Genene Tefera, DVM, PhD
Microbial Genetic Resources Department, Institute of Biodiversity Conservation
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January, 2009
COMPARISON OF SPIRULINA NUTRIENTS WITH OTHERS
Besides lots of clean air and water, the human body needs a minimum of seven essential nutritional elements in order to survive. These essential elements fall into seven major categories, all of which are abundantly present in Spirulina. These elements include: proteins and amino acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, pigments, carbohydrates and lipids (fats).
Next to water, protein is the most abundant compound in your body. Of the approximately 70 trillion cells which make up your body, one-third is constantly aging, wearing out and being replaced by new cells. Dietary protein is essential for this maintenance process. It is estimated that 2.5 million red blood cells, 20,000 white blood cells and five million platelets are sent into your bloodstream each second.
When protein is used by the body for one of these purposes, it is first digested by being broken into separate elements (called amino acids) and then carried to the liver. From there, the amino acids are sent to tissues where new cells are being manufactured or old ones are being repaired. They are absorbed into cells through the cell membranes and recombined into specially manufactured proteins.
Amino acids are your body's building blocks. Out of the 22 amino acids that you require, only 13 can be manufactured by your body. The remaining 9, the "essential amino acids", must be derived daily from the foods you eat.
They must also be available to the body simultaneously and in the proper ratio or they cannot be fully utilized. These amino acids must be supplied on a regular basis to provide the sustained energy vital for your growth and health. Otherwise, your body will become protein starved.
The process of amino acid synthesis is complex, dependent on the presence of other nutritional elements from the other 6 categories listed above. To the extent there is an imbalance or deficiency, the 18 amino acids provided by spirulina, in near perfect ratios, become essential. This condition is especially true among the malnourished, undernourished and starving creatures who are presently struggling to survive on the planet.
The cell walls of most vegetables are composed of cellulose. Cellulose is not digestible by humans. Spirulina's cell walls are mucopolysaccharides (complex sugars) that are easily digestible, freeing considerable energy as a result. Digestibility tests have shown spirulina to be 83 to 95% digestible.
The usable protein in Spirulina therefore, because of its digestibility and amino acid balance, is around 90%, the highest of any protein other than casein (the standard on which all protein assimilation is scientifically evaluated). For comparison, an 8 ounce steak is about 22% protein only 15% of which is usable by the body. So that 8 ounce steak gives only about 1.8 ounces of protein, only .27 ounce (7.6 grams) of which is actually usable protein. Spirulina, however being 70% protein and 90% digestible, provides 5 ounces (140 grams) of usable protein in each 8 ounces.
That is 18 times more protein than steak, with little, if any, waste. In addition, most of spirulina's proteins are already in the proper form that the body itself creates in the liver so there is little energy lost in digestion. These building blocks of the body are called biliproteins. Spirulina is the most prolific source of biliproteins presently known.
For vegetarians, soybeans in the form of tofu, soy flour, etc., are often cited as a high protein source. At 37% protein and only 25% digestible (usable), an 8 ounce serving of soybeans gives 74 ounces (21 grams) of usable protein. That is three times better than steak, but only 1/7th as good as spirulina.
Whole wheat flour, the prime staple in most starving people's diets right now, comes in dead last. The highest protein variety of whole wheat flour is only 14% protein, of which only 9% is digestible (usable).
So an 8 ounce serving of whole wheat flour, then, provides only 1/10th of an ounce (2.8 grams) of usable protein. It may fill stomachs, but wheat flour (or any grain) porridge will not fill the protein needs of the starving. The average male needs 43 grams of usable protein per day, the average female 35 grams.
Spirulina gives 50 times more usable protein than whole wheat flour (2.8 x 50 = 140). Or, to say it another way, it takes only 1/6 ounce (4.5 grams) of Spirulina to get the same amount of protein as 8 ounces of whole wheat flour (provided it finds its way into people's stomachs). Hopefully, the relief agencies are adding some vitamins and minerals to the flour, because wheat is notoriously low in these as well.
Vitamins and minerals
Spirulina gives as much calcium as milk, 15 times more vitamin A than carrots, 3 times the iron of sirloin steak, 2.5 times the vitamin B-12 of calves' liver, 3.7 times more potassium than rice. Being high in antioxidants such as Vitamin E, and ferrodoxin, spirulina will store safely for years if kept air and water tight.
Hopefully, the whole wheat porridge is not being heated too high. Cooking destroys many amino acids, vitamins and most enzymes. Spirulina is uncooked, raw food with only the water removed.
All food is, at least potentially, a poison until converted into simple structures by enzymes. Metabolism is an enzymatic process from beginning to end. Whatever their value, none of the other essential nutrients are usable by your body without enzymes. Spirulina is both high in enzymes and thermophilic.
That is, it can withstand relatively high temperatures without losing its properties. In fact, Spirulina is so high in enzyme activity that even after being dried (at 160 0F) it will often start growing again if placed in the right medium, temperature and sunlight.
Chlorophyll is an essential pigment. Spirulina is about 1% chlorophyll, which is 2 to 3 times more than most land plants. Green chlorophyll, which carries CO2 in plant respiration, has nearly the same molecular structure as red hemin, the pigment forming hemoglobin in red blood cells.
The only difference is that chlorophyll has magnesium at the center and hemin has iron. When you ingest chlorophyll, the magnesium is removed and used elsewhere by your body while being replaced by iron. Therefore, chlorophyll is essential to the production of red blood cells which carry life-giving oxygen to all your body cells. Chlorophyll does other things as well.
Research indicates that it may slow and strengthen contractions of the heart muscle, help muscles and nerves recover from stress and strain, encourage peristaltic action in the intestines, prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, to name a few.
Bile pigments aid the rapid breakdown and metabolism of starches, proteins, and fats. A bile pigment called phycocyanin makes up 7 to 18% of spirulina's weight. There is no other food, animal or vegetable, which contains even a quarter of the bile pigments found in spirulina.
Doubling every 3 days under the right conditions, Spirulina is the fastest growing human food. This "Spirulina Growth Factor" (SGF) is found to enhance enzyme activity and trigger faster cell growth, repair and replication where needed in tissues and organs, thus helping the body to rebuild and rejuvenate itself.
Spirulina has 16.5% carbohydrates, of which 9% is a rare sugar known as rhamnose. Rhamnose is more biologically active than other sugars because it combines more readily with other nutrients. Unlike sucrose, it does not upset the blood sugar balance or overwork the pancreas.
Like proteins, carbohydrates go through a complex breakdown and recombination process in your body. One of the products of this process is glycogen, a complex sugar that your body stores in the liver until energy is needed.
Spirulina is the only known vegetable that contains glycogen (0.5%). So, like its biliproteins, spirulina's glycogen is ready made for direct assimilation and use. Spirulina also contains important carbohydrates known as glycosides and bioflavonoids which affect many cellular processes too numerous to mention here. Although relatively low in calories (381 calories per 100 grams), spirulina is high in energy from these carbohydrates.
Essential fatty acids (EFA's) are vitamin-like substances that are essential to life. They can not be produced by your body and are therefore "essential" in your diet. EFA's include linoleic, linolenic and arachidonic acids.
EFA's help to reduce total cholesterol and triglyceride levels (associated with arteriosclerosis and heart disease). They also help to protect the body against sodium-induced high blood pressure, normalize biochemical factors associated with diabetes, enhance sexual effectiveness and fertility, prevent dry, scaly skin and fragility of cells.
Cell membranes are largely composed of lipids. When present with Vitamins E and A (which prevent dangerous lipid peroxidation or rancidity) EFA's protect the cell membranes against anti-oxidant and free radical attacks. Such attacks can alter the absorption of nutrients through the cell membranes. Since membrane damage may alter antigens (substances that induce the formation of germ-killing antibodies) this could cause the immune system to fail. Research with a special fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid (GLA) has reportedly shown it to be effective in strengthening the body's immune system.
Spirulina is relatively high in lipids, containing 7% by volume. Over 2 1/2% of Spirulina consists of the EFA's linoleic and linolenic. With 1.2% to 2% GLA, Spirulina is also nature's highest available sourde of GLA. Mother's milk is the highest known source of GLA (provided it is in the mother's diet) and is one of nature's ways of protecting babies from disease.
Thus, EFA's are essential in the diets of everyone, and certainly in those recovering from starvation, since EFA's help the body resist the diseases to which the malnourished are exposed in their weakened state.
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