Spirulina Side Effects & Interactions

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Understanding and being able to identify spirulina side effects is important if you are adding this nutrient-dense substance to your regular diet.

Spirulina

Spirulina is a blue-green micro-algae that has been consumed as a food source for centuries, and recently became popularly known as a ‘superfood.’, according to a research published by O. Ciferri in the American Society of Microbiology. Proponents of spirulina tout that it has more protein than chicken or beef, as well as 9 essential amino acids and many vitamins and nutrients. It is also known as a detoxifier, helping to oxygenate the blood and flush out dangerous toxins from the body.

Spirulina Side Effects

However, like almost all supplements, consuming too much can result in spirulina side effects such as liver toxicity, nausea, kidney stones, stomach pain, and motor neuron diseases. It is not only important to know your own sensitivity to spirulina, but it’s also important to know where this superfood is sourced and how it is grown. Although spirulina can certainly be part of a healthy diet, be aware of the possible side effects.

Wooden bowls of green spirulina powder and spirulina pills on a dark counter

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that people can take as a dietary supplement. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Heavy Metal Toxicity

Like seafood, spirulina that is grown in the wild can be contaminated with arsenic, mercury, or other heavy metals according to research conducted by Siva Kiran R.R., Department of Biotechnology, MS Ramaiah Institute of Technology, Bangalore. Children are especially at risk for developing symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, which include abdominal pain, nausea, anemia, and central nervous system dysfunction.

Renal Disorders

Metabolizing spirulina creates ammonia, which is converted into urea. Excessive amounts of spirulina can cause your kidney to overload from flushing out the urea, which can lead to kidney stones or even kidney failure, in the most serious cases.

Body Weight Fluctuation

Spirulina contains a large amount of iodine, which is normally an essential part of a healthy diet. However, this concentration of iodine can affect your thyroid glands, so it’s not recommended for anyone suffering from thyroid disease or hyperparathyroidism. Excessive use of spirulina can also cause edema, a build-up of fluid in your limbs. Edema can affect your absorption of calcium, cause weight gain, and create feelings of lethargy.

Digestive Issues

Eating spirulina can cause debilitating flatulence, leading to painful abdominal cramps or nausea. Consuming unregulated spirulina that has been harvested from the wild can also put you at risk from microcystins, toxins created by blue-green algae varieties that are easily mistaken for spirulina, which can cause indigestion and dehydration, according to a Liverpool University study, Liverpool, UK.

Motor Neuron Disease

Motor neuron disease, also known as MND, is a severe neurodegenerative disease that can be caused by the neurotoxic chemicals in similar strains of blue-green algae as per a report published by Audrey Roy-Lachapelle, M.S., Department of Chemistry, Université de Montréal. For this reason, knowing the source of your spirulina is always paramount. Eating unregulated, wild-harvested spirulina can lead to MND, Parkinson’s and dementia, while even the less serious consequences, such as anxiety and insomnia, should not be ignored if they begin to appear.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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