Spirulina's Nutritional Analysis
The blue-green algae, and Spirulina in particular, have a primitive structure with few starch storage cells and cell membrane proliferation, but rich amounts of ribosomes, the cellular bodies that manufacture protein. This particular arrangement of cellular components allows for rapid photosynthesis and formation of proteins. The lack of hard cellular walls assures that Spirulina protein is rapidly and easily assimilated by consuming organisms.
Spirulina is approximately 65 to 71 percent protein, depending on growing conditions. These proteins are biologically complete, which means they provide all eight essential amino acids in the proper ratios. Furthermore, spirulina provides all the required amino acids in a form that is easier to digest than meat or soy protein.
These eight essential amino acids are found in Spirulina:
These are the non-essential amino acids supplied by Spirulina:
Spirulina supplies ten of the twelve non-essential amino acids. "Non-essential" does not mean that these amino acids are not needed by the body, but merely indicates that the body can synthesize them itself if it needs to do so, provided the appropriate nutritional building blocks are available. Nevertheless, the body is better served if these excellent protein components are readily and totally available in dietary sources, since all the amino acids must be on hand as the cells manufacture enzymes, proteins, hormones, brain chemicals and the other products of metabolism. Of the thousands of biochemical substances acting and interacting in the human body, not one is derived from a vacuum; the body is ultimately dependent upon nutrient intake for all of its functions.
Although proteins are the building blocks of life, many trace minerals can profoundly effect health and metabolism.
The waters Spirulina favors are so saturated with minerals deposited from ancient soils and mountains that no other plants can live there. Because Spirulina thrives in such alkaline waters, it incorporates and synthesizes many minerals and derivative compounds into its cell structure.
Transformed into natural organic forms by Spirulina, minerals become chelated with amino acids and are therefore more easily assimilated by the body. Many times people have ingested large amounts of inorganic minerals without benefit to health because the body does not know what to do with these incompatible forms. In fact, evidence is accumulating that the inorganic minerals can block absorption of the organic forms, leading ultimately to mineral deficiency diseases.
Spirulina contains essential minerals and trace elements absorbed from its growth medium into chelated, easily absorbed forms:
Spirulina supplies several of the vitamins that all living beings need to carry on metabolic processes:
Some substances in plant foods are not true vitamins, but provide the precursors from which the body can then synthesize the appropriate vitamins. The carotenoid compounds of Spirulina are of this nature, since they are used to produce vitamin A.
True vitamin A is found in the pre-formed state only in animal sources, such as liver. This is the form of vitamin A sometimes associated with toxicity and overdose, since it is fat-soluble and is not readily excreted from the body.
In contrast, the carotenoid complexes found in vegetable foods are converted to vitamin A only as it is needed, thus minimizing the dangers of toxicity. Spirulina and other algae are a primary source of vitamin A precursors - it is from algae carotenoids that fish livers derive and concentrate vitamin A.
Spirulina contains the yellow/orange pigments cryptoxanthine and beta-carotene from which vitamin A can be made. Spirulina contains carotenoids in these forms:
While the protein, mineral and vitamin value of Spirulina is impressive, this minute organism is also rich in pigments that are bio-chemically important to life. Without pigments, organisms could not synthesize many of the enzymes necessary for balancing metabolism.
The most visible pigment in Spirulina is chlorophyll, a green molecule common to plants. It releases ions when struck by the energy of sunlight. These free ions proceed to stimulate the biochemical reactions that form proteins, vitamins and sugars.
Chlorophyll is sometimes called `green blood" because of its similarity to the hemoglobin molecule found in human blood cells. In fact, both are constructed of almost identical molecular structure called pyrrole rings, and both substances are chemically known as "porphyrin pigments" by scientists.
The difference is that chlorophyll contains a magnesium ion at its core, while hemoglobin contains an iron molecule. Magnesium imparts a green color to the chlorophyll molecule and is involved in synthesis of other materials, while iron gives hemoglobin a red coloration and changes the function of the porphyrin molecule to respiration and breakdown of materials.
It is believed that if chlorophyll is ingested with sufficient iron, the magnesium can be displaced to yield a hemoglobin molecule. Experiments in Japan have demonstrated that Spirulina has a marked positive effect on anemia, possibly due to the conversion of chlorophyll into hemoglobin. Of course, the high nutrient density of Spirulina, especially the blood-building vitamins B12 and folic acid and the amino acids, are also useful in treating cases of anemia.
Chlorophyll has other positive benefits to the body. It increases peristaltic action and thus relieves constipation, and also normalizes the secretion of digestive acids. It soothes the inflammation and reduces the excess pepsin secretion associated with gastric ulcers.
During World War 11, the drying action of chlorophyll and its antiseptic qualities made it a common first-aid measure to prevent festering of wounds. In addition, chlorophyll soothes swelling and promotes granulation, the process that regenerates new tissue over injuries.
Chlorophyll appears to promote regeneration of damaged liver cells, and also increases circulation to all the organs by dilating blood vessels. In the heart, chlorophyll aids in transmission of nerve impulses that control contraction. The heart rate is slowed, yet each contraction is increased in power, thus improving the overall efficiency of cardiac work.
The pigment which gives Spirulina its blue cast is phycocyanin, found in concentrations of about 7 percent, compared to the I percent chlorophyll content most commonly found. Phycocyanin is related to the human pigment bilirubin, which is important to healthy liver function and digestion of amino acids.
Another important pigment is porphyrin, a red compound that forms the active nucleus of hemoglobin. Related to this structure is the polypyrrole molecule of B12, which is essential to the formation of healthy red blood cells.
These and several lesser pigments such as phycoerythrin, tetrapyrrole, phytonadione and the carotenoids are not just the "color" of living organisms, but are used to carry on metabolic processes throughout the body. Without them, enzymatic reactions would be reduced until cellular disintegration occurred.
Fats, sugars, salts and calories:
It is probably hard to imagine that a concentrated source of nutrients such as Spirulina is not also loaded with fats, starches and calories. Amazingly, Spirulina is only 7 percent lipid, and most of that is in the form of essential fatty acids that promote cholesterol normalization. The essential fatty acids sometimes called vitamin F, include linoleic, linolenic and arachidonic acid. They are used by the body to manufacture Prostaglandins, the hormonal regulators of blood pressure and capillary resilience.
The essential fatty acids are involved in respiration in all the cells, and are especially important to oxygen transport. They affect the health of the hair, skin and nails, and help break up cholesterol in the blood stream. They are not dangerous fat but are absolutely vital to health.
Spirulina contains very little starch or sugar. What carbohydrate it supplies, roughly 10 to 15 percent, is primarily in the form of rhamnose and glycogen. These two polysaccharides are easily absorbed by human cells with minimal intervention by insulin. Hence, Spirulina sugars provide speedy energy, without taxing the pancreas or precipitating hypoglycemia.
From a caloric standpoint, Spirulina nutrition is economical. There are only approximately 3.9 calories per gram of protein obtained from Spirulina. You would have to consume about 18.5 calories of raw 75% lean ground beef to obtain a gram of protein. The average 500 mg tablet of Spirulina contains only one to two calories!
Some people are concerned about sodium in their diets, and have therefore avoided seaweed foods such as nori, wakami and kombu. These kelp foods are very nutritious, but they do contain significant sodium amounts. Spirulina avoids the sodium problems of algae that grow in the sea, yielding only .206 mg of sodium per tablet. Most hypertension patients are restricted to 2,000 mg or less of sodium per day; Spirulina has such small amounts of sodium that no danger is presented to persons on a salt-restricted diet.