Author: Andrea Galizia
Date: 29/03/2012


Andrea Galizia Francesco Germinetti


Spirulina is a Microalgae that can be consumed by humans and animals. It is usually taken by humans as a nutritional supplement and is made primarily from two species of cyanobacteria: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima. These maxima and platensis species were once classified in the genus Spirulina. There is now agreement that they are in fact Arthrospira; nevertheless, and somewhat confusingly, the older term Spirulina remains in use for historical reasons.

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Bacteria
Phylum: Cyanobacteria
Order: Oscillatoriales
Family: Phormidiaceae
Genus: Arthrospira
Species (about 35):
--Arthrospira maxima
--Arthrospira platensis

Arthrospira are free-floating filamentous cyanobacteria characterized by cylindrical, multicellular trichomes in an open left-hand helix. They occur naturally in tropical and subtropical lakes with high pH and high concentrations of carbonate and bicarbonate. Arthrospira platensis occurs in Africa, Asia,South America and in Mexico in Lake Texcoco (It 's important to know that Lake Texcoco, Mexico is very polluted, so as to avoid spirulina is from this lake).
Arthrospira is cultivated worldwide; used as a dietary supplement as well as a whole food; and is available in tablet, flake and powder form. Most cultivated spirulina is produced in open channel raceway ponds, with paddle-wheels used to agitate the water. The largest commercial producers of spirulina are located in the United States, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar) and Chile.

A weapon against greenhouse effect, pollution and hunger

Spirulina grows very rapidly in very simple conditions; grows by photosynthesis, using sunlight.
Requires only water, sunlight, carbon dioxide (CO2), and minerals. There is no need that there is running water, just shake it so that it is exposed to the sun because it will grow. Three billion years ago began to generate oxygen and thus allow the formation of life. This alga is the mother of all the early forms of life.
It absorbs huge amounts of CO2 and turns it into oxygen, thereby counteracting the greenhouse effect, as do the trees, who but require much larger areas. In fact, to cancel the greenhouse effect, should be planting trees in an area that would cover more than ten times the Earth's surface. While, according to researcher Daryl Kollman, spirulina absorbs CO2 so quickly and so effectively that enough an extension of cultured spirulina than 400,000 miles, to obtain the same result. For this purpose crops of algae could be located in desert areas like the Sahara and algae harvested could provide a complete food to nourish and heal the people of the Global South who get sick and die from hunger and malnutrition. Spirulina, in fact, using sunlight, synthesizes an enormous amount of protein, vitamins, minerals and trace elements, a set of beneficial substances that can not only overcome the nutritional deficiencies of populations of the Southern Hemisphere, but also the shortcomings of Western industrialized populations to which the food is not lacking, but it is polluted with many toxic chemicals and is low in nutrients because it is refined and is produced on an industrial scale.
This is a possible, wise and simple solution to "oxygenate" the planet, to reduce the greenhouse effect and to safeguard the lives of all creatures.
In Israel, spirulina is used successfully to purify water. For example, spirulina is a good candidate to purify water from lead(Pb2+) and zinc(Zn2+).
sciencedirect: Lead biosorption and desorption by intact and pretreated spirulina maxima biomass
pubmed: Biosorption of Pb2+ and Zn2+ by Non-Living Biomass of Spirulina sp.

Nutrient and vitamin content

The dried thallus of spirulina contains the following substances:

  • Protein and amino-acid content: Spirulina contains about 60% (51–71%) protein. It is a complete protein containing all essential amino acids, though with reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine and lysine when compared to the proteins of meat, eggs and milk. It is, however, superior to typical plant protein, such as that from legumes. Wikipedia: essential amino acid.
  • Carbohydrates: spirulina contains a lot of rhamnose-rich
    polysaccharides wich protect against the cytotoxicity of AGE-products.
    Pubmed: Protection by rhamnose-rich polysaccharides.
    Spirulina also contains fiber. Despite its indigestibility (rather, thanks to it) the dietary fiber plays a physiological role is very important for many features:
    • slows down the absorption of digestible carbohydrates and lipids;
    • reduces the insulin response to a meal by means of some of its constituents;
    • reduces the plasma levels of cholesterol;
    • allows rapid attainment of a sense of satiety.
    These points are not present in a diet low in dietary fiber. Is evident that all these functions play a protective role against diseases such as diabetes mellitus, atherosclerosis and obesity.
    •A polysaccharide characteristic of the spiulina is the IMMULINA
    • The immunostimulatory effect of Spirulina is associated with a high molecular weight polysaccharide fraction labeled as Immulina.
      A study (By: Reinhard Grzanna1, Anna Polotsky2, Phong V. Phan2, Nirmal Pugh3, David Pasco3, Lars Lindmark4, and Carmelita G. Frondoza2
      1RMG-Biosciences, Baltimore, MD, 2Johns Hopkins Univ., Baltimore, MD, 3Univ. Mississippi, Mississippi, 4Ferrosan A/S, Soeborg, Denmark. references:Plug and Al. 2001; ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: supported by NIH-CA, US Department of Agriculture, Ferrosan A/S and Nordic Phytopharma A/S) was conducted on the effect of Immulina on genes encoding the chemokines IL-8, MCP-1, MIP-1α, MIP-1β, IP-10, the cytokines TNF-α, IL- 1β, and the enzyme cyclooxygenase-2.
      THP-1 cells were exposed to various concentrations of Immulina ranging from 1 ng/ml to 100 μg/ml and changes in gene expression were assessed by RT-PCR.
      For comparison, THP-1 cells were activated with TNF-α, IL-1β or lipopolysaccharide using the same assay conditions. To assess the response of THP-1 cells to Immulina at the protein level, they probed culture supernatants using a cytokine array immunoblot assay.
      Immulina potently and dose-dependently increased the expression of all five chemokines tested and the expression of TNF-α, IL-1β and COX-2. The immunoblot assays revealed a significant increase in the chemokines IL-8 and MIP-1β.
      Thymidine uptake experiments verified that Immulina did not affect the
      viability and growth rate of THP-1 cells.
      The results demonstrate that the immunostimulatory properties of Immulina can be linked to its ability to activate inducible chemokines in cells of the monocyte/macrophage system.
      Immulina activates the nuclear factor-κB (NF- κB) signaling pathway in human monocytic THP-1 cells.
      NF- κB regulates the expression of numerous genes involved in the initiation of the inflammatory response, including cytokines, chemokines and adhesion molecules.
      Pugh et al. (2001) previously reported that Immulina potently
      stimulates the expression of genes encoding the pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α) and interkeukin-1β (IL-1β) and chemokines.
      Now in this study they monitored the effect of Immulina on the expression
      of genes encoding the chemokines IL-8, monocyte chemotactic protein-1 (MCP- 1), macrophage inflammatory protein-1 (MIP-1), interferon-γ inducible protein-10 (IP-10).
      THP-1 cells were exposed to concentration of Immulina ranging from 1 ng/ml to 100 μg/ml and changes in gene expression were monitored by RT-PCR.
      For comparison, THP-1 cells were activated with 1 ng/ml TNF-α, 10 ng/ml IL-1β, or 10 ng/ml of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) using the same assay conditions. IL-1β gene induction was also determined by real-time RT-PCR. To assess the response of THP-1 cells to Immulina at the protein level, culture supernatants were probed using a cytokine array immunoblot assay.
      The data revealed that Immulina dose-dependently increased the expression of all five chemokines
      tested as well as the expression of TNF-α, IL-1β, and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX- 2). The cytokine array immunoblot assay revealed an increase in IL-8 and MIP- 1β protein.
      The results of the experiments confirm that Immulina is an activator
      of the monocyte/macrophage system capable of stimulating the recruitment of diverse populations of leukocytes in response to inflammatory signals.
      The human macrophage cell line THP-1 were used for analysis.
      Cells were seeded (5 × 105 / well) in 6-well plates and incubated for 24 hrs at 37oC and 5% CO2 before adding: (a) negative control medium alone, (b) Immulina or ( c) positive control activators TNF-α (1 ng/ml), IL-1β (10 ng/ml) or LPS (10 ng/ml).
      Plates were then incubated for 1 or 24 hrs. For RT-PCR experiments, Mrna was collected after 1 hour incubation and measured by semiquantitative RTPCR.
      Real-time RT-PCR was used to verify the results for IL-1β mRNA.
      Cytokine production was determined in culture supernatants after 24 hour
      incubation using a RayBiotech cytokine antibody microarray.
      To test for potential cytotoxicity, THP-1 cells were incubated with varying amounts of Immulina for 24 hours and cell proliferation was determined by incorporation of tritiated thymidine.
      • Exposure of THP-1 cells to Immulina for 1 hour produced a dose-dependent
      increase in mRNA levels of TNF-α, IL-1β, and COX-2. These increases were detectable at doses as low as 1μg/ml.
      • RT-PCR analysis showed that Immulina dose-dependently induced the expression
      of the chemokines IL-8, MCP-1, MIP-1α, MIP-1β and IP-10.
      • Cytokine protein array analysis revealed that Immulina induced the secretion of IL- 8 and MIP-1β protein from THP-1 cells (Figure 4). Measurements of DNA synthesis by tritiated thymidine uptake showed that Immulina did not affect the viability and rate of proliferation of THP-1 cells at any of the doses tested.
      Immulina is a high molecular weight polysaccharide fraction isolated from Spirulina.
      It potently stimulates the expression of an array of genes encoding proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines in THP-1 cells.
      The result demonstrate that the high molecular weight polysaccharides contained in Spirulina are a key contributor to the immune-enhancing properties of this popular dietary supplement.
      In vitro cytotoxicity assays showed that Immulina at doses up to 100 μg/ml did not affect the cell viability nor the proliferative capacity of THP-1 cells indicatine Immulina, like Spirulina, has a high safety margin. Polysaccharides of microbial and plant origin have previously been recognized as immunostimulants.
      The effect of Immulina on genes encoding chemokines described in this study suggests that this preparation is capable of stimulating cells of the macrophage/monocyte system.
      Further characterization of Immulina may provide a well defined preparation for the therapy of bacterial and viral infections.
  • Vitamin: Spirulina contains a large amount of vitamins:
    •fat-soluble vitamins: A (retinol), D (calciferol), E (tocopherol), K1 (Phylloquinone)
    •water-soluble vitamins: B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B7 (Biotin), B9 (Folic acid), B12 (Cobalamins).
    As regards the vitamin B12, spirulina is not considered to be a reliable source of these. The standard B12 assay, using Lactobacillus leichmannii, shows spirulina to be a minimal source of bioavailable vitamin B12. Spirulina supplements contain predominantly pseudovitamin B12, which is biologically inactive in humans. Companies which grow and market spirulina have claimed it to be a significant source of B12 on the basis of alternate, unpublished assays, although their claims are not accepted by independent scientific organizations. The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada in their position paper on vegetarian diets state that spirulina cannot be counted on as a reliable source of active vitamin B12. The medical literature similarly advises that spirulina is unsuitable as a source of B 12.
    Pubmed: Pseudovitamin B(12) is the predominant cobamide of an algal health food, spirulina tablets
    Pubmed: Vitamin B-12 from algae appears not to be bioavailable
  • Essential fatty acids: Linolenic acid (both α-Linolenic acid and γ-Linolenic acid).
  • Mineral salts: Ca, K, P, Na, Mg, S, Cl, Fe, Zn, Mn, Cu, Co, Ni, Mo, Cr.
  • Pigments: chlorophylls, phycocyanins, carotenes and xanthophylls (for example zeaxantina).
    Many of the characteristics of Spirulina must be attributed to the pigments phycocyanins and zeaxantina.
    • Phycocyanins: is a pigment-protein complex from the light-harvesting phycobiliprotein family. It is an accessory pigment to chlorophyll. All phycobiliproteins are water-soluble and therefore cannot exist within the membrane as do carotenoids, but aggregate forming clusters that adhere to the membrane called phycobilisomes. Phycocyanin is a characteristic light blue colour, absorbing orange and red light, particularly near 620 nm (depending on which specific type it is), and emits fluorescence at about 650 nm (also depending on which type it is). Phycocyanin (from the greek phyco, with the meaning of "seaweed" and cyanine by 'kyanos "(cyan), the green-blue) is the association of the protein family of phycobiliproteins, and water-soluble pigments of photosynthesis, ficocianobiline, the family of phycobilins.
      (Phycocyanin assembly)
      The ficocianiene have an antioxidant effect documented both in vitro and in vivo as demonstrated in this study: Biomedcentral .
      C-phycocyanin have also shown protective effect against carbon tetrachloride-induced hepatocyte damage in vitro and in vivo as demonstrated in this study: Pubmed .
      Studies on C-phycocyanin have highlighted how the anti-inflammatory action of this molecule is expressed through the selective and partial inhibition of enzymes such as COX-2, responsible for the production of inflammatory prostaglandins ( Pubmed ).
    • Zeaxanthin: is a predominant xanthophyll in human eyes and may reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration and Spirulina contains a high concentration of zeaxanthin. The name is derived from Zea mays (common yellow maize corn, in which zeaxanthin provides the primary yellow pigment), plus xanthos, the Greek word for "yellow" (see xanthophyll).
      Zeaxanthin with lutein (Zeaxanthin is a stereoisomer of lutein), is member of the oxygenated carotenoids found particularly in egg yolks and dark-green leafy vegetables and it has a beneficial role in eye health ( within the central macula, zeaxanthin is the dominant component, whereas in the peripheral retina, lutein predominates).
      The biological mechanisms for the protective effects of these carotenoids may include powerful blue-light filtering activities and antioxidant properties. These effects are demonstrated in this study: Effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on aspects of eye health .

Spirulina for these features has been defined “the food of the future”.

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