The Herbs of Smoothie Essentials: Spirulina

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Add a Boost with Green Blend, featuring Spirulina

High in protein, iron and B vitamins, Spirulina is the name given to blue-green algae, a diverse group of simple, plant-like organisms that live in most salt water and some large, tropical and subtropical fresh water lakes.  For centuries it has been harvested by humans and used as both a food and a medicine.

Many today use spirulina for weight loss or to improve their immune systems, allergies, energy levels, anxiety, wound healing, metabolism, memory, precancerous mouth lesions, cholesterol levels, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), viral infections, digestion and depression.

At about 60 percent protein by volume, spirulina is also considered a complete protein – meaning it’s protein contains all nine essential amino acids the body needs in adequate proportions. Protein is the body’s building block, needed to make most tissues. It also serves as fuel and is necessary for growth and maintenance throughout life.

Many contend that the iron in spirulina is more readily absorbed by the body than other types of iron found in plants and most dietary supplements. Also known as Cyanobacteria, the scientific name for blue-green algae, spirulina is high in vitamin E, beta-carotene, copper, selenium, manganese, zinc, and gamma linolenic acid, an essential fatty acid.

Check with your doctor before taking spirulina if you take immunosuppressants since the immune-boosting properties of spirulina can counteract the drug’s effect in some cases. The same goes for patients on anticoagulant therapy as spirulina contains high levels of Vitamin K, which promotes healthy blood clotting.

The University of Maryland Medical Center states that spirulina shows promise in protecting against cirrhosis and liver damage in people with chronic hepatitis, though they caution that more research is needed to make definitive statements on efficacy.

NASA, the U.S. space agency, has even investigated spirulina as one of the main food sources for long-term space missions.

While increasingly popular as a superfood today for all the reasons mentioned above, Mesoamericans were eating spirulina long before Europeans arrived in the Americas. The Aztecs harvested it from Lake Texcoco, the lake that surrounded their capital city, Tenotchtitlan. Most of the lake was drained when the Spanish built Mexico City over the Aztec capital and spirulina production all but disappeared after 1600 until the first large-scale, commercial production began nearby in the 1970’s.

Since then, production has spread across much of the world, with major producers including the United States, Thailand, India, Greece and Chile.  Spirulina also has a long history of being harvested in Chad, where it is traditionally dried into cakes that are used for soups and broths. Some evidence exists that blue-green algae has been harvested from the waters around Lake Chad since the 9th century.

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/923.html  http://www.spirulina-benefits-health.com/spirulina_algae_history.html

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/spirulina

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