Clinical potential of Spirulina as a source of phycocyanobilin

J Med Food. 2007 Dec;10(4):566-70. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2007.621.


Recent research reveals that free bilirubin functions physiologically as a potent inhibitor of NADPH oxidase activity. The chromophore phycocyanobilin (PCB), found in blue-green algae and cyanobacteria such as Spirulina, also has been found to be a potent inhibitor of this enzyme complex, likely because in mammalian cells it is rapidly reduced to phycocyanorubin, a close homolog of bilirubin. In light of the protean roles of NADPH oxidase activation in pathology, it thus appears likely that PCB supplementation may have versatile potential in prevention and therapy -- particularly in light of rodent studies demonstrating that orally administered Spirulina or phycocyanin (the Spirulina holoprotein that contains PCB) can exert a wide range of anti-inflammatory effects. Until PCB-enriched Spirulina extracts or synthetically produced PCB are commercially available, the most feasible and least expensive way to administer PCB is by ingestion of whole Spirulina. A heaping tablespoon (about 15 g) of Spirulina can be expected to provide about 100 mg of PCB. By extrapolating from rodent studies, it can be concluded that an intake of 2 heaping tablespoons daily would be likely to have important antioxidant activity in humans -- assuming that humans and rodents digest and absorb Spirulina-bound PCB in a comparable manner. An intake of this magnitude can be clinically feasible if Spirulina is incorporated into "smoothies" featuring such ingredients as soy milk, fruit juices, and whole fruits. Such a regimen should be evaluated in clinical syndromes characterized and in part mediated by NADPH oxidase overactivity in affected tissues.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Diet
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • NADPH Oxidases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • NADPH Oxidases / physiology
  • Phycobilins / administration & dosage*
  • Phycocyanin / administration & dosage*
  • Spirulina / chemistry*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Phycobilins
  • Phycocyanin
  • phycocyanobilin
  • NADPH Oxidases