Spirulina, those green foul-smelling tablets or foul-smelling powder that you can buy from your local health shop, is known as the "wonder food". It is microscopic blue-green algae grown in the alkaline waters of shallow lakes. It contains over 100 synergistic nutrients and is one of the richest and most complete sources of total organic nutrition in the world.
Centuries ago it was part of the staple diet of the Aztec civilisation. By weight, it is 65-71% protein. Compared with eggs, which are 47%, brewers yeast 45%, soybeans 35%, meat and fish 22%. It is amazingly low in kilojoules, cholesterol and fat.
Beef liver is generally regarded as the richest source of vitamin B12, a nutrient used to treat a type of anaemia, but Spirulina has twice the amount. It has 10 times the amount of iron as that contained in the same weight of spinach, and five times as parsley, one supplier claims his spirulina is 28 times richer in organic iron than raw beef liver, but who would eat raw beef liver? It is also high in beta-carotene (the pre-cursor to vitamin A), 25 times richer than raw carrots, chlorophyll, Vitamin E and minerals, particularly Phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Most of the protein our body needs to repair and build can be produced by taking the proteins broken down by digestion, into amino acids, and building the types of protein required, however there are 8 amino acids that the body is unable to produce.
These are called essential amino acids, Isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Spirulina contains higher quantities of these essential amino acids than our usual source of proteins, meat, eggs and for the vegetarians, soy-beans. As these essential amino acids are already in their free form they are remarkably easy to digest.
Because of the remarkable nutrient value and bio-availability Spirulina can be used when normal eating and digestion is impaired, in cases of cancer, prolonged illness, re-couperation and anorexia, spirulina is a whole food in a powder or capsule.
A growing wave of nutritionally enlightened fitness enthusiasts, body builders, professional coaches and competitive athletes alike are using spirulina and experiencing exciting performance improvements. You can see why, with the increased protein to build and repair muscles, and iron content that enables the body to produce red blood cells, that carry oxygen to the muscles.
Perhaps vegetarians should look to spirulina to provide those nutrients that are often missing from the vegetarian diet. Spirulina is the richest source of Vitamin B 12 and iron in all of nature, and is in fact the ONLY plant source of B 12. And can provide the ideal protein complement for incomplete plant proteins as it is a rich source of the essential amino acid lysine, this amino acid can be the limiting amino acid in grains.
Spirulina has been a popular slimming supplement, as it acts as an appetite suppressant. It is recommended to take about 6 tablets 30 minutes before eating food, or try one of our delicious spirulina smoothies.
It has an action on the area of the brain called the hypothalamus, which through a series of chemical reactions can signal the stomach that sufficient food has been eaten to satisfy the appetite, quite soon after commencing a meal. This allows meal sizes to be decreased comfortably and easily without those nagging hunger pains.
Phenylalanine, one of those essential amino acids, is the superstar of natural appetite suppressants.
Recipes using Spirulina Powder
3 cups of your favorite fruit juice
2 teaspoons of spirulina powder
Place juice and banana in a blender or food processor and blend for 30 seconds, add spirulina powder and blend again till smooth. This can serve four but you may enjoy it all by yourself.
Breakfast special, great for that morning after:
3 cups of fruit juice
1 orange, 2 kiwi fruit, 2 bananas
cup of acidophilus yogurt
3 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds
Place the pumpkin seeds in the blender with half the juice and blend to grind the seeds, then add all the other ingredients, blend again till smooth, again this can serve four.
A real pick-me-up:
3 cups of fruit juice
any fruit you choose, strawberries, apples, oranges
one heaped teaspoon of honey
2 teaspoons of spirulina powder
Mix all ingredients except spirulina powder in the blender for one minute till smooth and then add spirulina and blend another 20 seconds.
Quick Reference Facts about Spirulna
Spirulina is a microscopic blue-green algae. It is a vegetable plankton whose cells form the shape of a coiled spring thus, the name "Spirulina," which means "little spiral.' Unlike other plants and animals, spirulina does not have complicated bodies and biochemistries to maintain. Its total function is to produce protein, carohydrates, vitamins, amino acids, protective pigments, and many other vital nutrients so important in human health.
- Spirulina is nature's richest whole-food source of Vitamin B-12. Its 2-6 times richer than it's nearest rival raw beef liver! B-12 is practically a synonym for high energy.
- Spirulina is nature's richest whole-food source of biochelated Organic Iron. It's 58 times richer than raw spinach and 28 times richer than raw beef liver!
- Spirulina is nature's richest whole-food source of Vitamin E. It 3 times richer than raw wheat ger, and its biological activity if 49% grater than synthetic Vitamin E!
- Spirulina is nature's richest whole-food source of Beta-Carotene (por vitamin A). Its 25 richer than raw carrots! Unlike the preformed Vit A of synthetics and fish liver oils, beta-carotene is completly non toxic even in mega doses.
- Spirulina is nature's richest whole-food source of Antioxidants. It contains a spectrum of practically every natural antioxidant known, including : the antioxidant Vitamins B-1, B-5 and B-6, the minerals zinc, manganese, and copper, the amino acid methionine and the superantioxidants beta-carotene, Vit E and the trace element selenium.
- Spirulina is nature's richest whole-food source of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLS). Its oils are 3 times richer than evening primrose oil! The polyunsaturated oils in Spirulina contain 21-29% GLA.
- Spirulina is natures's richest whole-food source of Chlorophyll. It's 5-30 times richer than alfalfa or wheat grass.
- Spirulina is nature's richest whole-food source of Complete High-Biological Value Protein
About the Author
Senga Barrett: a Naturopath devoted to health and well being.
A former aerobics instructor with a passion for natural therapies, Senga has an innate understanding of the weariness and lack of well being, that results from stress, chronic illness and on-going pain.
Natural therapies continue to play a growing role in the well-being of our community she says. Their beneficial properties have much to offer and can compliment orthodox medicine as well as offering alternative choices.
Like all living things our skin, hair and nails, require nourishment to stay healthy and to carry out repair when damaged, and a wide range of nutrients is needed, including essential fatty acids.
As long ago as the 1930’s it was known that essential fatty acids (EFA’s) were vital for healthy skin, hair and nails.
As essential structural components of cell walls, they ensure the flexibility of cells, this flexibility gives our skin its smoothness and suppleness. EFA’s (Vit F) also prevent water loss from the skin. As water is lost the skin becomes dry, rough and loses its firmness.
Insufficient intake of essential fatty acids (which occurs when we reduce our fat intake) results in loss of skin elasticity and dryness and increases our susceptibility to premature ageing.
The first barrier you have to overcome when ensuring there is sufficient EFA's in the diet is to get over the FAT THING! From teenage years, right through to maturity, a good portion of women "watch what they eat".
This generally means instead of being selective of the fats they cut out everything including our precious EFA’s. In that pursuit of a trim figure, they have been unknowingly creating a bigger monster for later years, namely an ageing skin!
Unfortunately no one told us about the importance of Essential Fatty Acids for our skin, hair, wound healing, immunity to name but a few. In fact, every important biological function in our bodies is governed by EFA’s.
Essential Fatty Acids help to:
Breakdown saturated fats.
Normalise skin lipids.
Balance the acid mantle.
Assist in oxygen transfer.
Helps the immune system.
Increases the metabolic rate.
Assist in the formation of ceramides.
The following are some of the vital functions of EFA's in relation to the skin.
- Normalising Lipids (Oil)
The top layer of the skin (stratum corneum) is made up of layer of keratinised cells bound by both lipids (oil) and water (bilayers). Skins lacking in lipids appear dull, coarse and unpliable. In severe cases, we see evidence of conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, with scaling and cracking. Essential fatty acids from within are a vita component on normalising these epidermal lipids.
- Prevents Dehydration
We are at last realising the importance of the epidermic lipids for the health of the skin and body as far as preventing dehydration, by acting as a barrier to lick in moisture. Topically applied it is believed that EFA’s may be metabolised by the skin and the resulting free fatty acids incorporated into the lipids making up the barrier, decrease the evaporation of water from the skin.
- Balances the Acid Mantle
Protection is the primary function of the skin. The acid mantle, which has a high content of free fatty acids, is the first major deterrent we have for penetration of unwanted compounds. Thus, here again we see the importance of external and internal application of EFA’s.
- Assists Oxygen Transfer
EFA’s encourage the oxygen transport through the body, across cell membranes to assist with the oxidation of foods for energy.
- Vital for the proper functioning and formation of Ceramides
Ceramides represent a major percentage of the stratum corneum lipids, and are thus important for the maintenance of water in the skin. The essential fatty acids Linoleic Acid has been found to be linked to the formation of ceramides and therefore the presence of EFA’s is vital for the ceramides found in the bilayers of the stratum corneum.
- Increases the metabolic rate
An increased metabolic rate burns for saturated fat into carbon dioxide, water and energy.
- Helps our immune system
To resist and fight infection and to prevent allergies.
Along with skin ageing comes joint stiffness and pain, perhaps the result of earlier injuries or just years of wear and tear. Improved energy levels and a relief of skin dryness are the most common benefits gained from taking Essential Fatty Acids. Of particular importance during and after menopause is the role of EFA’s in increasing calcium absorption from the diet. This enhances calcium levels in the body and helps maintain strong bones.
So where do we find these treasures?
Essential Fatty Acids come largely from vegetables, nuts, seeds and cold water fish. There are different types of essential fatty acids but the two important families are called omega 6 and omega 3.
Omega 6. Head of the omega 6 family is linoleic acid. Good sources are oils from safflower, sunflower, sesame and corn. Linoleic acids is converted in the body to gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is also in abundance In human breast milk (deficiency of GLA may be linked to babies suffering from skin problems such as cradle cap).
Omega 3. The omega 3 family is alpha linolenic acid, found particularly in flax seed (linseed) oil, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. This converts in the body to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are found in cold water fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and sardines.
We need two to three servings of any of these fish every week plus a good supply of nuts, seeds and their oils, so it is not surprising many of us are deficient in our intake.
So what should we eat?
To ensure you obtain sufficient EFAs in your diets your should include the following foods:
Fish: Two to three servings of fresh salmon, mackerel (preferably not smoked), herring and sardines per week.
Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, and pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds, one to two tablespoons per day. Mix and store in the fridge, then sprinkle over salad or grind them up and have with yoghurt or cereal.
Oils: Flax, sunflower, corn, evening primrose and starflower oils. One to two tablespoons of flax seed oil daily initially. Use oils on salads or vegetables but, for cooking, only use olive oil as the others become unstable when subjected to heat.
Vegetables: Green leafy vegetable, particularly spinach and cabbage. Aim to have five different types each day, including a good proportion of dark-green, leafy ones.
Experts tells us the skin is the last organ these essential fats reach the body uses them up first for vital internal organs which is why each of us should aim to have a soft, velvety skin. If we do not, it is a sign we need more EFAs in our diet. In addition, if we do, we can feel reassured we are properly oiled on the inside too.
Note: The Heart Foundation has an excellent source of reading material about foods and the Vitamins and Minerals they supply.
About the Author:
New Zealand born Florence Barrett-Hill is an internationally acclaimed independent dermal scientist, aesthetic technical educator, practitioner, researcher, and author with a vast experience covering all aspects of professional aesthetic therapy and paramedical skin care.
Florence's internationally respected "Advanced Skin Analysis" training program is a breakthrough post-graduate curriculum launched in 1994, and was the first to recognise and teach the importance of linking skin structure and function to skin condition. It is the core of this training program that has provided the content for the book of the same name, first published in 2004.
More information about her e-learning and seminars can be found here: www.pastiche-training.com
Her books "Advanced Skin Analysis" and "Cosmetic Chemistry" can be purchased direct from the publisher: www.virtualbeauty.co.nz
Janine says, "In the article: Menopause:"The Beginner's Guide", we looked at the various ways that sex hormones influence a woman's skin. This knowledge helps us to explain to our clients why the appearance of their skin can change at different stages of their life. In this article I would like to explore a natural phenomenon that can help our clients balance and support their skin through these times of hormonal change: Plant Estrogens."
Plant Estrogen (Phytoestrogens)
For many years it has been known that some plants contain substances which have the ability to bond with the estrogen receptors in the cells of our body. These substances are so similar in structure to our own estrogens (endogenous estrogens) that they are capable of activating these receptors and provoking an estrogenic response from our cells. It appears that they can influence many, if not all of the estrogen-receptive tissues in our bodies.
There are six main types of phytoestrogens able to influence human health:
- Resorcylic acid lactones
- Steroidal saponins.
These substances are naturally found in a large range of grains, seeds, legumes, medicinal plants and some other commonly eaten foods.
Although the phyto-estrogens promote estrogenic activity they are many times weaker than endogenous estrogens (between 160 and many thousands of times weaker). None of the phytoestrogens are capable of triggering the full potential of the receptors and unlike the endogenous estrogens they tend to play a much more limited role, being incapable of initiating major occurrences like ovulation or menstruation.
The skin, however is well within their circle of influence and these plants can offer a hormonally challenged skin some enormous benefits. Menopause for example, is one of the times that phyto-estrogens can play a part in the heath and wellbeing of the skin.
With the only source of circulating estrogen being the conversion of androgens to estrogens in the fat tissue, many receptors remain un-stimulated in post-menopausal women. When plant estrogens are ingested, they become more prevalent in the relatively estrogen-deficient environment. They are transported to estrogen-receptive tissues by the blood and once there, are able to bond with these receptors and stimulate an estrogenic response. For the skin of a post-menopausal woman, this means that the functions that would normally suffer due to a lack of estrogen are supported by the phytoestrogens. This results in an increase in the rate of cell division in the basal layer of the skin, sebaceous activity once again is regulated by estrogen and most importantly, production of hyaluronic acid in the dermis is increased. Hyaluronic acid maintains the soft, supple look we associate with a womans skin.
Phytoestrogens offer some additional benefits for the menopausal woman. They can reduce the incidence of menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and vaginal dryness. There is even some research being carried out into the positive effects phyto-estrogens could have on bone density.
Phytoestrogens also offer support to an acneic skin. The increased estrogenic influence would help counteract the influence of the androgen hormones. However, most importantly is the ability of some phyto-estrogens (isoflavonoids and lignans) to stimulate the cells of the liver to produce a substance called Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin (SHBG).
SHBG is a protein that attaches to androgen hormones and baby-sit them as they circulate in the bloodstream. When androgen hormones are bound to SHBG they are far less capable of interacting with target tissues than when they are floating free. Because of this effect, when the diet contains high levels of phyto-estrogens the symptoms of excess androgen production are reduced.
Phytoestrogens are also advantageous in the case of high estrogen levels. They are capable of bonding and occupying receptor sites, preventing the stimulation of the more powerful endogenous estrogens and protecting our bodies from hormone diseases such as endometriosis, fibroids and estrogen-dependant cancers. In fact, Tamoxifen, a drug used to treat breast cancer is structurally related to the phyto-estrogens.
So where can we get these magical substances?
There are many sources of phytoestrogens that can be easily included in our diets, but it is also important to be aware that a large number of these phyto-estrogens need to be converted by the bacteria in our bowels, before they are able to be utilized by our body. For this reason supporting your intestinal flora with yoghurt can also be a support to your hormonal health.
- Coumestans: All sprouted beans, legumes, split peas and mung beans.
- Isoflavones: Legumes, soya beans and wholegrains.
- Lignans: Linseeds, whole rye, buckwheat, millet, sesame and sunflower seeds, legumes and beans, whole grains.
- Resorcylic acid lactones: Oats, barley, rye, sesame seeds, wheat and peas.
- Steroidal saponins: Liquorice and potato.
What are some simple steps we can take to ensure we get adequate levels of these foods? Swap refined carbohydrates for wholegrains, cows milk for soya milk, and use tofu as an alternative source of protein. Dried or fresh soya beans can be added to soups and bean dishes. Linseeds, sesame and sunflower seeds can be ground and added to muesli, porridge or smoothie drinks. Sprouts are a great addition to salads and sandwiches.
Phytoestrogens do not always have to be eaten to be beneficial to our skin. They can easily penetrate the epidermis, reaching deeply into the skin and bonding with the estrogen receptors found there.
Many skin care companies use these estrogenic plants in the products created specifically for the treatment of acne or excessive hair growth where the skin is either sensitive to, or being bombarded by androgen hormones. In these cases the estrogen rich plants applied topically to the affected areas can bond to the local receptors and help negate the action of the androgen hormones.
Menopausal skins can also benefit. The plant estrogens can stimulate the receptors left empty due to a lack of the bodys own estrogen. In either case, plants containing phyto-estrogens are a powerful tool for the skin therapist.
So which are these powerful plants?
Four of the most powerful plants are:
- Rose (Rosa Rugosa/Damascena/Centifolia),
- Sage (Salvia officinalis), and
- Clary Sage.
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
- Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Once again nature has provided an effective and safe solution to the problems we face. I believe that the move away from whole, complete foods towards a more processed diet has resulted in an increase in the number and severity of the skin conditions we see.
Taking nutritional supplements although helpful is not the complete answer either. Foods in their whole state provide much more than just vitamins and minerals. They contain a delicate, complex balance of many essential nutrients. Nature has not given up all her secrets yet as the following story indicates:
In an experiment scientists decided to exact the formula of seawater. To test their results they set up two tanks both containing fish, seaweed and seawater. The only difference between the tanks was that one contained the seawater made by the scientists and the other, seawater from the ocean. Within one day, the fish in the man made seawater were dead, whereas the fish in the ocean water were healthy and thriving.
The moral to this story - there is an element of the unknown in nature which man cannot replicate. This rule applies to both the food we eat and the substances we choose to apply to our skins.
Trickey, R (1998). Women, Hormones & The Menstrual Cycle. (1st Ed.) Australia
Allen & Unwin
Queensland Institute of Natural Science (1995). Nutrition 1.
About the Author
Janine Tait is an internationally qualified beauty therapist with over 30 years experience in the beauty industry, a dermo-nutrition expert, and educator with a particular interest in skin health and wellbeing.
Beauty Therapist -ITEC, CIDESCO, CIBTAC, ABThNZ