Used medicinally for centuries, spirulina is said to be one of the oldest life forms on earth, eaten since at least the 9th century in the Kanem Empire of Chad, Africa. We know it’s loaded with protein and other nutritional benefits, but a recent study indicates it could even help children with academic performance.
Eyed as a potential malnutrition-ending supplement for its wealth of nutrients, there are more than 40,000 varieties of spirulina, mostly cultivated in fresh water. Because it has less than 4 calories per gram, it can offer premium nutrition without the risk of obesity.
It was this use of spirulina, as a malnutrition-staving supplement, that interested researchers in Senegal. They were evaluating a government program designed to improve the nutritional intake of school children in that country using spirulina supplements.
For the study, published in the journal Sante Publique, children with an average age of 7 years and 7 months were given 2g of spirulina once daily for two months. Their academic performance was compared with other children.
On average, the 549 children saw a 10% increase in their academic performance.
The researchers couldn’t say for certain that the spirulina caused the improved performance; not enough research has been done.
However, the researchers think that spirulina could have this positive effect through several mechanisms, one of which involves increasing the amount of L-tryptophan, an amino acid the body uses to synthesize brain chemicals like serotonin and melatonin.
Similarly, other studies indicate spirulina can improve mental health, cognitive ability, and overall brain health:
- One study comparing three antioxidant-rich diets (blueberries, spinach, and spirulina) and their neuroprotective effects found spirulina to have the highest neuroprotective effect, possibly due to its ability to squelch free radicals and reduce inflammation.
- Another study found that spirulina may protect the brain from damage and degenerative disease, like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
- And yet another study concludes: “These results support the hypothesis that a diet enriched with spirulina and other nutraceuticals may help protect the stem/progenitor cells from insults”.
Further, the improved brain performance could be attributed to improved health overall. Overall health is related to brain performance, so by boosting the children’s overall health profile, the spirulina could increase their academic potential.
Spirulina is not just a complete protein but 60-70 percent protein by weight, a higher proportion than either soy or red meat. It is rich in vitamins A, C, D and E, as well as in B vitamins, including B-12, which is not typically found in vegetable sources. It also contains a wide variety of minerals, antioxidants and fatty acids that have been shown to contribute to healthier skin and hair, and to fight cell damage.
In addition to brain health and potentially increasing academic performance, spirulina could be good for fighting arthritis, cancer, and allergies. Its’ been shown to boost energy levels and even combat depression and anxiety. Spirulina is a substance definitely worthy of the designation as a “superfood.”