Superfoods, by definition, are food items that are packed with compounds (such as fiber, antioxidants, or fatty acids) that are considered beneficial to human health. A lot of foods fit the bill, of course, but none quite as perfect as spirulina (Arthrospira platensis). It’s called the “miracle of the sea,” and for good reason: It’s a rich source of protein, calcium, iron, and potassium, as well as vitamins A, B, and D. It’s a go-to food for those looking to lose weight, thanks to its ability to naturally suppress the appetite. A study in the Journal of Dietary Supplements, however, has taken the microalgae one step further. According to researchers from the Indian Institute of Advanced Research, spirulina contains antioxidant-boosting properties that can improve locomotive behavior and lifespan of patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease, that is, a condition that mainly affects the brain. It’s the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease, with a person’s likelihood of developing the condition increasing with age. The disease, in particular, is more likely to develop in men above the age of 60, but there have been “early onset” cases, where a person gets Parkinson’s as early as the age of 50.
Those with Parkinson’s disease exhibit the following symptoms:
- Tremor in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, and head
- Stiffness in the lower extremities and trunk
- Slowed movement
- Impaired balance and coordination, which makes them a fall hazard
In addition, patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease are prone to depression and other emotional changes, as well as difficulties in swallowing and speaking, urinary problems, constipation, skin problems, and sleep disruptions. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and most conventional treatments are aimed at relieving symptoms. However, some of these drugs have adverse effects, which can even include damage to heart valves.
For this study, researchers looked at whether spirulina can improve symptoms in flies that have been exposed to paraquat, a highly toxic chemical used as a herbicide, to mimic the effects of Parkinson’s disease in vivo. The team looked at its effects on the locomotor behavior and lifespan of flies after treatment. Based on the results, the team found that flies treated with spirulina had improved locomotor behavior and lifespan, despite their exposure to paraquat. According to the authors, this is because spirulina markedly reduced cellular stress by decreasing cellular expressions leading to damage. This also led to reduced biomarkers for stress, which could have contributed to the increased life expectancy and movement.
“Our results suggest that antioxidant boosting properties of spirulina can be used as a nutritional supplement for improving the lifespan and locomotor behavior in Parkinson’s disease,” the team concluded in their report.
Other benefits of spirulina
For something so tiny, spirulina is packed with a lot of nutrients that put other foods to shame. A single tablespoon of dried spirulina powder gets you:
- Protein: 4 grams
- Vitamin B1: 11 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA)
- Vitamin B2: 15 percent of the RDA
- Vitamin B3: 4 percent of the RDA
- Copper: 21 percent of the RDA
- Iron: 11 percent of the RDA
It also contains essential minerals like magnesium, potassium, and manganese — making it one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
In addition, phycocyanin, the active compound in spirulina, is a potent antioxidant which can inhibit inflammation. Those looking to manage their cholesterol levels would do well to consider adding spirulina in their diet as well: Studies have shown that it can simultaneously lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol, as well as improve blood pressure.
All this — and more — makes spirulina truly worthy of being called a superfood.