The term cancer is used to describe a group of disorders characterized by an unproliferative growth of cells.

The cells divide profusely and spread to different tissues within the body. [1]

The cancerous growth may originate at any of the trillions of cells within the body. Cell division generally takes place in a highly systematic manner.

Cancer occurs when there is a disturbance in this system. The cell properties and signals are altered, enabling new cells to be formed before the old cells have died.

This condition can be highly damaging to organs and tissues based on its extent. [2]

Tumors, masses of cells can be found as solid growths or as cancers in the blood. They exist in either benign or malignant forms.

Benign forms have restricted growth and do not spread to surrounding tissues and organs.

Malignant tumors are more dangerous as they invade surrounding tissues and use blood and the lymphatic system to spread to other organs.

Benign tumors in the brain may be fatal but they do not grow back when removed in other organs.

On the other hand, malignant tumors have the ability to grow back even when removed from the body. [3]

The occurrence of cancer is highly dependent on an individual’s genetic make-up.

If someone has a predisposition to cancer, on exposure to environmental carcinogens such as cigarette smoke, UV radiation, etc., their genetic defenses get compromised.

The chief genes which control cancer expression are proto-oncogenes, tumour suppressor genes, and DNA repair genes.

Alterations in these genes trigger a series of genetic changes known as ‘drivers of cancer’.

Cancers occur in several forms depending on the organs they affect.

Some common types of cancers include Carcinomas (epithelial cells), Sarcomas (bones and soft tissues), Leukaemia (blood and bone marrow), Lymphomas (originating at the B and T cells), Myelomas (plasma cells), Melanomas (skin cancer) and brain and spinal cord tumours.

Other types include tumours forming in the germ cells and those obstructing hormones. [4]

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium which is often consumed by humans due to its high protein content (55-70%).

This more than that found in high protein products such as beef, chicken or soya.

It has an excellent nutrient profile and contains several beneficial compounds like gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), beta-carotene, linoleic acid, arachidonic acid, vitamin B12 and the minerals iron and calcium.

Recent scientific studies are indicative of spirulina’s anti-cancer properties. This is due to the fact that it is laden with nutrients which have excellent antioxidant properties.

They are also capable of binding to cell components and controlling the metabolic markers of the disease. [5]

4 Benefits of Spirulina in Cancer Prevention

Spirulina is believed to have excellent healing properties. Increasing scientific evidence is indicative of its ability to reduce the risk of various types of cancers along with reversing their effects.

The nutrients present in it have the ability to decelerate the rate of cell division and fix cell damage, all contributors to cancer occurrence. [6]

Some of the benefits of spirulina in the treatment of various types of cancers have been listed as follows:

4 Benefits of Spirulina in Cancer Prevention

1. Vitamin A present in Spirulina Reduces Tumor Growths

Spirulina is rich in Vitamin A. Vitamin A has the ability to restrict tumor growths and in turn, prevent cancer.

This ability was seen when spirulina was administered to a group of individuals affected by oral cancer. [7]

Supplementation with the species Spirulinaf usiformis (SF) showed that its Vitamin A component was successful in lowering oral ulcerated lesions in the diseased individuals and effectively reducing the threat to further occurrence of cancer in the future.

It was interesting to see that the compound acted without affecting serum concentration of retinol or beta-carotene, neither did it have any toxic outcomes.

What does this Mean? The vitamin A in spirulina possesses anti-carcinogenic properties i.e. it act against cancer-causing agents. It monitors cell damage enabling it useful in cancer therapy.

2. It Provides Essential Nutrients to Protect Cell Functioning in Cancer

Spirulina contains an abundance of nutrients. These components act together in order to control cancerous growths.

In a study conducted using an animal model of, the ability of spirulina to counteract oral cancer was observed.

An extract of Spirulina-Dunaliella algae was topically administered to the oral cavity thrice a week over 28 weeks. A significant decrease in tumour growth and size was observed. [8]

What does this Mean? The nutrients in spirulina act synergistically against cancerous growths. The myriad of nutrients eliminate malignant cells thereby delaying the onset of cancer.

3. It Regulates Immunity Factors to Prevent Cancer

It is believed that spirulina brings about cancer cell destruction by induction of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in the immune cells near the site of the tumor. [9]

This was demonstrated using an animal model of oral cancer. Varying doses of the extract were tested.

The results were evaluated through analysis and other studies at the end of 14 weeks.

It was seen that higher regression of disease was related to higher dosages.

The immunohistochemical studies showed the activation of TNF in the macrophages surrounding the tumor cell.

The use of spirulina in the treatment of oral carcinogenesis and leukoplakia has been illustrated in the above-mentioned studies.

There are several other experiments that have been conducted using animals in vitro.

At present, there is only one human trial that had been carried out.

However, the anticancer applications of spirulina look promising.

This is due to the fact that the compound regulates cell signals related to cancer.

Its administration can help maintain a check on the cell cycle by which nonproliferative growth of cells can be avoided.

It activates surrounding immune cells in case of cancerous developments and the cells activate suitable immune mechanisms to combat this. [10]

What does this Mean? The administration of spirulina activates the tumor-killing genes in the immune cells surrounding the affected site. This ability to manipulate cell signals and reactions imparts cancer preventive activity to the compound.

4. It has Antioxidant and Antiproliferative Effects

Spirulina is rich in a variety of bioactive compounds. Some if these are tetrapyrrolic compounds.

These are similar to bilirubin which is a potent antioxidant and antiproliferative agent.

Keeping this in mind researchers attempted to understand the antiproliferative and antioxidant effects of spirulina in human pancreatic cell lines.

After three days it was observed that the administration of spirulina decreased cell proliferation in a dose-dependent manner.

The antioxidant properties of the compound can be attributed to its ability to activate mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (ROS) production which then eradicates toxic free radicles from the body. [11]

What does this Mean? Spirulina is rich in antioxidant compounds that prevent and reverse damage to cells by obliterating harmful free radicals. These compounds also regulate cell signals and its antiproliferative activity is believed to be responsible for the compound’s chemotherapeutic abilities.

6 Cancer Types That Spirulina May Help Prevent

Since the compounds present in spirulina are capable of binding to cells and regulating their immunological activity, it has the potential to be used as a chemopreventive agent as it acts against tumor formation.

1. Liver Cancer

The anticancer potential of spirulina was tested using animal models.

Through a series of tests carried out by inducing hepatic cancer cell lines to spirulina treatment, it was seen that the compound was successful in reducing the proliferation of cancer cells.

This was validated by suitable analysis.

This was the first successful attempt in using spirulina against liver cancer.

The mechanism of action is believed to be linked to the ability of spirulina to alter cancer genetics and thus prevent its onset. [12]

What does this Mean? The use of spirulina strengthens the genetic defenses in the body and is therefore useful in the prevention of liver cancer.

2. Pancreas Cancer

Phycocyanin is a compound obtained from spirulina. On testing this with pancreatic cancer cell lines it was seen to bring about positive effects.

This result is of high value in the field of chemotherapeutics as pancreatic cancer represents one of the most virulent and lethal forms of the disease.

The medicinal benefits of phycocyanin were studied both in vivo and in vitro.

It was seen that the compound was successful in altering cancer cell signals whereby it induced cell cycle arrest.

This stopped the unregulated division of cells and caused the cells to undergo apoptosis. [13]

What does this Mean? Spirulina extracts can be applied in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. It is capable of regulating cell cycles and inducing program cell death in the multiplying cancer cells.

3. Colon Cancer

The presence of phycocyanin in spirulina coupled with its antioxidant properties make it beneficial in combatting colon cancers.

Studies conducted on animal models through the oral route of administration of spirulina showed desirable outcomes. [14]

On analysis of the pathway by which the compound was capable of relieving the cell growth and oxidative damage to the cancer cells, it was seen that phycocyanin down-regulated the proteins responsible for metastasis (spread of cancer).

These results were validated through the analysis of the tumor. [15]

What does this Mean? The compounds in spirulina exert antioxidant effects on colon cancer cells, their modify protein interactions and prevent metastasis thereby avoiding cancerous developments.

4. Skin Tumor

Exposure to UV radiations is one of the chief causes of skin cancer.

This causes the production of reactive oxygen species which do not allow our body’s repair enzymes to function.

The ability of spirulina to combat this problem was studied using a suitable animal model. [16]

The subjects affected by skin cancer were treated with spirulina extracts.

Over time it was observed that the conditions of unregulated cell multiplication in the skin cells improved due to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of the spirulina extracts.

The expression of repair enzymes was also improved.

What does this Mean? Spirulina extracts are useful in the treatment of skin cancers and they exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity on cancerous cells. They also activate the production of repair enzymes which then fixes the damage at the affected sites.

5. Breast Cancer

The chemopreventive properties of spirulina extracts proved to be efficient against even breast cancer affected subjects.

Using an animal model it was seen that the introduction of spirulina extracts to cancer affected mammary cells had the potential to reverse the effects of the disease.

Ki-67 and estrogen α are some of the key genes that play a role in the expression of cancer.

Through analytical studies, it was observed that the expression of these genes was reduced.

This inhibited cell proliferative and is indicative of spirulina’s therapeutic potential in breast cancer treatment. [17]

What does this Mean? Spirulina possesses the ability to monitor the expression of breast cancer associated genes. Therefore, its use would be helpful in bringing down the incidences of the disease.

6. Oral Cancer

In another test carried out using animal subjects who were suffering from oral cancer, spirulina was provided as a possible mode of treatment.

The extracts were given for a period of 28 weeks. [18]

At the end of the experiment, the effectiveness of spirulina in the treatment of the disease was analyzed by means of statistical models.

The results showed a significant decrease in tumor size and growth rate.

What does this Mean? By monitoring the metabolic activity and division rate of tumor cells, spirulina extracts were capable of driving away the disease in the animal model. This is a signal of its potential benefits in the treatment of human oral cancers.

Dosage

Consumption of spirulina has shown the most effective when consumed in around the 1-8g range. The amount can be increased or decreased based on the weight of the individual.

More extensive research needs to be conducted to determine how many times a day it should be taken or whether it should be consumed regularly.

However, a dosage of over 8g is not advisable as the outcomes of such high levels is unknown at present. [19]

Precaution

One must be careful of the brand and source of the spirulina they buy as some species are contaminated. At times they contain heavy metals or bacterial contamination.

Overconsumption may also lead to stomach upset, malaise and liver damage.

It is, therefore, best to consult nutritionists regarding which brand is safe and how much to consume. [20]

Conclusion

The benefits of Spirulina use in cancer treatment outweigh the disadvantages. Its use is highly recommended by dieticians and nutritionists globally.

It is interesting to consider that it has been used as a dietary supplement by NASA astronauts on space missions. [21]

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