Metabolic syndrome is the name given to the collection of risk factors that increase the risk of cardiovascular problems, stroke and diabetes.
These risk factors include high blood sugar, high blood pressure, abdominal fat accumulation, high triglyceride levels and low HDL (good cholesterol) levels.
The reason behind occurrence of these risk factors is lifestyle oriented, obesity and lack of physical activity, primarily. There is also a role of insulin resistance in the development of metabolic syndrome.
Insulin resistance in the body leads to improper metabolism of sugar. This elevates the sugar levels in blood, increasing chances of obesity and diabetes.
Age and genetics can also be behind the progression of metabolic syndrome. Often as we grow older, the metabolic process of our body tends to get impaired.
Inheritance of faulty genes may also be a causing factor of metabolic inefficiencies.
The treatment of metabolic syndrome mainly focuses on lifestyle and dietary changes. The medications used for this syndrome involves the medicines to lower blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol in the body.
These drugs have many side-effects like kidney problems, digestive problems, headache, gas, drowsiness etc.
Instead of making our body dependent on drugs and facing the side-effects, it is better to make such lifestyle changes that allow us to combat metabolic syndrome in a natural and holistic manner.
Nature has given us quite a holistic solution for this syndrome in the form of the algae, spirulina.
What is Spirulina?
Spirulina is the dried vegetation of the blue-green algae, Arthrospira. It grows in the alkaline fresh-waters of warmer climates like those in Africa, Asia and South America.
It is known to be used as food in some ancient cultures such as, Aztecs. Nowadays it is used as a dietary supplement for its high protein and other nutrient contents.
Spirulina is a rich source of Vitamins B, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, proteins, fibre, carotenoids, γ-linoleic acid, elements such as Iron,Sodium, Potassium, Zinc, Copper etc. It is known for a very high Iron content.
5 Proven Benefits of Spirulina in Metabolic Syndrome
The diverse and high nutrient content of spirulina provides it with a large amount of biological activities. It has regulatory effects on various metabolic pathways and immune system. It also has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
These properties have beneficial effects on many diseases, including the metabolic syndrome.
1. Spirulina lowers blood sugar
The high amount of sugar in blood is central to the metabolic syndrome. The role of insulin resistance is also crucial. The inability of insulin to metabolize sugar results in diabetes.
Diabetes is a widespread disease and causes a large degree of mortality. Management of diabetes is therefore very critical.
It has been found that phycocyanin, a pigment of spirulina is involved in the anti-diabetic action. It has ability to increase insulin sensitivity, improve insulin resistance and regulate glucose metabolism.
It enhances the insulin sensitivity by reducing the oxidative stress and inflammatory response mediated by hyperglycemia, i.e. high blood sugar levels.
What does it mean?
It means use of spirulina in diet can be very beneficial in reducing the blood sugar levels. It can also improve the function of insulin. All this have positive implication in the treatment and prevention of diabetes, a part of metabolic syndrome.
2. Spirulina lowers cholesterol
The high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) have a great implication in metabolic syndrome.
This imbalance is a major factor in increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The deposition of lipids in the blood vessels and arteries obstructs blood flow and leads to various heart problems.
Studies have shown the therapeutic effect of spirulina diet on cholesterol levels. It reduces the bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and elevates the good cholesterol (HDL) in blood.
This action of spirulina is effective in preventing atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels due to plaque formation on their walls) which is the main cause of cardiovascular diseases.
The atheroprotective effect of phycocyanobilin (a pigment molecule) from spirulina is by the activation of the gene for the enzyme heme oxygenase-1(Hmox1).
This enzyme is involved in the production of bilirubin (an anti-oxidant) which prevents atherogenesis (formation of plaque in blood vessels).
What does it mean?
It means spirulina intake can lower the bad cholesterol in the body. The lowering of cholesterol has great benefit in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases associated with the metabolic syndrome.
3. Spirulina reduces blood pressure
Hypertension or high blood pressure is an important component of the metabolic syndrome.
The factors involved in the development of hypertension in this syndrome are thought to be visceral obesity (fat accumulation around waist), insulin resistance, oxidative stress, inflammatory responses, endothelial dysfunction etc.
Phycocyanin does this by increasing endothelial nitric oxide synthase enzyme and preventing reduction in adiponectin (protein involved in regulating glucose level). This lowers hypertension and also prevents endothelial dysfunction (damage of blood vessels).
What does it mean?
It means spirulina supplementation can help in lowering the blood pressure. This has further benefits in prevention of the damage to the inner lining of blood vessels, which is involved in many cardiovascular problems.
4. Spirulina boosts weight loss
Metabolic syndrome is closely associated with obesity, especially abdominal obesity. It has consequences in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, stroke etc.
Spirulina has been found to reduce fat and improve the body mass index (BMI) of overweight individuals. This further improves the blood pressure and endothelial function.
The accumulation of abdominal fat is linked to oxidative stress in the adipose tissue.
The anti-oxidant action of spirulina is able to relieve this oxidative stress and improve the anti-oxidant status in the adipose tissue preventing the fat accumulation.
What does it mean?
It means spirulina can be included in the diet to maintain the body weight and prevent retention of fat around waist. Obesity prevention can be very effective in avoiding overall metabolic syndrome.
5. Spirulina prevents fatty liver formation
Metabolic syndrome results in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as well. The fatty liver disease results in liver damage, live failure, liver cancer etc.
Spirulina has been found to have hepatoprotective (liver protective) effects in case of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The combined anti-oxidant, anti-hypercholesteremic , anti-hyperlipidemic actions of spirulina is effective in preventing the cell damage and death in liver tissues induced by high fat diet.
In a study spirulina has been found to prevent fatty liver formation in diabetes as well.
What does it mean?
It means consumption of spirulina can prevent fatty liver formation associated with the metabolic syndrome. Thus, it can prevent damage to the liver.
Dosage of Spirulina For Metabolic Syndrome
Spirulina is generally available as a dried or freeze dried product.
For medicinal purposes, it is commercially available in the form of tablet, powder or flakes. Any of these forms can be taken for metabolic syndrome.
A daily dose of around 500mg is recommended for an adult.
Spirulina powder can also be added to drinks like shakes, smoothies or lemonade.
Spirulina is generally considered as a safe food product. But there are certain precautions that must be taken to avoid any adverse effect.
Spirulina grown in contaminated environment can be toxic. Spirulina must be bought from trusted brands. If it is grown in a contaminated environment, it absorbs toxins. Consumption of such a product can cause serious problems in the body.
It can cause allergy. Spirulina consists of high amounts of proteins, which may cause allergic reactions in some people. This may result in skin irritations, dizziness, thirst, fever, difficulty in breathing etc.
Overdose of spirulina can be harmful. Since spirulina has a very high nutrient content, its over-consumption will lead to excess of these nutrients in the body. Most of these nutrients have harmful effects in excess amounts.
Spirulina may be contaminated with harmful bacteria.There is a possibility that spirulina may be contaminated with harmful bacteria. These may cause liver damage, vomiting, digestive problems, shock or even sometimes death.
Phenylketoneuria (PKU) patients should avoid spirulina. In this disease, body cannot metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine. Spirulina is rich in this amino acid therefore it should be avoided by PKU patients.
People with autoimmune diseases should avoid spirulina. Spirulina has immune stimulating effects. Its consumption in these diseases can make the conditions worse. It should be avoided with the immunosuppressant drugs.
Spirulina intake should be avoided by people with hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis is the condition when body absorbs too much of iron. Spirulina being highly rich in iron should be avoided in this condition.
Spirulina can substantially be considered a holistic natural remedy for metabolic syndrome.
Its wide range of actions against various aspects of the metabolic syndrome makes it a very effective and efficient product against this condition.
Spirulina has both therapeutic and preventive approach in the metabolic syndrome. It has a large application in reducing the risk factors as well as the complications of this problem.