Spirulina is a blue-green microalgae that grows abundantly in either fresh or sea water. It is sold as a concentrated food supplement widely available in natural food stores. Most comes from Hawaii and is identified as Spirulina pacifica, which is actually a select strain of Spirulina platensis.
Among food supplements, spirulina stands out as an excellent dietary source of chlorophyll. This is because it is an aquatic plant that does not require thick cell walls containing indigestible cellulose. Spirulina’s cell walls are made of a chemical called a muramic polysaccharide that is easier to digest, and its chlorophyll is therefore more readily bioavailable than in nonaquatic plants.
According to a scientific review from Latin America, spirulina has a vast array of beneficial properties. It has been shown to be effective in the treatment of allergies, anemia, cancer, high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, viral infections, inflammatory conditions, liver damage, immunodeficiency, cardiovascular diseases, and other conditions.
In a 2002 Japanese study, 12 adult males were administered an oral hot water extract of spirulina, and the number and activity of their natural killer (NK) cells was measured before and after treatment. At the study’s end, there was a significant increase in the production and cancer-killing ability of these subjects’ NK cells. When their NK cells were exposed to a bacterial product after treatment, production of interleukin-12 (IL-12), a measure of immune strength, was significantly increased in comparison to IL-12 production in NK cells without pre-exposure to spirulina.
The authors concluded that in humans, spirulina acts directly and indirectly on NK cells. This study suggests that spirulina’s immune-enhancing effects are persistent, as heightened immunity continued to be seen up to five weeks after the subjects stopped receiving spirulina.
“Researchers at the Osaka Institute of Public Health in Japan gave volunteers over forty years of age 50 mL of a spirulina extract and measured the activity in the blood of interferon gamma and natural killer cells. For one to two weeks following the participants’ ingestion of spirulina, the activity of these substances was found to increase, and this increased activity continued for twelve to twenty-four weeks.”
There have also been studies in India showing that spirulina reduces the tumor burden in experimental animals with various types of cancer. In mice with chemically induced stomach cancer, the tumor burden was reduced to half that of the control animals using high-dose spirulina treatment (500 mg/kg body weight). In skin cancer, the tumor burden was reduced to less than one quarter, even with low-dose treatment (250 mg/kg body weight).
Spirulina also shows potential for decreasing the adverse effects of both chemotherapy and radiation. Scientists in China have shown that a spirulina extract increased the level of white cells in the blood and of nucleated cells and DNA in the bone marrow of mice that had been subjected to chemotherapy and radiation. In dogs, the spirulina extract additionally increased the level of red blood cells. The authors concluded that spirulina “has chemo-protective and radio-protective capability, and may be a potential adjunct to cancer therapy.”
Human clinical studies from India have shown that spirulina could be an effective treatment for a precancerous condition called oral leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is characterized by the formation of white patches in the mouth that do not rub off. These often progress to oral cancer.
In the 1990s, a clinical study conducted among tobacco chewers in Kerala, India, demonstrated that spirulina could reverse oral leukoplakia in this population. Half of the patients received one gram per day of spirulina and the other half received a placebo.
There was a complete regression of lesions in 20 of 44 patients (45%) receiving spirulina as opposed to 3 of 43 (7%) in the placebo arm. These results were highly significant. Among those who had homogeneous lesions
(usually considered less malignant than non-homogeneous lesions), results were even more pronounced, with a complete regression in 16 of 28 subjects (57%). One year after discontinuing the spirulina supplements, 55% continued to be free of these growths. These promising results have probably never been adequately publicized or used.
Spirulina contains certain powerful photosensitizers called chlorins. Chlorins interact with red and infrared light to trigger a photodynamic effect, which could kill abnormal cells. It seems more than coincidental that the most prominent reports of benefit come from very sunny climes, such as Hawaii, Latin America, and India.
A 2004 study looked at the mechanism by which C-Phycocyanin in spirulina induced apoptosis in a human chronic myeloid leukemia cell line: “C-Phycocyanin (C-PC), the major light harvesting biliprotein from Spirulina platensis is of greater importance because of its various biological and pharmacological properties.
It is a water soluble, non-toxic fluorescent protein pigment with potent anti-oxidant, antiinflammatory and anti-cancer properties. In the present study the effect of highly purified C-PC was tested on growth and multiplication of human chronic myeloid leukemia cell line (K562). The results indicate significant decrease (49%) in the proliferation of K562 cells treated with 50 microM C-PC up to 48 h. Further studies involving fluorescence and electron microscope revealed characteristic apoptotic features like cell shrinkage, membrane blebbing and nuclear condensation. …The present study thus demonstrates that C-PC induces apoptosis in K562 cells by cytochrome c release from mitochondria into the cytosol, PARP cleavage and down regulation of Bcl-2.”
Even more suggestive of chlorins’ cancer-fighting ability is the fact that the photosensitizer used in Cytoluminescent Therapy (CLT) in Ireland is derived from spirulina. This “green” photosensitizer has proven highly effective in destroying tumors in patients exposed to specialized light sources and whole-body infrared therapy.
In the future, a combination of spirulina and light could become a standard method of preventing the formation of precancerous lesions and of cancer itself. Of course, the economic and social barriers to such a simple approach are formidable. If you doubt it, consider that it has now been known for years that as little as one gram of spirulina per day can prevent half the cases of leukoplakia, a condition that frequently progresses to head and neck cancer. Yet the reaction of the Western medical world to this revelation has been tepid in the extreme.
The National Cancer Institute’s statement on oral cancer does not breathe a word about this simple and inexpensive way to prevent oral cancers. Instead, it heartily recommends surgery and radiation to treat the disease after it has been allowed to form.
“For lesions of the oral cavity, surgery must adequately encompass all of the gross as well as the presumed microscopic extent of the disease…. With modern approaches, the surgeon can successfully ablate large posterior oral cavity tumors and with reconstructive methods can achieve satisfactory functional results.”