Spirulina: Nutrient-Dense Superfood
Spirulina is one of Nature’s most perfect foods because of its dense nutrient content. Studies conducted by NASA found that 1 kg of spirulina was the nutritional equivalent to 10 kg of assorted vegetables. Spirulina has been studied for its beneficial effects on allergies, diabetes, sports performance, and a healthy digestive system.
Spirulina was discovered by Spanish conquistadors during their conquests of South America. But this microscopic blue-green alga, or cyanobacteria, has been on the planet for the past 3.6 billion years. Many indigenous peoples including the Aztecs and Mayans ate spirulina as a regular part of their diet, but it wasn’t until NASA chose spirulina to enrich the diets of astronauts in the late 1970s that the superfood gained more worldwide attention.
Spirulina and inflammation
The anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties of spirulina have been well researched. In one study, levels of inflammatory marking cytokines were measured and the researchers found that spirulina significantly reduced interleukin-4 levels by 32%.
Spirulina provides gamma linolenic acid (GLA) which helps regulate the pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. In an allergic response, the body will increase the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. GLA raises levels of the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, thus helping to reduce inflammation.
Although there are no specific studies on spirulina for horses with seasonal allergies, the antidotal evidence is that many horses do get relief when on spirulina.
Spirulina and the immune system
Researchers in Tokyo found that spirulina significantly inhibited the humoral immune response, cell mediated immune response reaction, and alpha tumor necrosis factor in mice (Natural Medicine, 2008). Other studies have also concluded that spirulina is capable of modulating immune functions.
This is particularly important for horses and dogs with allergies, whose overactive immune systems release antibodies and trigger inflammation.
Spirulina and type-2 diabetes
Animal studies and several human studies showed significantly lower blood sugar levels following spirulina intake. One study in India (Asian J. Exp. Biol. Sci., Vol. 1 (1) 2010: 36-46) with 160 male diabetics that were non-insulin dependent concluded that spirulina has hypoglycemic effects, which helps diabetics control blood glucose levels.
Another study published in 2001 evaluated the hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic role of spirulina: “The findings suggest the beneficial effect of spirulina supplementation in controlling blood glucose levels and in improving the lipid profile of subjects with type-2 diabetes mellitus.”
Muscle and recovery
Spirulina contains 70% of its weight in amino acids, including the essential amino acids and the BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids), which are the major proteins for muscle building and muscle mass.
Because spirulina is an algae, it does not have a cell membrane and is highly digestible. Spirulina ranges from 61% to 83% digestibility while alfalfa hay, for example, ranges from only 30% to 45% digestibility.
Human sports nutrition studies show that spirulina can spare glycogen muscle reserves in the body while reducing oxidative stress. Researchers also found a reduction in muscle damage and inflammation, which may be due to the high levels of antioxidants in spirulina.
A study of runners published in 2010, “Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise” (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 Jan, 42(1): 142-51) showed that “spirulina induced a significant increase in exercise performance.”
The powerful antioxidant superoxide dismutase (SOD) is provided by spirulina. SOD is the first line of defense in remedying oxidative stress and reducing cellular damage.
Adding spirulina to the diet of sport and performance horses can support muscle building, help reduce muscle stress due to exercise-induced inflammation, and may contribute to increased stamina and better performance.
Spirulina as prebiotic
Research has shown that spirulina promotes the growth of various species of beneficial gut bacteria, and helps inhibit the growth of harmful pathogenic bacteria. (World Journal of Dairy and Food Sciences 4 (2): 160-163, 2009)
Supporting the micro-biome of the GI tract is one of the keys to health in horses.
The nutrient powerhouse
Spirulina provides the essential amino acids, vitamins A, E, K, the B-complex including B12, folic acid, and macro- and micro-minerals including: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium, manganese, potassium, iron, zinc, sodium and copper.
This super-green food also provides carotenoids and bioflavanoids. One bioflavanoid in spirulina is zeaxanthin, which is critical for eye health. It can protect the eyes from UV rays, and prevents free-radical damage to the retina and lens of the eye.
Spirulina contains a variety of polyphenols and phenolic compounds to support additional high antioxidant activity.
This blue-green algae is 5-7% fat, providing an omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 1 to 1.7. This is important, as most commercial feeds have higher omega-6 content than omega-3. Hay is often low in omega-3 fatty acids.
Spirulina contains the nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) that can assist in the repair of damaged genetic material in cells. According to Dr. Bernard Jensen, Ph.D: “ When RNA and DNA are in good repair and able to function most efficiently, cells are able to repair themselves and the energy level and vitality of the whole body is raised.” This may contribute to a slowdown of the aging process.
Like fresh grass, spirulina contains food enzymes that begin the process of digestion before the digestive enzymes in the GI track get to work breaking the food down into particles.
Organic or non-organic spirulina?
Spirulina certified as organic carries no contamination from pesticides or herbicides, and has been grown without chemical fertilizers. If you want to be sure there’s no Roundup residue in the spirulina, then buy certified organic.
Algae can absorb heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic. This is beneficial if the horse or dog or human needs to detoxify from heavy metal exposure, but can be problematic if the spirulina is grown in contaminated water or processed with water that contains high levels of heavy metals.
While high heavy metal content in a spirulina product may not alone cause an issue, additional metal-containing foods the horse or dog consumes may result in cumulative effects.
If you have any doubts about the heavy metals in a product containing spirulina, contact the company and ask for a COA (certification of analysis), which is required of all raw materials.
California is the first state to put into effect very strict heavy metal regulations. Because California’s heavy metal limits are so low, rice grown in California has significantly less arsenic than rice grown in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, etc. If you are looking for rice bran for your horse, make sure it is grown in California.
Ancient origins, modern applications: The takeaway on spirulina
The South American indigenous peoples who originally tapped into spirulina’s benefits, the Spanish conquistadors who learned from them, and the NASA astronauts who now take it into space have all known that spirulina is a very highly digestible superfood with incredibly high nutrient content.
In our equines, it also supports the GI tract microbiota and the immune system, helps in exercise/performance recovery, and may also be helpful for metabolic horses by supporting lower blood sugar and increasing fat metabolism. All these benefits make spirulina a food well worth the attention it gets to this day.
Organic spirulina is an essential ingredient in these BioStar formulations: