Cancer is a major concern to our society today. This disease is spreading at an alarming rate all over the world and has a very high mortality rate.
Cancer is the condition where cells in the body start dividing abnormally and do not cease to divide. All the cells in the body have potential to become cancerous, i.e. cancer may start anywhere in the body.
There are more than hundred types of cancer depending on which tissue they start. For example, blood, bones, breast, prostate, liver, lungs, throat, skin etc.
The abnormality of cell division that leads to cancer is directed by genes of an individual. The mutations in the genes interfere with its normal functioning. These anomalies drive the cells towards uncontrolled division.
As a result of this uncontrolled division tumors may form and spread to other parts of the body, gradually invading the whole body resulting in death.
The cause of mutations in the genes is largely environmental factors or lifestyle factors. The environmental factors involved are pollutants, carcinogens, radiations, infections and so on. The lifestyle factors involved are physical inactivity, obesity, smoking etc.
The mutations in the genes are inheritable. Therefore, those with family history of cancer tend to be more prone to this disease.
The treatment of cancer involves surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy etc. Most often these treatments work in earlier stages only. Also, there are numerous side-effects involved and cost of cancer treatment is high.
The mortality rate associated with this disease ascertains prevention to be the best way. There is also greater attention towards the natural therapeutics now for better treatment of cancer. A natural therapeutic potential is seen in the blue-green algae, spirulina.
What is spirulina?
Spirulina is a dried form of the blue-green algae Arthrospira. This alga grows in the fresh-waters which are alkaline. It is found mainly in the warmer climates of Asia, Africa and South America.
In some ancient cultures, spirulina was used as a food. Nowadays, it is popularly used as a dietary supplement owing to its high nutrient content.
It is rich in Vitamins (A, B & C), proteins, fibre, carotenoids, elements such as Iron, Potassium, Manganese, Zinc, Copper etc, γ-linolenic acid and many more. It has an exceptional high amount of Iron present, greater than most vegetables.
5 Benefits of Spirulina in Cancer
Due to its diverse nutrient content, spirulina exhibits a wide range of therapeutic effects. It has anti-diabetic, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-cancer and many other such activities.
1.Spirulina has cancer chemo-preventive activity
Cancer chemoprevention means use of a substance to prevent the development of cancer. It occurs by modulation of metabolic pathways involved in cancer development.
Spirulina has a strong cancer chemo-preventive potential. It has shown this activity against numerous cancer types.
It does so by inhibiting various pro-inflammatory pathways. The inhibition of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2) enzyme is important.
Lipopolysaccharides of spirulina are known to suppress tumour growth by altering expression of various cytokines (inflammatory molecules involved in cancer development).
Spirulina has modulating activity on the enzymes involved in cancer development and the elevation of anti-oxidant levels in case of skin cancer cells.
What does it mean?
It means use of spirulina is very effective in the prevention of cancer. Spirulina can modulate many metabolic pathways that have role in cancer development.
2.Spirulina can prevent cancer cell proliferation
Proliferation of cells is the main reason for the spread of cancer and tumor formation. Proliferation is caused due to failure of the checkpoints during the cell cycle that ensure normal division of a cell in the body.
There is also a role of oxidative stress and inflammation in the transformation of a normal cell to a cancerous cell and its proliferation.
Spirulina has anti-oxidant and anti-proliferative properties. It scavenges reactive oxygen species preventing formation of cancerous cell. It also arrests the cell cycle in cancerous cells.
Some proteins from spirulina have been found to exhibit significant anti-proliferative activity against many types of cancer cells. Additionally, they have no adverse effect on the normal cells.
Tetrapyrrolic compounds (pigment compounds) of spirulina have significant anti-proliferative activity as well as anti-oxidant activity.
What does it mean?
It means consumption of spirulina can prevent the proliferation of cancer cells in the body by arresting cell division. It can also reduce oxidative stress which can prevent transformation of normal cells into cancerous ones.
3.Spirulina can kill cancer cells
The role of apoptosis (cell death process) is important in the malignancy of cells. In cancer development, apoptosis process of the cell goes awry.
Targeting apoptosis pathway can have positive implication in cancer treatment.
Phycocyanin from spirulina has shown its potential inducing apoptosis in cells by inhibiting cyclooxygenase enzyme.
It also has effect on one of the apoptotic pathway carried out by mitochondria. It inhibits proteins that prevent apoptosis and enhances the ones that help in apoptosis.
It also alters the membrane potential of mitochondria inducing apoptosis. These actions have been observed in blood cancer as well as liver cancer cells.
What does it mean?
It means spirulina can be used to kill the cancer cells in the body. It has ability to induce the process of cell death in the cancer cells.
4.Spirulina acts against carcinogens and mutagens
Carcinogens are the agents that have cancer causing potential. These may be heavy metals, radiations, pesticides etc.
Spirulina has been found to inhibit the enzymes that metabolize carcinogens in the body.
Spirulina is active against mutagens as well. Mutagens are the substances that cause mutations in the genes and damage DNA.
In a study, phycocyanin of spirulina was able to protect genetic damage in germ cells from benzopyrene (a mutagen). It can be efficacious in treatment of cancer as well as its prevention.
What does it mean?
It means spirulina can be valuable in protecting the cells from genetic mutations induced by carcinogenic and mutagenic substances. This will be helpful in prevention of cancer.
5.Spirulina can protect from radiotherapy side effects
Once a cancer has been treated, it can recur again. The chances of recurrences is very high in breast cancer, prostate cancer etc.
It is very important to prevent these relapse as it could be fatal. Spirulina has a role in prevention of relapse as well by preventing mutations in germ cells.
In a case of vulvar cancer, combination of spirulina with radiotherapy was able to kill relapsed tumor which could not be done with radiotherapy alone. It increased radiosensitivity and protected cells from its harmful effects.
What does it mean?
It means spirulina can be effective in preventing relapse of cancer. It can also improve the treatment of relapsed cancer.
Dosage of Spirulina For Cancer
Spirulina is usually available in a dried or freeze dried form. For medicinal purposes, it can be bought in the form of tablet, powder or flakes.
A daily dose of around 5-10 g is can be taken by cancer patients. Spirulina powder can be taken with drinks and can be added into shakes, smoothies or lemonade.
It is best to consult a health practitioner before taking spirulina supplements for cancer about the ideal dosage.
Spirulina is generally regarded as a safe food product. But certain precautions must be taken to avoid any adversity related to it.
Growing spirulina in contaminated environment makes it toxic. If spirulina is grown in a contaminated environment, it absorbs toxins from the surroundings, especially water. Consumption of such a product can expose our body to toxins, which may have harmful consequences. Therefore it is important to buy a trusted brand.
Spirulina has of high amounts of proteins present, which can cause allergic reactions in allergy prone people. This may lead to skin irritations, headache, thirst, fever, asthmatic problems etc.
Excess of spirulina can be damaging. Spirulina has a very high concentration of various nutrients therefore its excessive consumption will cause over accumulation of these nutrients in the body. Most of these nutrients can have detrimental effects in exceeding amounts.
Spirulina may be adulterated with harmful bacteria. Spirulina products may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. These bacteria have damaging action on liver and stomach. It can cause vomiting, digestive problems, shock or even sometimes death.
People suffering from Phenylketoneuria (PKU) should not consume spirulina. In PKU disease, the body is unable to metabolize phenylalanine (an amino acid). Spirulina is rich in phenylalanine therefore it should be avoided.
It is recommended to avoid spirulina supplements in autoimmune conditions due to its immune stimulating effects; however no study confirms this.
Spirulina is an enormously valuable natural substance for cancer.
It has a wholesome action against cancer. Its possesses wide variety of biological actions including cancer preventive and cancer killing activities. It is also able to act against carcinogens and mutagens that cause cancer.
Moreover, spirulina can be helpful in preventing relapse of cancer and improving the treatment.
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