Article at a glance:
- Spirulina’s wide array of nutrients indicates its potential to improve immune responses in both human and animal studies.
- Existing research suggests that spirulina’s antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties contribute to the superfood’s benefits to the immune system.
- Various studies also showed the potential benefits of spirulina for the immune system may range from fighting infections to antiviral activities.
Spirulina has been regarded as one of the most nutritious superfoods because it’s packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. It’s widely researched for its potential health benefits, so you may wonder if taking spirulina for the immune system is good.
Today, let’s look at this wonderful blue-green algae. With available research, let’s explore the potentially impeccable link between supplementing your diet with spirulina and your immune system.
What Is Spirulina?
In recent years, you may have heard of spirulina as a dietary supplement, tablet, capsule, or powder. However, this superfood has been used as a nutritious food source for centuries.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that has been consumed by humans as early as the 16th century by the Aztecs.
While the nutritional composition of spirulina was not yet clear then as it is now, spirulina was consumed by Aztec messengers when going on marathons for its perceived effect on stamina.
It’s a multicellular cyanobacteria that can grow naturally in freshwater. But it’s been cultivated for decades since the demand for it as a dietary supplement grew over the years.
Nowadays, it’s much easier to incorporate spirulina into our diet because you can consume it as a tablet supplement. Spirulina powder is also widely available, making blending into smoothies, juices, and soups easier.
Spirulina continues to be one of the most well-known superfoods because it’s incredibly packed with nutrients. For instance, it’s a fantastic source of vegan protein, as spirulina was found to contain up to 70% protein.
Scientists have also been studying this superfood because it contains various vitamins, minerals, amino acids, carotenoids, and fatty acids.
These nutritional components could explain the long list of potential health benefits of spirulina on the immune system and other key aspects of human health.
Why Should You Pay Attention to Your Immune System?
Whenever health and lifestyle are being discussed, there’s always a good chance that “strengthening the immune system” will be mentioned.
That’s because the immune system involves various organs, antibodies or proteins, and white blood cells. They function together to fight harmful germs, bacteria, and other parasites that could cause diseases.
Humans have two immune systems at work. The first is the innate immune system. This is what we’re born with and acts as the body’s first line of defense against harmful foreign invaders. It comprises body organs and substances that act as barriers, such as the skin, gastric acid, mucus membrane, and cornea.
The other one is the acquired or adapted immune system. A healthy immune system can keep track of the specific germs and foreign invaders it fought before. This allows the acquired immune system to produce proteins known as antibodies to fight those pathogens.
The immune system is the body’s line of defense against germs, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other parasites, where diseases often begin.
The body has its mechanisms to protect itself through the innate immune system. Factors like age, lifestyle habits, diet, environmental pollutants, and chronic diseases could weaken these defenses over time.
That’s why the immune system, as amazing as it is, may need a little boost, which you can do by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and supplementing your diet.
Promising Spirulina Benefits for the Immune System
Does spirulina help the immune system?
For most of the health benefits of spirulina, every discussion starts with the nutrients present in the superfood — and there’s a lot!
Various animal and human clinical studies also showed spirulina’s positive effects on different immune factors.
Research with rat models found that spirulina supplementation can stop the release of histamine induced by allergens. In higher doses, spirulina also exhibited the potential to avoid anaphylaxis and death in animal subjects.
Similar results were observed in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 150 human subjects experiencing allergic rhinitis. Participants were supplemented with 2,000 mg spirulina per day. After six months, their symptoms significantly improved, including sneezing, nasal congestion, nasal discharge, and itchiness.
An earlier study also noted that spirulina may help increase the immunoglobulin A (IgA) level in human saliva. IgA is a vital antibody in the mucous membrane that fights the invasion of bad bacteria and viruses, making it an essential part of the immune system.
While the available scientific evidence is a mix of human and animal studies, most show that spirulina supplementing has promising effects. Many of the results we’ll share below may help explain how spirulina boosts the immune system.
Nutrient-Dense Superfood for Immune Health
Does spirulina boost the immune system?
Specifically for spirulina’s potential benefits to our immune response, we can pay closer attention to vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and zinc. These are some of the nutrients that are highly important in boosting the immune system.
A nutritional analysis of spirulina revealed that it contains the mentioned vitamins. The research found B vitamins, including vitamins B6, B12, B1, B2, and B3, and vitamin E and provitamin A.
Meanwhile, nutritional information from the USDA also confirms you can get some vitamin C from taking spirulina.
Aside from zinc, spirulina was also found to contain other essential minerals that support immune functions naturally.
These minerals include:
- Calcium — helps balance the body’s immune response when fighting infections
- Potassium — regulates immune functions and defense against harmful bacteria
- Phosphorus — found to support digestive and immune functions in animal studies
Healthy pigments (mainly phycocyanin) and carotenoids, including beta carotene, were also rich in spirulina.
Most spirulina supplements in the market appear in green powder and tablets.
So, you may think chlorophyll is also this superfood’s main pigment component. That’s not the case, though.
The same analysis found that in a 1-gram sample of spirulina, there is 180mg phycocyanin and only 11 mg chlorophyll.
Studies have shown that phycocyanin provides powerful anti-inflammatory activities, which in turn may help enhance the body’s immune functions.
Powerful Antioxidant Support
Does spirulina help your immune system with antioxidants?
We know the human body needs antioxidants, but what exactly do they do? Antioxidants are substances that help neutralize free radicals, which can go into overdrive, leading to oxidative stress that causes cell damage. In worse cases, this damage could also lead to chronic diseases.
Overall, the role of antioxidants in fighting free radicals before they wreak havoc and damage immune cells explains its importance in improving your immune system.
Vitamin C and E are likely the most well-known antioxidants, although we can get way more antioxidants from the food and supplements we consume. Zinc is also one of the minerals with antioxidant properties. Meanwhile, one animal study found that selenium-enriched spirulina supplements helped improve immunity, antioxidant response, and intestinal health in Asian seabass subjects.
Beta carotene, one of the carotenoids present in spirulina, also has excellent antioxidant activity. Phycocyanin, which is more abundant in spirulina and other cyanobacteria, also demonstrated antioxidant properties in various studies. One study revealed that the blue-green algae pigment can scavenge free radicals and inhibit lipid peroxidation.
We can get various nutrients with antioxidant properties from the food we eat. However, we’re also constantly exposed to environmental stressors like UV rays and pollution, mental stress, certain medications, crops treated with pesticides, and more.
These things can exacerbate free radical activity in the body, hence the need for antioxidant supplementation.
Improve Immune Functions for Healthy Aging
Does spirulina boost your immune system as you age?
Changes in the innate immune system caused by aging, causing immunosenescence, have been linked to older populations’ higher susceptibility to infections and chronic diseases. The emphasis on supporting the immune system through diet supplementation and a healthy lifestyle becomes even more important as we age.
Evidence suggests that spirulina improves the immune system of older adults.
A clinical trial with Korean participants ages 60 to 87 found that supplementing 8 g spirulina daily for 16 weeks helped increase plasma levels of interleukin-2 (IL-2), which stimulates the growth of peripheral immune cells. The dietary supplementation of spirulina also reportedly led to significant improvements in lipid profile and antioxidant activity.
In a study, participants with a mean age of 63 and a history of anemia consumed six tablets of 500 mg spirulina daily for 12 weeks. After 6 and 12 weeks, researchers observed improvements in immune functions. There was an increase in indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) enzymes, which protect the body against pathogens. Higher levels of white blood cells were also observed in the same period in more than half of the participants, particularly in male subjects.
A steady increase in the average mean corpuscular hemoglobin was also noted after 12 weeks of spirulina supplementation. While this improvement was observed in both sexes, scientists noted that the increase in hemoglobin occurred faster in the female participants.
Potential to Fight Infections
Is spirulina an antiviral?
Fighting pathogens before infection happens is a huge chunk of the immune system’s work.
A healthy immune system also works even when infections have already occurred to help the body heal. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, especially for immunocompromised patients with immune deficiency disorders.
Antiviral and antiretroviral medications already exist for most of these diseases. And, to be clear, spirulina supplements are not antiviral medications. However, spirulina’s potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and its components encouraged studies exploring its antiviral potential by improving immune functions. Such potential was supported in both animal and human clinical studies.
A study with mice models fed Spirulina platensis suggested that the blue-green algae may improve immune functions by stimulating Interleukin-1 (IL-1) production and macrophage functions. Polysaccharides available in Spirulina maxima also exhibited antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus 2 and adenovirus.
One study instructed HIV-1 patients to consume 10 g of spirulina daily with their antiretroviral therapy (ART) and a balanced diet for six months. They were then monitored for a total of 12 months. Compared to participants who only took ART and balanced nutrition, the spirulina group had less p24 antigen, which is the viral protein found in infected cells. Participants who consumed spirulina also had increased levels of CD4+T cells, which play various immune functions, including stimulating the innate immune system.
Antimicrobial Support for the Immune System
Is spirulina a natural antibiotic?
You may be reminded of various medications when you hear “antibiotics,” but generally, it pertains to substances with active antimicrobial activities. Essentially, antibiotics are treatments that can be taken orally, topically, and through injections or IV.
Spirulina extract and other compounds have demonstrated incredible antimicrobial activities. Some studies found spirulina to be more efficient than chlorella in fighting bacteria, such as E. coli and Salmonella spp.
Researchers suggested that spirulina’s antimicrobial properties may be attributed to its natural phenolic content. Results of another study revealed that Spirulina platensis extract could inhibit bacterial isolates, although it worked more effectively when combined with other antibiotic medications.
Despite these promising results, we still need more studies to accurately and definitively refer to spirulina as an “antibiotic” medication. However, the evidence suggests Spirulina platensis may boost the immune system’s defense against harmful bacteria.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Spirulina Good When You’re Sick?
Fever is one of the most common symptoms of cold and flu, which are both commonly caused by infections.
Increased body temperature is actually an immune response because it makes it harder for bacteria and germs to thrive. This means even when you have already caught the common cold or flu, your immune system is working harder to fight the infection so you can recover.
So your body, particularly the immune system, needs all the help it can get. Aside from cold and flu medications, a healthy diet, and enough rest, it wouldn’t hurt to take spirulina for the immune system.
Additionally, a 2006 animal study found that spirulina extract helps reduce virus replication in mice models with influenza at the early stage of infection.
How Many Spirulina Tablets Should I Take Per Day?
A spirulina tablet can contain 250 mg, 500 mg, or 1,000 mg of the blue-green algae superfood. The number of tablets you should take will vary based on the particular spirulina product you purchased.
Generally, if you’re taking spirulina for the immune system or its other health benefits, start with the standard daily dose between 1 and 8 grams. If you’re new to taking spirulina supplements, it’s best to read the label to know the recommended daily serving. The NIH also noted that higher doses of up to 19 grams of spirulina daily for short-term consumption are safe.
However, if you have health concerns or are taking maintenance medications, it’s best to consult your doctor before adding spirulina supplements to your diet.
How Long Does It Take for Spirulina to Start Working?
Taking spirulina for the immune system should be considered a routine that will pay off over time. Don’t worry; you may notice some of its benefits and health improvements in a few weeks to a month of daily spirulina supplementation.
Consistency is key to reap its benefits. Ensure consistency once you’ve decided and confirmed with your healthcare provider that spirulina would be an awesome addition to your diet.
Don’t Miss Out on the Healthy Benefits of Spirulina for the Immune System
Is spirulina good for the immune system? Many scientific studies suggest it is, pointing to spirulina’s impressive health benefits.
Nowadays, when everything is fast-paced, paying close attention to our health can be difficult. While we still must strive to maintain a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet, including natural dietary supplements like spirulina would be a huge help.
Research has shown that its chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that contribute to its antioxidant and antibacterial properties.
Its components, like phycocyanin, along with amino acids, fatty acids, and carotenoids, also contribute to its potential anti-inflammatory benefits. All these combined would be a huge help to support the immune system.
For the best experience, only buy spirulina products that are 100% pure, certified organic, and processed with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification.