Spirulina may boost effects of exercise for obese individuals: RCT

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / tashka2000
© Getty Images / tashka2000
Results of a randomized clinical trial from Mexico indicate that supplementation with the blue-green alga Spirulina may enhance the effects of exercise on body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness.

Data published in the Marine Drugs​ showed that 4.5 grams per day of Arthrospira (Spirulina) maxima​ plus systematic physical exercise led to greater weight loss, the time to reach fatigue, and the onset of lactate build-up in the blood, compared to exercise alone.

“This study is the first to focus on examining the effects of ​S. maxima supplementation in body composition in humans using a double-blind, randomized, crossover trial design,”​ reported scientists from the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (Mexico), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (Mexico City), and the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua

“The main finding of this study on the effects of ​S. maxima supplementation (4.5 g), alone or together with systematic exercise, on body composition was a significant decrease in BW and %BF during six weeks of treatment. Concerning the cardiorespiratory parameters, it was found that there is a significant improvement in RHR, TF, VO2max, and %HR at OBLA with S. maxima supplementation and/or systematic exercise.”

Protein and other bioactives

Spirulina – a blue-green alga or cyanobacterium – has been in the natural product arena for many years, and many consumers have been taking supplements formulated with the algae for decades with positive results. 

The US market for Spirulina to be about $20 million, with the global B2B market valued at $50-60 million. The US supplement sector is about 150-200 tons/year, while adding in the food industry for Spirulina, which includes smoothies, energy bars, juices, and so on, the market is approximately 300-400 tons/year.

The algae are a rich source of over 50 vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron, and a wide variety of phytonutrients like phycocyanin, chlorophyll, carotenoids, and enzymes, but it’s the protein content that is gaining increasing attention.

Over 600 research papers have been published on Spirulina’s health benefits, including findings from a pilot study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition​, which reported that the alga may reduce physical and mental fatigue after exercise.

Body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness

Weight loss © Getty Images  vadimguzhva
© Getty Images / vadimguzhva

The new study looked at the potential of Spirulina supplements in combination with systematic exercise (twice weekly for six weeks) on body composition and cardiorespiratory fitness of 27 overweight and 25 obese sedentary men. The men were randomly assigned to one of four groups: 1) The physical exercise program only, 2) Exercise with Spirulina, 3) Spirulina supplements but no exercise, and 4) No spirulina and no exercise program.

Results showed that, compared to the fourth group, all exercise and spirulina groups experienced improvements in body fat percentage (reductions) and maximal oxygen uptake (increases). The effects were more pronounced for the obese men.

In addition, both spirulina groups experienced improvements in weight loss, the time to reach fatigue and the onset of blood lactate accumulation, said the Mexican researchers.

“This study strengthens our results that a high protein content nutraceutical like Spirulina can improve some biochemical parameters, such as [resting heart rate] and blood lactate concentration, which can be the starting point for studies focused on these response variables in different kinds of populations,”​ they wrote.

“Our results relating to [resting heart rate] and [percentage of maximal heart rate] at [onset of blood lactate accumulation] may be due to S. maxima proteins exerting an anti-inflammatory role or indirectly modulating the inflammatory state and the balance of muscle cells in order to favor the biological response and the adaptation of the muscle tissue during the [maximal intensity test].”

Source: Marine Drugs
2018, 16​(10), 364; doi:10.3390/md16100364
“Effect of ​Arthrospira (Spirulina) ​maxima Supplementation and a Systematic Physical Exercise Program on the Body Composition and Cardiorespiratory Fitness of Overweight or Obese Subjects: A Double-Blind, Randomized, and Crossover Controlled Trial”
Authors: M.A. Hernández-Lepe et al.

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