Spirulina: The Superfood

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Spirulina platensis is an algae that has medicinal effects. In December 2004, we shared our successful trials with this supplement on several horses with a variety of seasonal breathing and allergy problems.

Spirulina is a useful supplement for horses with allergic lung disease, both young performance horses and older horses with ”heaves.” Heaves is a more advanced lung disease, similar to COPD in humans and known as RAO, recurrent airway obstruction.

These breathing difficulties are a complex interaction between a genetic predisposition, irritants in the air (dust, bacterial toxins), specific allergic triggers and in some cases infectious organisms. Feeding Spirulina at a dose of 20 grams twice a day (2 tablespoons of the powder) can reduce symptoms.

Some owners report an enhanced effect when used with MSM. Others get the best results when feeding Spirulina and Jiaogulan (the herb Gynostemma pentaphyllum). A typical Jiaogulan dose is 2000 mg twice a day (about a level teaspoon). Jiaogulan was proven to have bronchodilating effects in a guinea pig model of allergic lung disease. Many horses have been able to reduce/eliminate drug therapy.

Spirulina has also been effective in eliminating headshaking in some horses that don’t respond to the cyproheptadine treatment for photic headshaking (headshaking triggered by exposure to light). Presumably these horses are experiencing allergic reactions that are controlled by the Spirulina. Spirulina may also help with skin allergies, but the immunology of skin allergies is often more complex and results aren’t predictable.

This blue-green algae (not to be confused with other blue-green algae, which can be toxic) is considered by the World Health Organization to be a ”superfood,” which means it’s rich in nutrients and has health benefits. Spirulina has been given to undernourished children in third-world countries because of its highly digestible protein, excellent amino acid profile and highly bioavailable minerals.

It moves the body’s immune system away from inflammatory and allergic response and toward protective antibody responses. It has a direct antihistamine effect. Components of Spirulina (Ca-Sp, an acid polysaccharide, Japanese work) have been shown to have potent antiviral effects. It has been found to be a strong antioxidant (Journal of Agricultural Food Chemicals, September 2007) and significantly extended endurance in a human exercise test (European Journal of Applied Physiology September 2006).

Note: Never change your horse’s treatment without consulting with your vet. Remember that Spirulina may not eliminate the need for drugs, especially in flare-ups. However, it’s a safe, economical approach with no known side effects. A full-sized horse can be treated for lung problems with the Jiaogulan and Spirulina combination for under $1.50/day when buying bulk powder from www.herbalcom.com, 888-649-3931.