Spirulina may protect the heart muscle from damage during and after a heart attack

January 20, 2006

Spirulina is a simple one celled blue green algae that thrives in warm, alkaline, fresh water. Algae can be grouped according to the predominant pigment; blue-green, red, green, and brown. Spirulina is a blue-green algae because it contains chlorophyll (green) and phycocyanin (blue).

In an earlier study these scientists from Internal Medicine at Ohio State University, in Columbus demonstrated that C-phycocyanin, a blue pigment in Spirulina, prevented the chemotherapeutic agent doxorubicin (Adriamycin) from damaging and killing heart muscle cells (cardiomyocytes). The drug doxorubicin, used to treat many cancers, is notorious for destroying the heart.

When a person suffers from a heart attack, the flow of oxygen carrying blood is temporarily blocked from reaching the heart. When the circulation to the heart is reestablished, toxins are temporarily generated from the newly reintroduced oxygen that lead to inflammation and heart tissue damage. This is called ischemic reperfusion and it is a common damaging component of heart attack, stroke, and organ transplantation. A great deal of damage can occur in the brain or heart due to ischemic reperfusion after a stroke or heart attack. Inflammatory components from the immune system are what ultimately lead to the damage and this is why particular nutrients have been protective of heart and brain tissue during ischemic reperfusion; because they inhibit both inflammation and act as antioxidants soaking up the immune system chemicals that lead to the organ damage.

In this study the researchers blocked the flow of blood to the hearts of rats for 30 minutes. They then subjected the hearts to reperfusion for 45 minutes; this would lead to an avalanche of cellular damage. A group of the rat hearts was exposed to either Spirulina or C-phycocyanin for 15 minutes before the disruption of blood flow and throughout the reperfusion period (the reestablishment of circulation). In the control hearts that were not supplemented there was a 44% decrease in recovery of circulation in the heart (coronary blood flow), the ability of the heart to utilize oxygen was 24% lower, the ability of the heart to fill with blood was decreased significantly in the left ventricle. The enzymes creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase were elevated indicating heart muscle damage, and 44% of the area of the heart muscle at risk was dead. In the hearts protected by either Spirulina or its pigment the recovery of heart tissue and heart function was significantly improved and the area damaged by the infarct was decreased. The release of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase was attenuated and the generation of toxins and free radicals during reperfusion was suppressed. Genes and immune cells that damage heart muscle after a heart attack were shut down. In other words the damage done to the heart muscle following a heart attack and the death of the heart tissue was attenuated by either Spirulina or its pigment. The study is published electronically ahead of print in the December 22nd, 2005 online edition of the American Journal of Physiology; Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

This is a much more useful study than is readily apparent. The COX-2 enzyme is active in many diseases. It is linked to decreased survival in cancer and increased ability of a tumor to metastasize because COX-2 and PGE2 allow the tumor to create its own transport system of blood vessels. COX-2 is active in cancers of the breast, colon, skin, bladder, esophagus, and pancreas. COX-2 plays a major role in inflammation and it also causes brain damage in Alzheimer's disease. COX-2 is involved with menstrual pain and other inflammation related conditions, but its best known role is in arthritis and joint damage.

A variety of cancerous tumors create large numbers of receptor sites that they use to spread throughout the body called 67-kDa laminin receptors. A recent report in the journal Natural Structural and Molecular Biology shows that consuming an amount of EGCG equivalent to that supplied to the human system by just two or three cups of Green Tea significantly slows the growth of lung cancer cells that have this receptor. A report on the research in the journal Nature notes that other studies suggest that prion wasting diseases of the human brain also carry this receptor.

The effects of tea on obesity and diabetes have received increasing attention. EGCG and other tea polyphenols appear to have the ability to help treat obesity and diabetes. The numerous actions EGCG has on both diabetes and obesity may be connected to effects on improved energy production, balancing endocrine (hormone) systems, improved control of food intake, improved control of fat and carbohydrate metabolism, improved level of antioxidants, and activity in different types of cells in the liver, muscle, and pancreas. The ability of EGCG to block the 67-kDa laminin receptor which is found in both cancer cells and cells involved with health may explain these wide ranging benefits in both obesity and diabetes, and the various cancers that Green Tea inhibits. EGCG and Green Tea may possibly be used in the treatment of diabetes, obesity and other related diseases. The review is published in the January 17th, 2006 issue of the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.