Spirulina, is a very interesting and promising source of phytochemicals that has also shown hopeful results in dealing with age-related changes. With both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, Spirulina has the ability to supplement our internal anti-oxidant defense systems as well as control any excessive inflammation. The first known use of Spirulina as a dietary supplement came from the Aztecs more than 400 years ago. The Spanish conquistadors found the Aztecs drying the green growth, called tecuitlatl, from Lake Texcoco located near Mexico city. Today, Lake Texcoco is still plentiful in Spirulina. It has also been speculated that the Mayans specifically farmed Spirulina as a crop. Likewise, the Kanembu who live along lake Chad were found to be taking the growth form the lake and drying it for food (Ciferri and Tiboni, 1985).
Classified as a cynobacteria (blue-green algae) Spirulina is abundant in phycocy-anin, which gives it a blue pigmentation. The large amount of chlorophyll accounts for the vivid green color. Other additional carotenoids present contribute to the rich pigmentation of Spirulina. Interestingly, in nature, fruits and vegetables that have brighter and deeper hues often supply more antioxidants per serving then their paler cohorts.78 A familiar example is found in the blueberry. The deep pigmentation of the blueberries produces a high ORAC value. The ORAC of blueberries is 2600 ^mol Trolox equivalents/gram, whereas the ORAC for Spirulina is 13,000.29 Spirulina has demonstrated that it has antioxidant activity, which scavenges peroxyl radicals.79 It also contains components that act as inhibitors of cylooxygenase (COX), one of the main biological activities of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.80
As mentioned earlier, with aging there are normal age-related changes occurring in the CNS in the absence of diseased states. These include increases in markers of oxidative stress and inflammation as well as changes in learning and memory as well as fundamental aspects of communications between neurons in the brain, such as changes in neurotransmitter receptor function. One study examined the significant decrease in j-adrenergic receptor function in aged rats. These age-related changes in j-adrenergic receptor function occur in the cerebellum and could underlie motor learning impairments with age.81 In the cerebellum there is a correlation between the loss of function of j -adrenergic receptors in the aged brain and a loss in the ability to learn complex motor skills.81 Feeding aged F344 rats a diet rich in spinach improves cerebellar j-adrenergic receptor function and improves motor learning that is associated with a decrease in oxidized glutathione and the proinflammatory cytokine TNFa.82 Further studies have attempted to correlate the ability to improve cerebellar j-adrenergic receptor function with the in vitro antioxidant capacity of the foods added into the diet. This study examined dietary supplementation with apple, Spirulina or cucumber for 14 days in aged (18 months) and young (4 months) Fisher 344 rats. Using this paradigm aged rats on the Spirulina and apple enriched diet (both high in ORAC) but not on the cucumber diet, which is low in ORAC showed improvement in j-adrenergic receptor function as measured by electrophysiology (Figure 13.1a). In addition, a down regulation of proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-a and TNF- j) was observed in the aged animals on the Spirulina and apple enriched diet, but not the cucumber diet (Figure 13.1c). This is important because the reduced function of the beta-adrenergic receptor in the aged rat could be attributed to the elevated cytokine levels. In addition, there was a decrease in MDA in the cerebellum of the aged rats fed the high ORAC diets of Spirulina and apple (Figure 13.1b). MDA is a measure of oxidative lipid peroxidation. These results suggested that even in the aged rat cerebellum, an area high in oxidative damage and proinflammatory cytokines, Spirulina and apple were able to down regulate markers of inflammation and oxidative stress and improve the function of the j-adrenergic receptor. This study showed the potential of Spirulina to decrease markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in the CNS even after these processes had begun.29
There are many active components that contribute to the biological activity seen with Spirulina. In the case of aging, ingesting the whole compound may be the most beneficial. It is likely that the complete profile may work synergistically to delay oxidative insults and inflammation that are occurring with age. However, it is important to understand the combinations of different components that are driving the therapeutic effects of the whole compound. This is the key to comprehending why Spirulina could be beneficial in aging. This cyanobacteria has a powerful combination of fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, essential amino aids, minerals, and antioxidants that can aid in overall health. One important health benefit of Spirulina is to activate the innate immune system.83 The innate immune system is the first line of defense in our bodies. Inflammation, caused by the innate immune system, is one of the first signs of infection. Thus, the possibility that Spirulina can assist in innate immunity holds the potential for this compound to exhibit widespread effects throughout the body.
Certain fractions of Spirulina have been investigated in depth to observe innate immune system activation. One such fraction is Immulina, a high molecular weight polysaccharide fraction obtained from crude dried extract. Immulina polysaccharide activates NF-kappa B through a CD14- and TLR2-dependent pathway.84 Toll-like receptors (TLRs) are transmembrane proteins that are essential in the innate immune response because they identify pathogen-associated molecular patterns that are highly
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