Spirulina Slows Progression of HIV
And yes, spirulina was shown to be useful in most of these studies. Why haven’t researchers taken this popular and safe nutrient out of the lab and studied it clinically with humans more?
One of the central reasons is because this is one of the cheapest and easiest of nutrients to grow and produce. And for this reason, most of the research money goes towards the pharmaceutical infrastructure.
The HIV/AIDS viral cycle
HIV and AIDS infections continue to plague modern society. The human immunodeficiency virus – also called HIV – decimates the body’s immune system by hijacking the very immune cells that typically fight viral infections.
Yet research focus has gone into antiretroviral medications because these offer the biggest return for pharmaceutical companies and their funding research. And today, one of the central strategies for preventing or delaying the onslaught of AIDS among those infected with HIV is antiretroviral therapy.
Antiretroviral therapy means to reduce a virus’ expansion and replication within the body by boosting the immune system. This is typically done in conventional medicine using antiretroviral medications to try to stop the process of DNA replication among cells that have been infected with the HIV virus. Here is an illustration of the process, courtesy of AIDS InfoNet:
As it replicates, the HIV virus will essentially highjack CD4 T-cells in order to transport the virus into cells. It does this by using the CD4+ receptors that lie on the surface of cells – as our cells allow the normal attachment of CD4 T-cells.
Multinucleated syncytia: T-cell conglomeration
As the virus replicates using CD4 T-cells, it will enlist uninfected CD4 T-cells and combine them into what is called multinucleated syncytia. A multinucleated syncytia is basically a conglomeration of cells into one big collective. The formation of these conglomeration CD4 T-cells have the effect of reducing the body’s supply of these important T-cells.
And here’s the thing: These CD4 T-cells, when there are enough of them – will basically stop a virus in its tracks, preventing it from getting inside cells and replicating itself within the cells.
This is nature’s course. As long as the body is producing additional CD4 T-cells, it should be able to keep viruses from replicating. This is how the body can fight any number of viruses.
Nonetheless, antiretroviral drugs have been shown to successfully interfere with the replication process once the virus has gotten into cells. This helps slow down the growth of a virus, naturally freeing up more CD4 T-cells to fight the virus.
Our body’s own CD4 T-cells can stop a virus dead in its tracks.
But ATV therapy is not the only means to increase CD4 T-cell counts. We have covered a number of natural therapies proven to stimulate T-cell counts as well as damage viruses on this site.
Now let’s examine a natural means to boost immunity and help the body produce CD4 T-cells: spirulina.
Spirulina boosts immune system for women infected with HIV
Research from the Institute of Nutritional Sciences at Germany’s University of Giessen studied 73 women who were infected with HIV. The women were all from Cameroon, a sub-Sahara African country.
The researchers divided the patients into two groups. For three months, one group was given five grams per day of Arthrospira platensis – also known as spirulina or Spirulina platensis. The other group was given a placebo supplement. To eliminate possible effects of the nutrients within spirulina, the placebo supplement had a comparable nutritional makeup as spirulina – an equal amount of protein and so forth.
Before and after the 90 days, the patients were tested for CD4 T-cell counts. They also measured “viral load” – the level of viral infection in the body – and another type of T-cell, the CD8 T-cell, which expresses the cytokine CD38. This T-cell is best when it is decreased.
The researchers also measured antioxidant activity within the blood of the patients, and kidney function. The later was measured with creatinine, urea and kidney filtration rates.
After the 90 days treatment, both groups showed weight increase due to the extra protein intake, but the spirulina group showed more weight gain – a good thing for an infection that tends to waste the body.
The spirulina group also experienced no accompanying infections, while the placebo group experienced three infections during the test period.
During the treatment, the spirulina group also experienced nearly half of the associated events of HIV infection – such as liver and kidney conditions. Of the placebo group, 70 percent (21 of 30) experienced events related to HIV and among the spirulina group only 43 percent of the patients – 12 of 28 experienced associated HIV events.
In addition, in the two weeks following the three-month treatment, 10 of the placebo group patients’ conditions had worsened to a point where they had to start antiretroviral treatment (ART). Meanwhile only three of the spirulina group was determined to require antiretroviral treatment during the two weeks after the study.
In addition, more of the placebo group had to start antiretroviral treatment during the study. This was only three total patients, but it is useful to consider.
Spirulina boosts antioxidant status
The spirulina group also had a significantly higher antioxidant status in the bloodstream. Their antioxidant levels were measured with what is called total antioxidant capacity of the serum (TAOS). The TAOS levels of the placebo group went down from 357 to 336 (-22), and in the spirulina group the TAOS levels went up from 330 to 387 (up by 56).
Meanwhile, blood creatinine levels decreased significantly (a good thing) in the spirulina group – by an average of 7.31. Meanwhile, creatinine levels went up for the placebo group by .01.
While the CD4 T-cell counts did not increase for either group – as these were growing infections, with only a three-month treatment window – the spirulina group showed a smaller reduction of CD4 T-cells than the placebo group. The relative difference was .61 for the spirulina group versus .67 for the placebo group. Because the difference was considered small, it was termed “non-significant.”
The study also showed a greater reduction of CD8-CD38 T-cells in the spirulina group. Again this was considered non-significant, but was different nonetheless. The spirulina group’s CD8-CD38 counts r values at 0.18 verses 024 for the placebo.
In their conclusion, the researchers admitted that the doses were relatively low and the treatment period was short. This is specific to real treatment periods that often extend into the years.
Spirulina increases CD4 T-cell counts
The fact that spirulina can significantly increase CD4 T-cell counts was illustrated clearly in anther clinical study. This study treated 52 HIV-positive patients who were undernourished in Sub-Sahara Africa. Again in this study, half (26) of the patients were treated with spirulina and half were given a placebo of soybeans that matched the protein content of the spirulina. Again, the treatment period lasted three months.
Instead of a mere 5 grams of spirulina per day regardless of the patient’s weight, this study considered the weight of each patient. The dose of spirulina was 0.37 grams per kilogram of the patient’s body weight for the first month and 0.20 grams per kilo for the next two months. This was calculated to be approximately a quarter of the patients’ total protein intake.
The average body weight of the patients was 53 kilograms at the beginning of the study. This means the patients were given about 19 grams of spirulina per day during the first month and about 12 grams of spirulina during the last two months, give or take the patient’s average weight during that period.
Once again, this study showed the spirulina group gained considerable body mass and fat-free mass – critical for keeping ones health up. The difference in body mass was slightly higher in the soybean group (about 14 pounds to nearly 11 lbs). But the spirulina group had a significantly higher fat-free mass increase than the soybean group – by 92 pounds to 86 pounds.
In this study, the CD4 counts significantly increased among the spirulina group compared to the soybean group. And the viral load levels were significantly decreased in the spirulina group compared to the beginning of the study. The viral load levels for the spirulina group went down significantly more than the soybean group.
One of the main differences between the two studies is that the second study from Africa tested patients that were given antiretroviral drugs from the beginning of the study. Both the placebo group and the spirulina group took the antiretroviral drugs. As mentioned above, most of the patients were not on antiretroviral drugs, and slightly more of the placebo group started the ART therapy during the treatment period.
Yet another difference – one that should be considered carefully – is the dosage. The second trial utilized 2.5 to nearly four times the dose – and related the dose to weight rather than a flat five gram dose as in the first study. The second study used from 12 to 19 grams depending upon the patient’s weight.
Should spirulina HIV treatment include ART therapy?
Given the unblemished safety record of spirulina, the inclusion of spirulina supplementation for HIV conditions appears obvious from these studies. But what about antiretroviral therapy?
As the two studies above are examined side by side, the treatment that combined spirulina with antiretroviral drugs did produce more CD4 T-cells. But it should also be noted that given the fact when the trial began, none of the first study’s patients needed antiretroviral drugs in the opinion of their doctors, while all of those in the second trial did. This means the patients in the first study were experiencing a different progression of the infection.
This of course means antiretroviral drugs should be determined by ones physician who is privy to the specific symptoms and diagnostic testing that would determine the progression of the infection.
As both studies show, supplementing with a sufficient amount of spirulina
Whether this means HIV patients should take antiretroviral drugs while taking spirulina is not an opinion to be presented in this or any other article. This determination should be made in consultation with ones personal physician.
Winter FS, Emakam F, Kfutwah A, Hermann J, Azabji-Kenfack M, Krawinkel MB. The effect of Arthrospira platensis capsules on CD4 T-cells and antioxidative capacity in a randomized pilot study of adult women infected with human immunodeficiency virus not under HAART in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Nutrients. 2014 Jul 23;6(7):2973-86. doi: 10.3390/nu6072973.
Azabji-Kenfack M, Dikosso SE, Loni EG, Onana EA, Sobngwi E, Gbaguidi E, Kana AL, Nguefack-Tsague G, Von der Weid D, Njoya O, Ngogang J. Potential of Spirulina Platensis as a Nutritional Supplement in Malnourished HIV-Infected Adults in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Randomised, Single-Blind Study. Nutr Metab Insights. 2011 May 2;4:29-37. doi: 10.4137/NMI.S5862.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies. “My journey into writing about alternative medicine began about 9:30 one evening after I finished with a patient at the clinic I practiced at over a decade ago. I had just spent the last two hours explaining how diet, sleep and other lifestyle choices create health problems and how changes in these, along with certain herbal medicines and other natural strategies can radically yet safely turn our health around. As I drove home that night, I realized this knowledge should be available to more people. So I began writing about health with a mission to reach those who desperately need this information. The strategies in my books and articles are backed by scientific evidence along with wisdom handed down through traditional medicines for thousands of years.”