Scientists at UC Davis announced that spirulina increases production of infection-fighting substances in immune system cells. The substances called cytokines form a frontline of defense against viruses and cancer cells. Their finding is published in the fall issue of the Journal of Medicinal Foods.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Used as a food supplement for more than 20 years, spirulina grows naturally in lakes with extremely high pH levels, but it also is harvested from large-scale commercial ponds, where purity is monitored, before being dried and distributed in tablet and powdered form.
"We are very excited about our initial results," said Dr. Eric Gershwin, professor and chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis. "Additional human studies are needed to determine how far these dramatic effects extend beyond the laboratory."
The UC Davis study found that adding spirulina to cultured immune system cells significantly increased the production of infection-fighting proteins known as cytokines. "Cytokines are good because they stimulate cells that target cells that target certain pathogens," or disease-causing organisms, said Judy Van de Water, an associate professor of rheumatology, allergy and clinical immunology at UC Davis. "The more of these cells you have, the more attack forces you have … It's like building up your army," she said.
A number of animal studies have shown spirulina to be an effective agent to boost immune system responses, including inhibiting allergic reactions and enhancing antibody responses and the activity of natural killer cells. In fact, a recently completed study in Japan demonstrated the beneficial effects of spirulina in cancer immunotherapy, to decrease the volume of cancer cells in the body by activating a group of immune cells. An earlier human clinical study also has shown that spirulina is effective in the prevention of oral cancer.
The more recent, UC Davis research was funded in part by a grant from Earthrise Nutritionals, Inc., and the National Institutes of Health. Earthrise Spirulina is grown under controlled conditions following FDA good manufacturing practices (GMP), and under an ISO 9001 Quality Management System. Earthrise is the world's only ISO 9001 registered spirulina company, and has been in business since 1979.