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Spirulina as a food supplement
Since ancient times, people near Lake Chad Africa and the Aztecs near Lake Texcoco, Mexico harvested the filamentous blue green alga, Spirulina, from the lake, dried in the sun and used as food. Such kinds of food are known as single cell proteins. Other than Spirulina, microbes like baker’s yeast, Brevibacterium sp, Candida utilis, and K. fragilis are also being used as SCP.

Given below is the basic production process for a SCP:

1. Provide a carbon source e.g. carbon dioxide in case of Spirulina. Some carbon sources may require physical or chemical pretreatments.

2. To the carbon source add nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrient sources needed for optimal growth of the microorganisms.

3. Maintain sterile or hygienic conditions to prevent contamination.
Autoclave the equipments used and filter the medium.

4. Inoculate the selected microorganism in a pure state.

5. Provide adequate aeration in case of aerobic processes (not required in case of algae). Also ensure that the optimum temperature is maintained and heat generated is quickly dissipated.

6. Recover the microbial biomass from the medium. This depends on the type of microorganism being used but in case of filamentous organisms like algae and fungi, filtration is done followed by pressing. Sun drying is a slow but cheap process for biomass recovery. However, it reduces the quality of the SCP.

7. Process the biomass for enhancing the quality and stability. This may include techniques for reducing the nucleic acid content, protein isolation and purification.

After the microbial mass has been harvested and recovered, it has to be evaluated for its nutritional quality. Some of the characteristics that need to be considered are protein, amino acid, nucleic acid, lipid, vitamin etc contents. Also the SCP has to be analyzed for presence of any heavy metals or toxins, polycyclic hydrocarbons etc. In order to pass the evaluation the SCP produced has to have specific density, particle size, texture color- all of which are standardized and regulated by the health regulatory bodies. It is mandatory that the microbiological description be provided. This may include species, strain, information on contamination etc. The most important quality however that needs to be evaluated and mentioned clear on the packaging is the nutritional value with regard to the target species. Apart from all these evaluations, any product has to undergo a variety of tests before being made available commercially for human consumption.
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Protein deficiency in foods is a severe problem now and people are really concerned about what they consume. Due to this Spirulina can serve an important role if people are made aware about it's protein values. I think it will become quite popular in future.
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Thank you for sharing such useful information on Spirulina. Spirulina is often considered as a wonder food. It belongs to the genus Arthrospira which is a unicellular filamentous cyanobacteria. It is considered as food for both human and animal consumption. Spirulina is enriched with proteins, vitamins, essential amino acids, minerals, and other nutrients (essential fatty acids, β-carotene, phenolic compounds, phycocyanin, α-tocopherol and unique pigments). Thus, it acts perfect as a supplemental food. Aside from its role as a food it is also considered as a potential origin of several bio-active ingredients. This is now established both in-vivo and in-vitro that Spirulina has the potential to cure several important diseases, including anemia, few allergies, cancer, viral diseases, hepatotoxicity and cardiovascular problems. It can also act positively on hyperlipidemia, hyperglycemia, inflammatory progression and immunodeficiency. It boosts our immune system and reduces the nephrotoxicity giving protection against adverse effects of drugs, heavy metals and radiation. It also increases the lactobacilli count inside the intestine, thus keeping a healthy bowel. Different pre-clinical studies also supported the effectiveness of Spirulina.

Commercial production of Spirulina has started with good global market as a food supplement. The high nutritive value of Spirulina has drawn consumer attention for few years now, but recently people are also giving special attention to its therapeutic prospect.

Apart from Spirulina few other microalgae, including Dunaliella, Chlorella and Scenedesmus is now being explored as a potential source of nutrition and therapeutics.
Though the use of Spirulina as a human dietary supplement is now well established and consumers are taking high interest, its function as an animal food has not been taken into consideration until recently. Similar to its effect on humans, Spirulina has shown high potency as a perfect supplement when considered as an animal feed. It increases the tissue quality and have anti-cancer and anti-viral effects as well as promoting the immune system of the animals. This really opens a new avenue for use of Spirulina.

So it can be concluded that Spirulina is now widely produced and successfully commercialized as a potential human dietary supplement. Though Spirulina has been studied expansively ranging from the pharmacological, chemical and toxicological points of view to encompass every facet of its usefulness, the scope of further research still continues. The high prospect of Spirulina demands further extensive research, scientific and industrial inputs. Investments on Spirulina may provide insight into additional beneficial properties of Spirulina in the near future. Hope you find this information useful.
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This is an interesting thread which contains many useful contributions on the subject of Spirulina. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has singled out Spirulina as an interesting alternative and sustainable protein source with the growing world population. Given this type of endorsement and the growing popularity of this product as a food and nutritional supplement, it is more important than ever to identify any potential risks associated with Spirulina. In this regard, a recent case study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology is of interest. The case concerned a 17-year-old male, who developed anaphylaxis on first ingestion of a Spirulina tablet. A simple skin prick test with diluted Spirulina tablet was positive and further skin prick tests with separate ingredients from the relevant tablet ingredients (Spirulina platensis algae, silicon dioxide, inulin and magnesium stearate) identified the causative agent as Spirulina platensis algae, confirming the allergy was caused by Spirulina itelf and not by one of the additives in the tablet. The route of sensitisation was not identified; the patient suffers from allergic rhinitis and is sensitised to house dust mite, grass pollen and both dog and cat dander. Possibilities include cross-sensitisation from inhalation of cross-reactive algae, components of other foods or plants, or by algae components of house dust, but further studies are needed to verify possible causes of cross-sensitisation as these are not clear in the literature. The main point to note, however, is the need for awareness of the potential risk of Spirulina for severe allergic reaction. Allergenicity risk assessment should be carried out prior to even wider scale production and consumption of Spirulina, including importantly investigation of potential crossreactivity with other inhalant allergens and foods. This case report shows that diagnosis of Spirulina allergy is possible from a simple skin prick test with S. platensis dilutions or with diluted tablet.

Reference: LE TM, KNULST AC, RÖCKMANN H. Anaphylaxis to Spirulina confirmed by skin prick test with ingredients of Spirulina tablets. Food Chem Toxicol. (2014); doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2014.10.024.   [Epub ahead of print]
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