Spirulina May Boost Immune Response

December 08, 2000

New York (MedscapeWire) Dec 8 — Spirulina significantly increases cytokine production in cultured immune system cells, according to a study published in the Fall issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food.

To evaluate the effects of spirulina on the immune system, immunologists at UC Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center collected blood samples from 12 healthy volunteers, separating out the peripheral blood mononuclear cells, including macrophages, monocytes, and lymphocytes. The researchers incubated these cell cultures with dilutions of spirulina made from 429 mg capsules of dried, powdered spirulina. They added phytohemoglutanin, a known stimulator of lymphoid cells, to half of cell cultures to assess spirulina's effect on the immune system at rest and when stimulated to mount an allergic response. After 72 hours, they measured changes in cytokine levels in all samples using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) analysis.

"We found that nutrient-rich spirulina is a potent inducer of interferon-gamma (13.6-fold increase) and a moderate stimulator of both interleukin-4 and interleukin-1beta (3.3-fold increase)," says Eric Gershwin, professor and chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis. "Together, increases in these cytokines suggest that spirulina is a strong proponent for protecting against intracellular pathogens and parasites and can potentially increase the expression of agents that stimulate inflammation, which also helps to protect the body against infectious and potentially harmful micro-organisms. Additional studies with individuals consuming spirulina are needed to determine whether these dramatic effects extend beyond the laboratory."

A number of animal studies have shown spirulina to be an effective immunomodulator. In rats spirulina inhibited allergic reactions by suppressing the release of histamine in a dose-dependent fashion. In cats, spirulina enhanced the ability of macrophages to engulf bacteria, and in chickens spirulina increased antibody responses and the activity of natural killer cells.

"People have used foods like yogurt and spirulina throughout history," says Judy van de Water, associate professor of rheumatology, allergy and clinical immunology at UC Davis. "Through research, we are learning exactly how these foods improve immune system function and how they are a beneficial addition to our diet."

J Med Food. 2000;3135-140

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