Introduction

Spirulina sp. (Arthrospira sp.) is a photosynthetic, filamentous nondifferentiated, spiral-shaped, multicellular, and blue-green microalga that grows naturally in warm climates.1,2 The most commonly used species of Spirulina are Spirulina platensis (S. platensis) and Spirulina maxima.3

Today, there are several companies producing Spirulina as a food supplement, which is sold in many health food stores around the world.4 On the other hand, about 30% of the current world production of 2000 ton is sold for animal food applications.5 Spirulina is being grown in the United States, Hawaii, Thailand, Taiwan, Chile, Vietnam, India, Japan, Cuba, Spain, Argentina, Mexico, India, and other countries.6

Biochemical analyses on some Spirulina strains have shown that this alga is potentially of considerable importance in human and health nutrition. It is a rich source of proteins, vitamins, essential amino acids, minerals, essential fatty acids including y -linoleic acid, glycolipids, and sulfolipids7,8, as well as phycobilins (such as phycocyanin)9 and other phytochemicals.10 Likewise, determination in rats of net protein utilization, protein efficiency ratio, and repletion testing have shown its high nutritional value of Spirulina.11,12

While some pharmacological activities had been previously reviewed in publications by Khan et al.,3 Belay et al.,4,10 Chamorro et al.,13,14 over the past few years, additional pharmacological properties have been reported or confirmed. Thus Spirulina shows antiviral,15 antibacterial,16 antiplatelet,17 hypocholesterolemic,18 anti-inflammatory,19 and anti-Parkinson20 activities. It is also involved in preventing cataracts,21 cerebral ischemia,22,23 acute allergic rhinitis,24 and vascular reactivity.25 Many of the above properties are attributed to the antioxidant activity26-28 of the alga as a whole, or that of particular ingredients such as phycocyanin.29-33

The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview on the work conducted in relation to the toxicity as well as the antitoxic properties of Spirulina, as determined in laboratory animals or other experimental models.

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