supplements made with blue-green algae indicate they contain several vitamins and minerals with antioxidant activity.

This raises the question, is spirulina an antioxidant?


What Are Antioxidants and Free Radicals?


Before we elaborate on spirulina’s antioxidant properties, let’s discuss free radicals and antioxidants first.


Are Free Radicals Bad?


Free radicals are molecules missing an electron, making them unstable or highly reactive. The by-products from various metabolic processes called reactive oxygen species (ROS) are a commonly discussed type of free radicals.

Having one or more unpaired electrons makes free radicals want to achieve stability. They can do that by behaving as oxidizing agents, a.k.a. oxidants. That’s when they steal electrons from cells and other molecules, making them free radicals. This creates a chain of reaction that can lead to further damage.

Various external factors we may be constantly exposed to can cause an overdrive in producing free radicals. Bigger problems can start when free radicals accumulate and remain unbridled. Some of these factors include cigarette smoke, environmental pollutants, excessive radiation, and harmful chemicals.

When the activity of free radicals becomes too much for the body to neutralize, that’s when oxidative stress may occur and cause damage to our cells. Free radicals left unhampered can also damage other beneficial molecules in the body, like DNA, proteins, and lipids.

That explains why free radical damage or oxidative stress may increase the risks of chronic illnesses like cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and degenerative health conditions.


How Do Antioxidants Help vs. Free Radicals?


What Are Antioxidants and Free Radicals?


Antioxidants, ironically, have uneven electrons as well. However, antioxidants protect us from oxidative stress by behaving differently from free radicals. Instead of accepting electrons, antioxidants essentially donate electrons to unstable free radicals. This can disrupt the reaction chain created by reactive oxygen species that may cause cell damage and ruin molecular compounds in the body.

The body can produce antioxidants like glutathione and alpha lipoic acid. But when there’s an overload of free radicals, that’s when an imbalance occurs, and we may not have enough antioxidants to neutralize ROS and oxidative stress.

Consuming foods rich in antioxidants like vitamins A, C, E, and zinc is very important. Unfortunately, keeping up with the antioxidants we need with just our typical daily diet may be difficult. That’s when you can turn to dietary supplements that contain multiple vitamins and minerals with antioxidant activity. The good news is you can get these antioxidant-boosting nutrients from one source from just one supplement daily, thanks to spirulina.


What Antioxidants Does Spirulina Have?


What’s the spirulina antioxidant profile?

To appreciate spirulina’s antioxidant properties, we must look into the components naturally present in the blue-green algae. Multiple studies found some of these pigments and phytonutrients possess great antioxidant potential.




Cyanobacteria, like spirulina species, are rich in phycocyanin, which gives them their blue color, although that’s not its only purpose. Many health benefits found in spirulina supplements have been associated with their high nutritional value, particularly their phycocyanin content.

Studies have also shown that this pigment is vital in spirulina’s antioxidant, immune-boosting, and anti-inflammatory properties. Phycocyanin is found to help fight free radicals as well as inhibit lipid peroxidation.

An early study revealed phycocyanin’s antioxidant potential. Results of the study indicated that phycocyanin can scavenge hydroxyl and peroxyl radicals, which are both known to be reactive and can induce DNA and cell damage.

One in vitro study found that C-phycocyanin from Spirulina platensis has great antioxidant potential and a metal-chelating ability.

This supports earlier findings that suggested spirulina has more potent free radical scavenging activity than some cyanobacteria.


Beta Carotene


Beta carotene is one of the notable carotenoids naturally found in spirulina. By itself, beta carotene is an established antioxidant known to protect the body from free radical damage, especially against reactive oxygen species.

A study focused on the Spirulina maxima species noted that beta carotene is one of the main components in spirulina, along with phenolic acids and α-Tocopherol, that gives the microalga its antioxidant properties.


Other Phytonutrients and Compounds Antioxidant Properties


Aside from the phycocyanins and beta carotene in spirulina, research has also attributed the microalga’s antioxidant potential to other phytonutrients. These include other notable carotenoids like zeaxanthin and the superoxide dismutase enzyme.

Zeaxanthin does well in donating its extra electron to unstable molecules, which may have positive effects against oxidative stress. It’s also shown an ability to stimulate the production of the endogenous antioxidant glutathione.

You might not hear much about the group of enzymes called superoxide dismutase, but it plays an incredible role in protecting cells from oxidative stress. It scavenges reactive oxygen species and facilitates the dismutation of superoxide anions, turning them into hydrogen peroxide. They’re neutralized before they can cause free radical damage.

Research reports that 1 gram of spirulina powder may contain 9 mg zeaxanthin and 1,080 units of superoxide dismutase.

It’s also noted that the same supplement dosage can contain as much as 519 mg total phycocyanins, 6.8 mg beta carotene, and 15 mg total carotenoids.


Antioxidant Vitamins and Minerals


Spirulina’s antioxidant properties have also been linked to the bioavailability of well-known antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The study on Spirulina maxima extracts also revealed that they contain tocopherols, which are forms of vitamin E that famously have radical scavenging capabilities.

Researchers particularly found spirulina extract to contain α-tocopherol. Various studies on this form of vitamin E suggest that it may help inhibit the formation of cancer in animal models.

Studies have pointed out that one of the health benefits of spirulina could be its anti-cancer properties, which are largely associated with the blue-green algae’s antioxidants.

Spirulina platensis water extracts demonstrated that its components may be able to inhibit the spread of colon and liver cancers. Selenium, a mineral with antioxidant activity, was also found to improve spirulina’s anti-cancer potential. In one study, Spirulina platensis enriched with the mineral inhibited the growth of human breast cancer cells.

Another research found that phycocyanin with selenium has the ability to stop the proliferation of human melanoma A375 cells and human breast adenocarcinoma MCF-7 cells.


Health Benefits From Spirulina Antioxidant Properties


Does spirulina have antioxidant activity?

Many of the studies that observed spirulina antioxidant activity were done in vitro and on animal models. However, they still present a compelling case that supports spirulina’s antioxidant properties.

So, is spirulina an antioxidant?

The rich source of pigments, carotenoids, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients in the microalgae spirulina somewhat makes it an excellent option for an antioxidant boost.

The studies done for phycocyanin, beta carotene, the enzyme superoxide dismutase, vitamin E, and minerals found they each have potent antioxidant properties.

Spirulina may not be an antioxidant per se.It may provide additional antioxidant intake if you feel you’re not getting enough of these nutrients from your usual diet.

Ensuring we get enough antioxidants means our body’s cells and important molecules may get ample protection from free radicals. This may improve our chances of keeping chronic diseases at bay.


Frequently Asked Questions


Is It Good to Take Spirulina Daily?


Yes. One advantage of spirulina is that it’s one of the algae superfoods that the FDA has given GRAS classification, which means Generally Recognized as Safe.

Simply put, spirulina supplements are considered generally safe even for daily consumption. However, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider to discuss how long you may take spirulina as a dietary supplement.


How Much Spirulina to Take Per Day?


How Much Spirulina To Take Per Day?


Most trusted brands for spirulina products recommend taking 3 to 5 grams per day for adults. However, many clinical trials for spirulina supplementation administered higher doses to human participants.

A dose of 19 grams of spirulina daily when supplementing for a shorter period (i.e., two months) is considered safe. If you plan to include spirulina in your routine for up to six months, up to 10 grams daily may also be safe.

Consulting a healthcare provider should provide more guidance specific to your health condition.


What Is the Best Form of Spirulina to Take?


Spirulina tablets and spirulina powder are the most common forms of the supplement. There’s not much difference in their effect, although you might find it easier to consume a spirulina tablet without worrying about its taste.

You should pay closer attention to the quality of the spirulina supplement, whether you’re buying it in tablet form or as a powder.

The best supplements contain pure and organic spirulina.

You should also look for other certifications like the GMP or Good Manufacturing Practices badge indicating that the spirulina supplement was processed in hygienic facilities.


Should You Take Spirulina for an Antioxidant Boost?


There’s a good chance you’re wondering if spirulina is an antioxidant because of your concern that you’re not getting enough of it to fight free radicals.

Health conditions ranging from chronic inflammation, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and hypertension have all been linked to oxidative stress that causes cell damage. So, it wouldn’t hurt to get extra nutritional support and an antioxidant boost by adding spirulina to your routine. A balanced diet still takes utmost importance in getting essential nutrients. However, the truth is it can be difficult for many of us to keep track of whether we’re getting enough antioxidants from our diet.

Fortunately, scientific research has so far provided encouraging results regarding spirulina’s antioxidant properties. These studies and spirulina’s recognized safety provide us with an amazing option to boost our antioxidant intake.

With the impressive nutritional value of spirulina, the list of its potential health benefits goes on and on. Apart from its antioxidant capacity, multiple studies found consuming spirulina may help improve cholesterol levels, boost the immune system, manage high blood pressure, and more.

More importantly, spirulina supplements have been recognized as safe if you purchase high-quality spirulina products from trusted brands and health food stores. Starting your spirulina consumption may yield more health benefits and a much-needed antioxidant boost.


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John Riedl

Simply put that’s why I’ve gone down the health journey of research and creating health brands.

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