People have consumed Spirulina, also known as blue-green algae, for hundreds of years. It was harvested from lakes near Mexico City by the Aztecs and from Lake Chad by natives of the Sahara Desert.
Spirulina sometimes is recommended for MS. It also is claimed to be effective for many other conditions, including fatigue, cancer, obesity, arthritis, viral infections, high cholesterol levels, and hair loss. Spirulina is also known as "super seaweed" and "superfood." It is rich in vitamins, minerals, and proteins, and is available in tablets, capsules, powders, and processed foods such as snack bars. It produces a characteristic intense green color when added to drinks.
It is not entirely clear why Spirulina is recommended for MS. Vitamin B12 supplements are sometimes suggested for people with MS, and Spirulina contains a form of vitamin B^. However, it is not clear whether vitamin B^ is beneficial for most people with MS. Also, it appears that much of the vitamin B12 in Spirulina is in a chemical form not utilized by the human body and may antagonize the effects of active forms of vitamin B12.
One particular species of Spirulina contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which could possibly be beneficial for MS (see the chapter on "Diets and Fatty Acid Supplements"), but many other species of Spirulina do not contain GLA, and it is hard to know which species are present in any given Spirulina product.
Spirulina may be associated with MS therapy because some studies have determined that it acts on the immune system. However, these immune-system effects have been variable and of unclear significance. Some studies indicate that Spirulina stimulates the immune system and thus, theoretically, may actually be harmful for MS. Isolated reports suggest that in individuals with other immune conditions (pemphigus vulgaris, dermatomyositis), symptoms may be provoked by Spirulina. Finally, Spirulina may be recommended for MS because it is claimed to be effective for fatigue. No well-documented published studies support this claim.
In addition to the lack of evidence supporting its use specifically in MS, Spirulina is relatively expensive, and its safety is not known. Spirulina is at least 10 to 20 times more costly than other protein sources, such as beef and milk. Insufficient information is available about the safety of long-term Spirulina use. Although it has been consumed in some countries for hundreds of years with no apparent adverse effects, some batches of Spirulina have been found to contain mercury, lead, arsenic, radioactive metals, bird feathers, flies, and microbes. Contaminated products may cause nausea, vomiting, liver toxicity, and death.
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