Algae is one of the most primitive forms of life on Earth that has been used by humans as food and medical remedy for centuries. The use of cyanobacterial spirulina platensis dates back as far as the fourteenth century, Aztec civilization, and today, spirulina and chlorella are widely used species in the manufacture of dietary supplements. The benefits of algae are so widely known (due to their high concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and proteins) that these two species are often deservedly called superfoods. In fact, there is a much wider variety of algae that have similar or slightly different beneficial properties for human health.
For example, kelp has long been used for weight control, cancer, fibromyalgia, arthritis, stress, heart disease, high cholesterol and a wide range of other conditions. Meanwhile, blue-green algae are nutrient-rich and a great source of energy, so they are often used to relieve weight control, seasonal hay fever, diabetes, stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression and premenstrual syndrome.
Cyanobacteria can also be used to treat cancerous tumours in the mouth, to improve memory, or to help maintain normal functioning of the digestive system.
Studies show that cyanobacteria have antiviral, anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, anti-diabetic and antibacterial properties. So it's time to dive into the world of algae and find out what is really known about algae today and its effects on human health, and which ones are worth including in your diet.
7 Beneficial Properties of Algae
1. Weight Control
Perhaps the main use of algae is to control or lose weight, as studies have shown that particularly the brown algae containing fucoxanthin is an effective contributor to weight loss processes. What is Fucoxanthin? It is a naturally occurring carotenoid (pigment) found in kelp, while in the human body it stimulates fat burning processes by increasing the expression of the protein thermogenin.
In recent years, there has been a scientific study in Russia about the first time people have been given fucoxanthin. The study evaluated supplements containing kelp fucoxanthin and pomegranate seed oil. The study group consisted of 151 overweight, pre-menopausal non-diabetic women. They were given 600 milligrams of extract containing 2.4 mg of fucoxanthin. At the end of the study, these women lost significantly more weight compared to the placebo group.
But women who took kelp supplements not only lost an average of 6.5 kg in just 16 weeks, but also felt increased energy levels, which also contributed to fat burning and weight loss processes. Other positive changes were also seen in these women, such as a reduction in liver fat, blood pressure, triglycerides and C-reactive protein.
2. Potential Remedy to Fight Cancer
Studies show that most species of algae can slow the growth of cancer cells, both in animals and in laboratory conditions, and can therefore be considered a natural remedy for cancer. However, more human studies are needed to confirm this hypothesis.
Experimental animal studies have shown the inhibitory effect of algae on oral cancer, while humans have been shown to be able to fight anti-cancer oral cavity derivatives, also known as oral leukoplakia. Recent results of the study have been published in the scientific journal Nutrition and Cancer, which found that a daily intake of 1 gram of spirulina (Spirulina fusiformis) for 12 months in individuals who chewed tobacco showed a marked reduction in leukoplakia. It was the first study in humans to determine the potential of spirulina to help prevent cancer.
According to Memorial Sloan Kettering, animal studies show that spirulina also has chemotherapy and radiotherapy effects. A study conducted in 2001 found that the polysaccharide contained in Spirulina platensis acts as a chemo-protective agent in animals, meaning that spirulina can help protect the body and reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. It also has radio-protective properties, which means that it can help protect against the harmful effects of radiation treatment. The findings of these studies suggest the use of spirulina as an auxiliary measure in cancer therapy.
3. Heart Activity
A scientific review published in 2013 confirmed that cyanobacteria can help protect against cardiovascular diseases and non-alcoholic liver diseases, which are considered to be the two most common health problems in developed countries. The research conducted with cells, animals and humans has shown that the use of cyanobacteria "can significantly improve the composition of blood lipids and prevent inflammatory processes as well as oxidative stress", which are probably the main determinants of various heart diseases. Namely carotenoids, gamma linolenic acid (GLA), phycocyanin, fibre and plant sterols are the substances that are effective in protecting against cardiovascular and liver diseases.
4. Inflammation and Pain Relief
The beneficial effects of algae include inflammatory processes and pain relief. Algae contain anti-inflammatory substances such as omega-3 fatty acids and chlorophyll. In 2016, a research was conducted on red algae, also known as the "natural source of substances that cause interesting biological and pharmacological processes such as anti-inflammatory, analgesic and protecting the gastrointestinal tract".
The results obtained only confirmed that the extract from the Mediterranean algae Laurencia Obtusa had a strong anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect. It has also been observed that the latter algae has a beneficial effect on the digestive system: it reduces the chance of stomach ulcers to as low as 81.3% with just 50 mg of the mentioned algae extract daily.
Meanwhile, in 2015, another algae, Pyropia yezoensis, was found to have an extremely high protein content, making it an excellent source of biologically active peptides. Among other things, the anti-inflammatory properties of this algae have been discovered.
5. Regulation of Cholesterol
A study conducted in 2016 found that fucosterol is a sterol that can be isolated from algae. Fucosterol has demonstrated its ability to lower blood cholesterol levels naturally and many other benefits to human health. In a general sense, algae are extremely rich in phytosterols that contribute to lowering cholesterol, especially LDL ("bad") cholesterol. How does it work? Phytosterols help to reduce intestinal cholesterol absorption.
Spirulina is rich in useful fatty acids such as GLA, amino acids and antioxidants. Studies have shown that spirulina reduces the amount of lipids (fats) in the blood.
6. Heavy Metal Detoxification
Chlorella is a type of algae that acts as a natural chelator capable of removing heavy metals from the body. Exposure to large amounts of 23 natural metals, called "heavy metals" such as lead, mercury, aluminium and arsenic, can cause severe or chronic poisoning. This causes the brain and central nervous system to become impaired or slowed down and damage internal organs. Prolonged intoxication can cause serious physical, musculoskeletal and nervous system damage.
If you have mercury seals in your teeth, you have been vaccinated, you eat fish regularly, have been exposed to radiation, or eat foods from China, you are likely to accumulate heavy metals in your body as well. So, it is important to constantly care for detoxification of your body and removal of these metals from it.
One of the most significant positive features of chlorella is its ability to "wrap" around the stubborn heavy metals that accumulate in the body, such as lead, cadmium, mercury or uranium, and prevent them from being re-absorbed. Regular consumption of chlorella prevents heavy metals from entering soft tissues and organs.
A study conducted in 2009 demonstrated the effect of chlorella administration on cadmium metabolism in animals. The researchers have found that when the subjects were exposed to high concentrations of cadmium, chlorella was able to reduce the effects of heavy metal poisoning and tissue damage, and to reduce cadmium uptake in general.
7. Stimulation of Stem Cell Proliferation
In adult humans, stem cells are found throughout the body. They divide and replace dead cells and repair the damages in the existing cells. As we grow older, stem cells also grow older, by slowing down their rate of regeneration, which contributes to the overall aging process of the body.
Based on preliminary findings that cyanobacteria may contribute to normal function of the immune system in animals, researchers at the USF Department of Neurosurgery have investigated the effect of cyanobacterial extract on human stem cell cultures. The results revealed that the ethanolic extract of Aphanizomenon flos-aquae helped accelerate the proliferation of human stem cells.
Where to Find Algae and How to Use It
Depending on your needs and your health status, a variety of algae supplements are currently available on the market. You can enjoy all the benefits of algae by taking them in capsules, tablets or powders.
We offer you to try and get acquainted with our PREMIUM quality algae - certified spirulina and chlorella. You will find the products in our e-store and at our partner sales points. If you would like to know what makes spirulina different from chlorella - stay tuned for our new blog posts, where we'll cover exactly that.
The way of administration varies depending on the product and the individual. The appropriate dose also depends on the individual's age and state of health. At present, sufficient information is available on how and how much supplements of blue algae or other algae should be used.
Algae oil is a supplement derived from algae and is often used by vegetarians as an alternative to fish oils. According to research, daily consumption of 1-2 grams of algae oil significantly increases the amount of beneficial DHA and EPR acids in the blood. So algae oil is a great choice if you are looking for a substitute for regular omega-3 fatty acid supplements. It is also interesting that algae-derived DHA is similar in efficacy to fish oil DHA.
Be sure to read the label carefully when purchasing any form of algae supplements, and if you feel unsure or you have misunderstood, do not hesitate to consult a professional.
Algae Nutrition and History
What are algae and seaweed? The definitions vary slightly, but they are usually primitive aquatic plants that differ from regular plants in that they have no roots, stems and leaves, but have a primitive reproductive system. Algae belong to a group of photosynthetic aquatic plants belonging to the kingdom Protista. Some experts refer to algae as plants, while others claim they are plant-like organisms, but whose cells have traits that are not characteristic of plants or animals. The organic purpose of algae is to produce oxygen and to provide the foundation for the ocean's food chain.
Algae can come in different sizes, shapes, colors and shapes. They can be unicellular or multicellular and live in both salty and fresh waters. Filamentous algae typically grow at the bottom of water bodies where they can be reached by sunlight. There are also unicellular, protozoa-like algae that live in freshwater and are called euglenoids. A wide range of algae, known by their color, continue to exist: cyanobacteria, green algae, brown algae, golden algae, red algae and yellow algae.
Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA) is one of the most widely consumed, and edible species of cyanobacteria.
There are also edible "sea vegetables", also known as seaweeds, and phytoplankton are really microalgae and a separate species of plankton.
Algae contains chlorophyll, which is one of the reasons why algae consumption is so beneficial to our health. Like plants, algae use chlorophyll to capture the photons of sunlight they need to undergo photosynthesis, so chlorophyll is considered a "chelator." During photosynthesis, the energy stored by chlorophyll is used to convert carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates and oxygen. Chelates are chemical compounds consisting of a metal ion and a chelating moiety that is vital for oxygen transport and photosynthesis. Chlorophyll, found in algae cells, is considered to be one of the most important chelates in nature, as it provides plants with energy that comes to us later. The best sources of chlorophyll in the world are algae and green vegetables.
Although the nutritional value of algae varies between species, they all share at least a similar nutritional profile.
Algae were found to contain:
- Protein and amino acids (up to 60% dry weight protein);
- Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C (ascorbic acid), E and K;
- Most B vitamins, including B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine), choline, biotin, niacin, folic acid, pantothenic acid and vitamin B12 (cobalamin);
- Minerals and trace elements such as iodine, calcium, chloride, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, sodium and zinc;
- Omega-3 fatty acids containing EPA, DHA, GLA and ALA;
- Active enzymes;
- Phytochemicals such as chlorophyll, fucoxanthine and other plant pigments.
The first terrestrial plants were able to evolve from shallow, freshwater algae about 500 million years ago. Since then, algae have continued to evolve and their categorization continues to evolve as scientists discover more and more new information about their molecular composition. The science of algae is called phycology (algology), and the person who studies it is called a phycologist (algologist).
Already in the 1830s, algae began to be classified according to their colors, such as brown, red or green. But how do these algae get their color at all? These colors are nothing more than reflections of various pigments in chloroplasts, such as chlorophyll, carotenoids or phycobiliproteins. The brown, red and green colors are also determined by more pigments.
Algae can also strongly differ in their cells. Most are unicellular, but the widest range of species is made up of millions of cells. It is currently estimated that the term "algae" covers about 30,000 to 1 million species.
Potential Algae Side Effects and Drug Interactions
Algae products are generally safe for human consumption as long as they are not contaminated with harmful bacteria or heavy metals. Consuming such algae can cause nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, liver damage, weakness, fast heart rate, shock or even death. Therefore, always make sure that your products have been tested for microcystins and other harmful substances.
Algae supplements may also not respond well to medicines to lower the immune system (immunosuppressants) or blood thinners (anticoagulants and anticoagulants). Because these drugs reduce blood clotting, taking them with herbs that have similar or identical effects can cause bruising or even cause internal bleeding.
Pregnant and nursing women and those with serious medical conditions are also advised to consult their physician or pharmacist before taking algae supplements.
Algae of one kind or another have existed on Earth for almost 2 billion years and have been used in human nutrition for centuries. In order to experience the health benefits of algae, people use algae supplements, thereby satisfying the body's need for fatty acids and avoiding animal products.
There is an abundance of research showing that algae are useful for a wide range of chronic diseases, weight control and blood cholesterol regulation. Nowadays, the most popular and most widespread are the cyanobacteria spirulina and chlorella, but whatever algae supplements you choose, first make sure that the algae contained in them are from clean, uncontaminated water pools.