The antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory activities of Spirulina: an overview

Arch Toxicol. 2016 Aug;90(8):1817-40. doi: 10.1007/s00204-016-1744-5. Epub 2016 Jun 3.


Spirulina is a species of filamentous cyanobacteria that has long been used as a food supplement. In particular, Spirulina platensis and Spirulina maxima are the most important. Thanks to a high protein and vitamin content, Spirulina is used as a nutraceutical food supplement, although its other potential health benefits have attracted much attention. Oxidative stress and dysfunctional immunity cause many diseases in humans, including atherosclerosis, cardiac hypertrophy, heart failure, and hypertension. Thus, the antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory activities of these microalgae may play an important role in human health. Here, we discuss the antioxidant, immunomodulatory, and anti-inflammatory activities of Spirulina in both animals and humans, along with the underlying mechanisms. In addition, its commercial and regulatory status in different countries is discussed as well. Spirulina activates cellular antioxidant enzymes, inhibits lipid peroxidation and DNA damage, scavenges free radicals, and increases the activity of superoxide dismutase and catalase. Notably, there appears to be a threshold level above which Spirulina will taper off the antioxidant activity. Clinical trials show that Spirulina prevents skeletal muscle damage under conditions of exercise-induced oxidative stress and can stimulate the production of antibodies and up- or downregulate the expression of cytokine-encoding genes to induce immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory responses. The molecular mechanism(s) by which Spirulina induces these activities is unclear, but phycocyanin and β-carotene are important molecules. Moreover, Spirulina effectively regulates the ERK1/2, JNK, p38, and IκB pathways. This review provides new insight into the potential therapeutic applications of Spirulina and may provide new ideas for future studies.

Keywords: Anti-inflammatory; Antioxidant; Immunomodulation; Mechanism of action; Phycocyanin; Spirulina.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / isolation & purification
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Antioxidants / isolation & purification
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology*
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / isolation & purification
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Spirulina / chemistry*


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Immunologic Factors