9 Side Effects Of Spirulina

Keep an eye on your spirulina intake; too much may be more damaging than beneficial.

Medically Reviewed by Sarah Spann, Adv Dip (Nut Med), mATMS
By Swathi Handoo, MSc (Biotechnology), Professional Certificate In Food, Nutrition & Health

Spirulina, the free-flowing microalgae that grow in water bodies, is a rich source of nutrients and has been consumed in Central Africa for centuries. But, here’s the big question – are there any side effects of spirulina?

Spirulina is consumed orally and is available in flake, powder, or tablet form. The powder and flakes are also usually mixed in smoothies and fruit juices.

This healthy food can, in fact, be dangerous to your health if not consumed in controlled quantities. This article explores the nine surprising adverse effects of excess spirulina intake. Take a look!

What Are The Potential Side Effects Of Spirulina?

1. Worsens Phenylketonuria

Phenylketonuria is a genetically acquired disorder in which the patient cannot metabolize the amino acid called phenylalanine due to the lack of an enzyme called phenylalanine hydroxylase.

The patient exhibits symptoms like delayed development, convulsions, hyperactivity, and analytical disability. Unfortunately, spirulina is a rich source of phenylalanine.

Consuming spirulina aggravates the symptoms of phenylketonuria.

2. Exacerbates The Symptoms Of Autoimmune Diseases

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An autoimmune disease develops when the immune system attacks the healthy tissues in your body, causing organ damage and inflammation.

Arthritis, asthma, periodontitis, vitiligo, type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and pernicious anemia are a few examples of autoimmune diseases.

Spirulina is, after all, a foreign body. When you consume it, the body overreacts and amplifies the activity of the immune system. This exacerbates the symptoms of a pre-existing disease or gives rise to severe inflammation (1).

3. Interferes With Drug Action

Spirulina may interferes with drug action

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Spirulina is an irritant to your immune system. It can interfere with drugs, especially immunosuppressants.

A person on immunosuppressant medication must not consume spirulina. Else, it will diminish the effect of the medication, resulting in serious complications.

4. Risk Of Heavy Metal Toxicity

Certain varieties of spirulina that are produced under unrestrained settings are often infested with significant traces of heavy metals, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead.

Prolonged consumption of spirulina that comes from such undependable sources results in damage to your vital organs, such as the kidneys and liver.

Compared to adults, children are at a higher risk of developing fatal complications due to heavy metal poisoning from contaminated spirulina.

Make sure to check where your spirulina is sourced from.

5. Renal Disorders

Our body produces a significant amount of ammonia as it metabolizes the protein in spirulina, which gets converted into urea.

This puts excessive pressure on the kidneys to flush out such a large amount of urea from the blood, ultimately resulting in decreased efficiency of the kidneys and even renal failure.

Some people tend to develop kidney stones due to such high concentrations of urea in the renal system.

6. Triggers Edema And Body Weight Fluctuation

Spirulina may affect the thyroid gland

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Spirulina is packed with vitamins, proteins, and minerals. People with compromised renal function would be unable to expel the unnecessary components from their bloodstream.

One of the most abundant minerals found in spirulina is iodine. While on the one hand, it is good to take in iodine via spirulina, on the other hand, it could affect your thyroid and parathyroid glands. The effects are more pronounced in people with hyperparathyroidism.

The build-up of excessive nutrients, along with iodine, in the blood leads to fluid retention (edema) in your limbs, imbalance in calcium, phosphate, and iodine absorption, and sudden weight gain or loss, lethargy, and cardiovascular diseases.

7. Digestive Discomfort And Nausea

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Consuming spirulina can lead to flatulence, causing abdominal cramps, nausea, and anaphylaxis – especially in people consuming it for the first time (2).

Spirulina varieties infested with contaminants, such as microcystins (toxins produced by blue-green algae), also give rise to serious gastric ailments like acute dehydration and indigestion.

8. Could Cause Anxiety And Motor Neuron Disease (MND)

Spirulina harvested from the unrestrained wild sources, such as lakes, ponds, and littered seas, contain toxic strains.

Such morphologically similar blue-green algae produce neurotoxic chemicals like β-methylamino-L-alanine, or BMAA, which could cause severe neurodegenerative disorders like motor neuron disease (MND), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, anxiety, and sleepless nights (insomnia) (3).

9. Risk For Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Spirulina may pose a risk for pregnant women

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The safety of spirulina for pregnant and nursing women is not well explored. Hence, it is recommended that pregnant or nursing women avoid taking spirulina or remain under strict medical surveillance while doing so.

Infants and children should be kept away from such supplements because they quickly develop allergies and fatal cross-reaction.

In Short…

Though algae like spirulina are highly beneficial to our body, having it in the right dose matters.

Not only the dosage, but the source from which you obtain such supplements also has a significant effect on your health. It is important to know

  • the biochemical composition (co-existing microbes)
  • what kind of exhaust gets into these waters
  • whether the effluents are treated before discharge
  • the health of the local community
  • how the QC (quality control) of the source waterbody is done

To reap the maximum benefits from an excellent nutritive supplement like spirulina, you need to inquire about such details to avoid the deadly side effects listed here.

Remember always to keep your physician informed about the dosage and the way your body reacts to spirulina. In case you notice any of the symptoms we have discussed, refrain from taking spirulina and visit your doctor immediately.

Spirulina is a healthy dietary supplement currently gaining popularity. However, if the dosage isn’t right and the supplement source isn’t regulated or certified, or if it contains impurities, then spirulina may cause side effects. The side effects of spirulina may range from aggravating autoimmune disorders to causing nausea and abdominal discomfort. It may also exacerbate medical conditions such as phenylketonuria, renal problems, or neurological disorders. In some cases, spirulina can cause allergic reactions or interfere with the functioning of certain immunosuppressant medications. Limiting or avoiding its consumption can help avoid these complications.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is spirulina safe to take every day?

Yes, it is safe to take spirulina every day. However, 5- 8 grams is considered to be a safe daily dosage. If consumed in high amounts, it may cause some side effects.

Can spirulina cause liver damage?

Consuming spirulina in limited amounts may not cause any liver damage. However, if consumed in high amounts, it may negatively affect your liver health.

How many times a day should you take spirulina?

Spirulina can be taken 2 to 3 times a day. However, the overall dosage should not exceed 8 grams.

Does spirulina make you poop?

Spirulina has cleansing properties that can effectively remove accumulated waste products from the colon. Thus, it may make you poop.

Can spirulina make you put on weight?

No, spirulina does not cause weight gain as it is very low in calories. A tablespoon of dried spirulina has only 20 calories.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Check out our editorial policy for further details.
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author
Swathi holds a master’s degree in biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. She has... more

Sarah Spann

(Adv Dip (Nut Med), mATMS)
Sarah Spann is a clinical nutritionist specializing in gut health and is based in Brisbane, Australia. She is dedicated to... more

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