By Brinder Aulakh Anand October 1996 A tiny water plant holds the promise of bringing about a sea change in your health Japanese scientists look towards spirulina as the solution to the world’s hunger problem. NASA considers it an excellent, compact space food for astronauts. The WHO has called it one of the greatest super foods on earth. And New Agers all over the world are rediscovering the wonders of spirulina. In the USA, Christopher Hills, founder of the University of Trees, is convinced that the manna which the Hebrews ate in the desert belonged to the spirulina family. Hills has even appointed spirulina missionaries to distribute this miracle food. The single-celled bluish-green water alga is believed to be the first form of plant life on earth and formed a part of man’s early diet. But its rising popularity in the last couple of decades can be traced to a French anthropologist who found, earlier this century, that a plankton from Lake Chad in North Africa was behind the remarkably good health of the Kanembitribe living on the lakeside. He took it back home to study its composition. What was ‘dihe‘ to the Kanembis came to be known as spirulina, the word derived from the algae’s spirally twisted filament-like structure. From origin to content: 1 kg of spirulina, it is claimed, is the equivalent of 1,000 kg of assorted vegetables; 10 gm of spirulina contain 6.6 gm of protein (milk has 0.32 gm). In addition, it has no bad cholesterol, has 18 of the 22 amino acids the body needs, and is the richest source of beta-carotene, an antioxidant which combats free radicals. So where does that place spirulina? A dietician’s delight, a perfect supplement to good living and health? Agrees Reshmi, 29, who started taking spirulina during the second month of her pregnancy: ‘1 did’ not take the general medicines prescribed by my doctor, yet my acute liver problem remained at bay. And I gave birth to an eight-and-a-half pound baby.’ Affirms Charanjit Singh, an Indian physicist who has been eating spirulina, off and on, for the past 17 years: ‘My health is remarkably good when I am taking spirulina, I do not even catch a cold. I take it in the form of flakes, sprinkled over any edible. My kids love it too.’ Singh’s private theory is that 60 to 70 per cent of spirulina comprises DNA, which helps the immune system. When Singh returned to India from the USA seven years ago, he ‘hunted around for it, and finally tracked it down to Transtech, a company in Madras which was manufacturing and distributing spirulina under the brand name Progen’, Transtech’s Natarajan Sundaram had started producing spirulina as a village development project in 1989. His output is still only about 20 kg a month. Spirulina has slowly been gaining in visibility in India and is marketed under the brand names Natoxid, Multinals, and Progen, and is available in powder, flakes or tablet form. A bottle of 60 capsules costs about Rs 95. There are half-a-dozen players already in the spirulina market-a subsidiary of the Thapar group with a capacity of 120 tonnes is perhaps the biggest. A recent entrant is Lucky Laboratories, an associate of Dabur India, which is currently test-marketing Sunova Spirulina in Karnataka and Goa. Spirulina is naturally found in lakes and ponds high in alkaline content, but in India it is cultivated in specially prepared water tanks. Spirulina’s healing and nourishing qualities make it an ideal food supplement. People who take it regularly say that it gives them more than adequate energy to see them through a busy day and makes them less stress-prone. It also helps control obesity, heart diseases and arthritis. There are no side effects, though some may not like its strong smell. Those with sensitive digestive systems should drink sufficient water so that the spirulina intake does not create stomach blockages. And, if you like your nourishment sugarcoated, Sunova Spirulina may soon be available in candy form.
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