Twelve weeks of spirulina supplementation were associated with increased counts of white blood cells, foot soldiers of the immune system, with older women reported to respond more rapidly, according to findings published in Cellular & Molecular Immunology.
“The study does add to the growing body of scientific research demonstrating that Spirulina improves immune system response, especially in older individuals whose immune function naturally declines,” said Gerry Cysewski, PhD, chief science officer and executive vice president at Cyanotech, and co-researcher in this study.
Spirulina, a blue-green vegetable alga, is a rich source of protein, amino acids, phytonutrients, iron, antioxidants and B-vitamins. Cyanotech’s spirulina is grown in Hawaii, and has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status, meaning it can be used as a functional ingredient in foods and beverages.
Under the supervision of Dr M. Eric Gershwin at UC Davis, the researchers recruited 40 seniors with a mean age of 63 (30 completed the study) and were required to take 6 tablets of 500mg spirulina per day for 12 weeks.
The objective was to determine if the supplements could be effective in countering two conditions that frequently impact the health of older people: anemia and declining immune function.
Immune function was measured using complete blood cell (CBC) counts and indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) enzyme activity, and results showed that over half of all participants receiving spirulina had higher IDO activity after 6 and 12 weeks, while this proportion was “striking in men with over 75 percent of subjects manifesting such phenomenon”, added the researchers.
In terms of cell counts, spirulina was associated with a steady increase in corpuscular hemoglobin, thereby ameliorating anemia.
“Our data suggest that spirulina may counteract anemia and immunosenescence,” wrote the researchers.
Large scale studies
“We are delighted with the very positive results of the UC Davis Spirulina Pacifica study, and the impact this development can have on the health of the over-50 population,” said Dr Cysewski.
Cyanotech’s CSO confirmed that the company does not have similar studies planned or ongoing. “However we do hope to use the results of this study to justify further large scale studies on the effect of Spirulina on enhancement of immune response, possibly funded with government grants,” added Dr Cysewski.
Source: Cellular & Molecular Immunology
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1038/cmi.2010.76
“The effects of spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens”
Authors:C. Selmi, P.S.C. Leung, L. Fischer, B. German, C. Yang, T.P. Kenny, G.R. Cysewski, M.E. Gershwin