Spirulina Special Report: Should we give it to the children of the Fukushima accident? [Part 1]

Up until now I have tried to keep this blog very focused on things related to sweets, but I felt a need to make an exception. This is the first part of a special series of posts on spirulina. I will be posting the others shortly. The full set of references will be saved to the last post which should be available within a week.

I have written the full article as a unit, but because it extends over 2000 words I thought it would be easier to digest in several parts. 

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Recently I came across an article which made claims that Spirulina reversed radiation damage in children and should be given to the children of Fukushima who are struggling through this terrible accident. I had only heard of Spirulina in passing, but I decided to do some research on it to determine whether it really made sense to start giving it to Japanese children.

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium which is identified by some sources as a blue-green algae, although some disagree and claim it is technically not algae. In any case, it was harvested from Lake Texcoco by Aztecs up until the 16th century and is generally thought be very nutritionally rich. Approximately 60% of it is a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids, and there is a large variety of lipids (GLA, ALA, LA, etc.) as well as vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid, etc.) and minerals (potassium, calcium, iron, etc.), among others.

With such a rich nutrient profile, Spirulina has been called “The Magic Food”, a “Superfood”, and even “The Most Nutritious Food On the Planet”.
As you can imagine, many companies have taken advantage of this and selling nutrient supplements of Spirulia, either by itself or with other nutrients added in. If you do a web search you will find hundreds, if not thousands of articles talking about its myriad of health benefits.

Though there is some exaggeration of “amazing” health benefits, and even some have even claimed Spirulina is a flat out scam, there is no doubt to me that there is abundant nutrition in this cyanobacterium. In fact, many types of algae are known to be nutritionally rich and are consumed by many countries. China consumes over 70 species and Japan over 20, including nori, aonori, and wakame.

Some of the various health claims for spirulina are backed by scientific studies. In this series of articles I’d like to focus on the studies and evidence which indicate it has a beneficial effect on radiation victims.

Before I talk about specific studies, I decided I would check to see what medical institutions had to say about Spirulina. First of all, the US National Library of Medicine’s website on Spirulina, last updated 12/09/2011, does not mention anything about effects of reversing radiation damage. It only lists a set of serious medical ailments (diabetes, depression, weight loss, etc.) and notes that there is insufficient medical evidence to rate effectiveness regarding treatment of these. It also remarks that contaminants, such as toxic microcystins and bacteria, maybe present in spirulina so one should be careful to obtain safe spirulina without these, especially when children are consuming it. This is not empty paranoia – in a study published in 2012, several Spirulina products marketed in China were found to have excessive lead.

The US National Library of Medicine also makes an important statement about spirulina as a protein source: “You may have been told that blue-green algae are an excellent source of protein. But, in reality, blue-green algae is no better than meat or milk as a protein source and costs about 30 times as much per gram”. Take note of this, I’ll come back to it a little later.

The University of Maryland Medical Center web site lists similar precautions about contaminants, and also lists a few preliminary studies that give evidence for spirulina’s positive effects on oral cancer, liver disorders, and other ailments. However there is no discussion about its radio-protective properties.

Using Amazon’s online search tool, I also did some searching through the 2007 published work “Spirulina in Human Nutrition and Health”, but was only able to find mention of spirulina’s radio-protective effect with respect to studies about mice and dogs. There was discussion about a study which showed good results for spirulina helping pulmonary function and Immunoglobulin E (an antibody related to allergies) levels.

Searching around the net, I found many articles which referred to Spirulina’s benefical effects of protecting from or reversing problems caused by radiation. However if you look closely into the studies quoted, most of them are either done in test tubes on or animals, were unpublished, or were studies where spirulina was used in combination with other suppliments.

(To be continued in a followup post)

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About locksleyu

I've been studying Japanese for over 15 years and like to try and help others learn this difficult language.

Posted on December 2, 2013, in ingredient science and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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