Algae (Spirulina) - Botanical Medicines
Algae and micro-algae have been growing wild in oceans (seaweed) and alkaline lakes (blue-green algae) for thousands of years. According to Helen C. Morgan and Kelly J. Moorhead's Spirulina: Nature's Superfood , blue-green algae, or spirulina, grew wild in the great lakes of Central Mexico and was prized by the Aztecs as a food source. The Aztecs collected spirulina from the surface of the lakes with fine-meshed nets, dried the plant in the sun, and made it into a thick paste which they then formed into cakes.
There are more than 30,000 known species of algae. Blue-green algae, the most primitive, are the most commonly used as food. They contain no nucleus and the cell walls are soft and easily digested, unlike other algae plants that contain hard cellulose. In the last 10 years, seaweed and blue-green algae have been harvested and made commercially available as food sources because they contain extremely high concentrations of calcium, potassium, manganese, copper, silicon, zinc, and lithium.
Spirulina is now sold in powder, tablet, or supplement fruit drink forms. Robert Henrikson, president of the Earthrise Company in San Rafael, California (which produces Earthrise spirulina), documents in The Ultimate Guide to Health & Fitness that spirulina is currently being used in Third World countries to treat malnutrition. In Togo, for example, spirulina is called “green medicine.” Malnourished infants taking 3–15 grams of spirulina per day showed rapid weight gain. In China, Nanjing Children's Hospital uses spirulina in a baby-nourishing formula to help infants recover from a variety of nutritional deficiencies. Spirulina's high protein level, easy digestibility, and concentration of vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids make it ideal for therapeutic feeding.
According to Henrikson, spirulina has a higher concentration of protein (60%), amino acids, betacarotene, vitamin B 12 , gamma-line-olenic acid (GLA), trace minerals, and natural pigments than any other natural food source. Morgan and Moorhead state that spirulina is the only natural food that contains all the essential and nonessential amino acids. With extra iron and trace minerals added to commercial growing ponds, spirulina has been found to have an iron concentration 10 times higher than any other conventional food–and Henrikson claims studies have shown that iron in spirulina is 60% more absorbable than a typical iron supplement such as iron sulfate. Spirulina-growing projects are currently underway in Peru, India, Senegal, Vietnam, China, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, southern California, Oregon, and Hawaii.
According to Henrikson, spirulina also contains RNA and DNA nucleic acids, chlorophyll, and phycocyanin, a blue-green pigment (found only in blue-green algae) that may help prevent some cancers. He cites a Japanese patent application which states that daily ingestion of a small dosage of phycocyanin accelerates normal cell growth and inhibits the growth of malignant tumors in cancer patients. M. Boyd reports in the 1989 Journal of the National Cancer Institute that clycolipids extracted from blue-green algae have been found to inhibit the AIDS virus in experimental studies.
Henrikson also cites a 1986 Japanese study which found that men with hypertension and hyperlipidemia had lower serum cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL levels after consuming nine spirulina tablets daily for eight weeks. He suggests that the cholesterol reduction may be partially due to the very high gamma GLA content in spirulina. According to J. Belch, writing in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases , spirulina and breastmilk are the only natural foods that contain GLA that have successfully treated several degenerative disorders, including arthritis.
Spirulina also increases the strength of the immune system. Henrikson cites a 1987 Japanese research study which proved that taking spirulina supplements increased Lactobacillus flora in laboratory animals. He suggests that humans consuming spirulina supplements can improve their digestion and stimulate their immune systems as well. Because spirulina improves the absorption of minerals and maintains proper intestinal flora which prevent some types of infections, this botanical is currently being extensively studied in clinical trials. Its unproven medical benefits include treating obesity, colitis, and diabetes mellitus.