Spirulina is a far more attractive name for the biomass of edible blue-green algae that forms a green slimy film on the surface of stagnant water that is ordinarily known as pond scum. Spirulina is typically home to two species of algae: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima. Why should you eat it? Spirulina is an excellent source of highly potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory chemicals that can benefit your brain health across the entire lifespan.
A recent study (Nutritional Neuroscience 2018, 21:59) investigated whether it was possible to treat severe neonatal infection by administering a Spirulina-enriched diet to the nursing mother. Severe infection and the associated brain inflammation can cause long-term changes to the developing brain due to oxidative stress even after the original infection has been adequately treated. A Spirulina-enriched diet given to the lactating mothers reduced the level of brain inflammation and provided an antioxidant defense for the developing neonatal brain. These studies are interesting because they clearly demonstrated that the addition specific plant-based chemicals to a nursing mother’s diet can counteract ongoing disease mechanisms in the child by reducing the prolonged negative effects on the brain and body’s antioxidant system that are produced by neonatal systemic inflammation.
At the other end of the lifespan, the brain inflammation that develops with normal aging is not well understood and is usually challenging to treat. Brain inflammation associated with normal aging can be initiated by many factors, including obesity, poor diet, brain trauma, diabetes, or mutant proteins. The long-term exposure of neurons to inflammation impairs normal cognitive function and prevents the brain from making new memories. In addition, some neurons are exceptionally vulnerable to the consequences of the brain inflammation and oxidative stress. One of the most vulnerable groups of neurons produces the neurotransmitter dopamine; the death of these dopamine neurons is associated with Parkinson’s disease. Thus, there is considerable interest in finding ways to effectively reduce brain inflammation in order to prevent or slow the onset of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. A recent study examined the beneficial effects of a diet enriched in Spirulina in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease. The results demonstrated that Spirulina supplementation prevented the death of dopamine neurons. Clinical trials in humans now need to be conducted to confirm this report.
Given the broad range of obesity-induced health problems blamed on inflammation, another recent study (Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci, 2017, 21: 2473) investigated the potential protective actions of Spirulina in obese humans. Fifty subjects received two grams of Spirulina or a placebo daily, for three months. Spirulina supplementation significantly lowered low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and interleukin-6 (a pro-inflammatory protein) concentration and considerably improved total antioxidant status as compared to placebo-treated individuals.
Interventional studies with natural anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatories via the diet are becoming attractive alternatives to standard therapies. Unfortunately, very few clinical trials using Spirulina supplementation to treat neurological conditions in humans have been performed. In spite of our current ignorance about the specific therapeutic actions of these algae, these few preliminary studies strongly indicate that dietary Spirulina supplementation may be quite beneficial.