Extraordinarily rich in nutrients and antioxidants, Spirulina has garnered buzz as a highly sought after alternative nutrition therapy, often called a “Superfood”, claiming to offer users general wellness and clarity, as well as powerful immune system and energy boosts. Spirulina is a type of single-celled blue green algae (cyanobacteria) which grows abundantly in tropical bodies of water with high pH. As a photosynthetic organism, all it needs is sunlight and water to flourish. There are many different species of Spirulina, the most common being Spirulina maxima and Spirulina platensis (Basch et al., 2008). Cultivated worldwide in lakes and ponds as well man-made farms, Spirulina is used as both a dietary Up to 70% of Spirulina's dry weight comes from readily digestible protein, along with a plethora of vitamins, including E, C, K and the B complex, carotenoids, minerals like iron and calcium, and essential fatty acids (Basch et al., 2008). In fact, “eating five grams of Spirulina provides about 230% of the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA's) of vitamin A and beta carotene, 150% of the RDA's of vitamin D and vitamin B12, and 125% of the RDA of vitamin K” (“Alice,”2006). It has been proven that antioxidants, like Vitamin E and C, are key to preventing cancers, and living a long, healthy life (Lewis, 2005). Yet another benefit, Spirulina is surprisingly low in calories-a mere 20 per tablespoon. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Spirulina contains the highest amount of protein (nearly 60%) of any natural food source, including meat/fish (15-25%), and eggs (12%) (USDA, 2008). Protein is critical in cell growth and repair, and recommended for athletes to improve their stamina and endurance, and build lean body mass, as well as for vegetarians, vegans, and proponents of the raw foods movement as a complete, cholesterol-free, fat-free vegetable protein source to match their dietary needs. There have even been highly marketed, yet unconfirmed, claims that it can aid in weight loss and suppress the appetite. Further, Spirulina surpasses many other sources of beta carotene, which is a known antioxidant in protecting the body against molecular damage (Belay, 2002). Yet another stand-out feature is that Spirulina contains a substance called phycocyanin, a biliprotein, which is known to have both anti-inflammatory affects as well as immune-suppressing action against oxidants (Bhat, Vadiraja, Madyastha, 2001). Being a nutritional powerhouse full of antioxidants, there is growing scientific research suggesting that Spirulina has therapeutic potential in treating a variety of diseases, such as cancer, arthritis, diabetes, allergies, and many others. In fact, Spirulina has been successfully used to treat the radiation victims at Chernobyl in Russia, notably boosting their immune systems (DeBusk, Hart, Kracoff, Ottariono, 2002). Over the years since its discovery, Spirulina has been labeled a “miracle” food, a solution to malnutrition in developing countries, and simply a nutritious supplement for living a healthy life (DeBusk et al., 2002). More recently, Spirulina has been grown and sold, upwards of 30% of its total worldwide production, as Free of harmful pesticides, Spirulina can be purchased in a ready-to-eat form as raw greens, as a powder which can be blended in with other foods and beverages like smoothies, or in a tablet form, which many users prefer because it lacks the seaweed-like taste and smell of fresh/powdered Spirulina. As a natural food, it can be consumed complementary to any meal, at any time of day. On average, one serving size is 4-6 tablets per day, or one tablespoon of the powder, diluted with a glass of water (DeBusk et al., 2002). Prices range, depending on the manufacturer, anywhere from $10-30 for a 100 tablet (500mg) bottle (ex. Rainbow Spirulina supplements cost $14); a one pound container of the Now Foods brand Spirulina powder form sells for $25-40, with approximately 64 servings. Athletes, or simply those with a fast-paced lifestyle can benefit from having some Spirulina on hand to ensure they get their daily recommended helping of fiber, nutrients and antioxidants when they're on the go. “The health conscious, particularly in Asia and the United States, sprinkle it on granola and mix it with rice cakes. Or they simply pop tiny, tart-tasting Spirulina tablets” (Perry, 1995). The palatability, which many find quite unpleasant in taste and appearance, and hefty price tag, however, have not earned Although it has only been in recent years that “superfoods” and supplements have gained considerable interest from the general public, in reality, as a food Spirulina has been a critical part of many cultures for thousands of years. From the 16th century Aztecs, to the Kanembus of Africa for over 1,000 years, to farms worldwide today, Spirulina has a long history of use due to its natural abundance in lakes, and easy cultivation. Taken from records kept by Spanish explorers who frowned upon Spirulina for its unpleasant taste and appearance, historical data indicates that the Aztecs took advantage of the accessibility of this blue-green algae (Belay, 2002). Because of their swampy land and limited resources, they learned to gather algae from the surfaces of their lakes, and then to mesh it with their core diet of maize to enhance their meals. They called it tecuitlatl, “the stone's excrement”. Further, to this day, certain tribes of Africa, in the Lake Chad area, still prepare sun-dried cakes (called Dihe) from Spirulina, to supplement their diets (Finley, 1989).
Recognizing its potential, scientists grew interested in Spirulina's nutritional composition, as well as its use in history, and so began their studies. Large scale commercial production of Spirulina first began by French scientists in the 1969, and was quickly brought to market as a nutritional supplement worldwide. Sources vary – farm-grown Spirulina requires highly controlled conditions with high-tech machinery and open-air tanks; others gather it by collecting natural growing algae from lakes (Belay, 2002). As Boudene explained it is important to note that controlled Spirulina is preferable to collecting algae from natural lakes, in order to safely monitor purity and prevent toxicity (as cited in Falquet, n.d.) For that reason, today, Spirulina growing farms are still popping up all over the world, most commonly in Spirulina is endowed with riches that drive researchers to probe it's nutritional and therapeutic benefits. The majority of studies have been conducted in test tubes and on lab animals and to a lesser degree, on humans. Years of vigorous research have built a solid case suggesting that Spirulina has a therapeutic and/or preventative role in fighting AIDS and Cancers, aspects of aging like vision, fighting infections and allergies and protein energy disorders. The following clinical studies, many of which are still under investigation, have provided strong evidence to support some of these claims. One study was conducted in Bangui (Central African Republic), where several hundred undernourished children participated in tests to determine the effect of Spirulina in the treatment of Protein-Energy Disorder (Falquet, n.d.). As Dupire explained, the focus of this study was on protein balance in terms of how much is absorbed and retained by the body from three different food sources: cow’s milk, soya, and Spirulina. During a four-day period, 2-3 grams of protein were given to children age 5-10 months. The results of the study showed that the body’s protein utilization with Spirulina as the source is relatively the same as cow’s milk (as cited in Faquet, n. d.). The study suggests that Spirulina can be used in developing countries, as a natural food supplement or as a source of complete protein, to treat protein deficiency and enrich low protein diets with essential amino acids, necessary for undernourished young children (as cited in Falquet, n. d.). In another study, the Center of Education and Nutritional Rehabilitation at the Center Medical Saint Camille, Ouagadougou, Italy performed a randomized study on HIV-negative and HIV-infected undernourished children (ages 14-15 months) to determine, through a lymphocyte count, where Spirulina affects nutritional status and immune functions (Simpore, Pignatelli, Musumeci, 2007). In the beginning of the study, HIV-infected children had an excessively high number of leukocytes, but after 8 weeks of Spirulina supplementation, these numbers significantly decreased. A total of 69 children participated in this study, where 46 were HIV-positive and 23 were HIV-negative (Simpore et al., 2007). Participants were given 10g of Spirulina twice a day for the eight weeks (Simpore et al., 2007). The results demonstrated that Spirulina helps improve the immune status of both HIV-infected and HIV-negative children, but it was more effective in the HIV-negative group (Simpore et al., 2007). Also, the results of Spirulina supplementation showed significant improvement in weight gain in all subjects (Simpore et al., 2007). This study suggests “Spirulina treatment may represent an effective barrier against infectious disease, which both cause and result from malnutrition in underdeveloped countries” (Simpore et al., Another international study was done in Seoul, Korea. The purpose of this study was to determine Spirulina's antioxidant capacity, effects on the immune system, and lipid-lowering capacity in healthy elderly subjects (Park et al., 2008). A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled method was performed in which participants were asked to take 8 grams of Spiruluna or a placebo for 16 consecutive weeks (Park et al., 2008). The study found that Spirulina has a significant effect on lowering cholesterol levels, improving immune system function, and increasing antioxidant capacity in male and female To date, there is no scientific evidence suggesting there are any side effects in taking Spirulina. In fact, Spirulina was used in place of conventional medicine for allergy treatment, because some allergy treatment pills do have side effects. This particular study, which was done in Turkey, was performed to determine the effect of Spirulina on allergic rhinitis (Cingi, Cemal, Conk-Dalay, Cakli, Bal, 2008). Results indicated that consumption of Spirulina significantly improves the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, without any side effects (Cingi et al., 2008). Participants who were taking Spirulina had less allergy symptoms, such as sneezing, nasal discharge, inching, and nasal congestion (Cingi et al., 2008). There have been claims that Spirulina contains some toxic substances, such as lead, mercury, arsenic and fluorine. Several studies have been conducted on rats to determine if Spirulina causes any sickness. The results indicated that Spirulina, consumed as a food or a protein source, has no toxic effects (as cited in Falquet, n. d.). However, other studies found that natural environments where Spirulina is harvested may contain undetermined levels of arsenic and fluorine (as cited in Falquet, n. d.). The studies point out that Spirulina grown in artificial, controlled environments is always pure, and free of toxins (as Currently, there are no conclusive studies suggesting Spirulina causes any side effects, toxicities, or any problems interacting with any drugs. Few claims exist suggesting that there are side effects, the most common complaints being “headache, muscle pain, flushing of the face, sweating, and difficulty concentrating” (Basch, 2008). Like any supplement, it is advisable to take the recommended dosages, and get the approval of a health professional if one has a medical condition. Many studies have been done, and numerous are still being researched, to reveal the powerful nutritional benefits of Spirulina, in order to improve people’s health all around the world. Spirulina is a “superfood” because it is high in protein, vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids, and, because it is a natural food as opposed to synthetic supplement, the human body can easily absorb it with no known side effects. While it is indisputable that Spirulina is packed full of vital nutrients, it should not be promoted as a “miracle” food. Claims that it can be used as a weight loss aid, appetite suppressant, and detoxifier are unconfirmed. In reality, Spirulina does not contain any nutrients that one can't get from a healthy and balanced diet—and food is much more inexpensive. To assess the numerous health claims, The National Institutes of Health in the United States gave Spirulina a “C” in every area it has been suggested to promote health in, concluding that there is ““unclear scientific evidence” to support use of Spirulina to treat things like viral infections, malnutrition, diabetes, high cholesterol, and eye disorders, among others.” For instance, it writes that although studies have confirmed that Spirulina lowered fasting blood sugar in Diabetics after two months of treatment, more With respect to Spirulina having a role in the treatment and prevention of medical illness, there simply hasn't been enough research, particularly on human subjects, to form any solid conclusions. Years of research studies have led to remarkable evidence suggesting that Spirulina does have medicinal potential, that it can aid in immune function, protein disorders, and lowering cholesterol levels. So, while the quality and quantity of research necessary to support its widespread use in medicine is still lacking, the potential is there, it is promising and should not be discounted.


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