The Starfish Project

The combined effort of our whole family.

In Praise of Spirulina

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I am writing to you from the Emerald Isle and so, quite appropriately, want to talk to you about a deep green supplement called spirulina. This concentrated food supplement is generally derived from Spirulina platensis, a form of blue-green algae that grows abundantly in water.

Among food supplements, spirulina stands out as an excellent dietary source of chlorophyll. This is because spirulina 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 recent 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. That is a tall order, to be sure, but one that is borne out by the scientific record.

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. (NK cells destroy tumor cells by binding to them and delivering lethal chemicals that kill on contact.) 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.

There have also been studies in India showing that spirulina reduces the number of tumors (called 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.”

Spirulina Reverses Precancerous Mouth Lesions

These recent findings follow human clinical studies from India showing 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 other words, for the patient, it may be the harbinger of a very serious condition indeed.

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. To my knowledge, these promising results have never been adequately publicized or used.

How does this simple alga exercise such profound effects? Although biochemists tend to look for a single “magic bullet” that is responsible for the benefit, it is more likely that a number of factors are at work. There are a variety of micronutrients in spirulina, some of which function as antioxidants, and I would hardly be inclined to minimize their importance. However, I want to point to another possibility. Spirulina contains certain powerful photosensitizers called chlorins. These could interact with light in the red and infrared range 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 Latin America and India.

The National Cancer Institute’s PDQ 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,” PDQ writes, “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.”

In other words, “successful” treatment is mutilating surgery followed by difficult reconstruction in order to achieve merely “satisfactory” results. How awful this is for the patient! In a sane world, wouldn’t we do everything in our power to prevent the formation of cancer, rather than simply allow it to happen and then attack it with highly destructive and costly techniques? But perhaps this is asking too much of a profession that is enamored of its own technical expertise.

Source:  Cancer Decisions: The Moss Report

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Written by Tracey

October 14, 2008 at 3:35 am

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