A recent study (1) gives the results of a method to fight anemia and immune deficiency in seniors. This simple, effective and inexpensive method consists of the regular consumption of spirulina with its well known anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Before summarizing the study, let’s recall a few concepts below:
What are the main elements that make up our blood?
Our blood is composed of cells that circulate in a fluid called “blood plasma”. These cells are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Red blood cells also called erythrocytes. Red blood cells are rich in hemoglobin, which gives them their red color. In fact, the hemoglobin molecule binds iron and is able to bind alternately to dioxygen and carbon dioxide in order to fulfill its gas exchange function.
An abnormal decrease in their number corresponds to anemia.
White blood cells : this is a family of blood cells including lymphocytes, monocytes and polymorphs. They are the agents of our immune defense system. They are responsible for protecting us against external aggressors such as viruses and bacteria.
The number of white blood cells, their distribution and their quality are the guarantors of a good immunity.
Platelets: these are pieces of cells that can bind together. Platelets ensure coagulation.
White blood cells and the immune system!
When we talk about immunity, we are referring to the immunity that has been transmitted to us by our genes, which is called innate immunity. It is also the one that our organism has built up during its encounters with microbes. Our body is able to create its own defenses, these are targeted, we speak then of acquired immunity.
The immune system is complex. If we were to summarize it very simply, we would say that it is made up of a chain of participants that goes from the messenger, the alert thrower, to the cleaners in charge of eliminating the enemies, and an armed force of fighters in charge of killing the aggressors. The defenders and cleaners are white blood cells. If there is a reduction in the number of warning cells and a reduction in the number of defense cells such as cytokines (2), immunity is weakened. This is the case in people affected by disease or old age.
Immunosenescence is an age-related loss of immune function
According to the law of nature, our immune functions see their performance decrease with age, we speak then of immunosenescence. This is characterized by a reduced ability to fight infections.
Researchers have shown that it is possible to stimulate the immune system cells present in the digestive tract (3, 4, 5). They are an ideal target because they are easily accessible. Thus, an appropriate diet can be a very relevant approach to stimulate immunity, especially in people affected by immunosenescence or disease.
Anemia is very often due to an iron deficiency but also to a deficiency in vitamins B12 or B9
Anemia is characterized by an abnormally low level of red blood cells in the blood. It is the consequence of an insufficient production or an abnormal destruction or loss of red blood cells. Studies have shown that the majority of women of childbearing age are deficient in iron due to insufficient replenishment of their stock from monthly blood loss. Very old people are often deficient in red blood cells due to a lack of iron and/or vitamins B12 and B9, as these vitamins are less and less well assimilated with age.
Hemoglobin, the molecule linked to the red blood cell that contains iron and owes its color to it, becomes insufficient for normal blood function. Anemia is often the consequence of an iron deficiency but it can also be due to a lack of vitamins B12 or B9 which are frequently found in people who consume little or no meat such as vegetarians, vegans or the elderly.
These essential components must be sufficiently present in our diet. When this is not the case, dietary supplements rich in iron or vitamins B12 or B9 can be a very simple solution to solve anemia.
When the dietary intake of iron and vitamins B12 and B9 is sufficient, anemia can result from a problem related to their assimilation, this is the case for vitamin B12 with Biermer disease. It should also be noted that elderly people may experience a decrease in their capacity to assimilate these components. In case of severe vitamin B12 deficiency, regular injections can solve the problem of anemia.
The effects of spirulina on anemia and immune function in seniors
Publication abstract: Carlo Selmi1,2, Patrick SC Leung1, Laura Fischer3, Bruce German3, Chen-Yen Yang1, Thomas P Kenny1, Gerry R Cysewski4 and M Eric Gershwin1 The effects of Spirulina on anemia and immune function in senior citizens Cellular & Molecular Immunology (2011) 8, 248-254 2011 CSI and USTC.
Spirulina was chosen for the study because it is a readily available dietary supplement capable of stimulating homeostatic hematologic and immunologic systems.
Organic spirulina is a very well known cyanobacteria or blue green algae. It was already used by the Aztecs as a food supplement. It is rich in proteins, carotenoids, vitamins and minerals but also in bio-assimilable iron.
It is known to have inhibiting effects on atherosclerosis, probably due to its ability to inhibit leptin secretions and to improve resistance to it. Studies show its capacity to fight against lipidic overloads in the liver (6, 7), against oxidative stress (8), against hyperglycemia (9, 10), against hypercholesterolemia (11) and arterial hypertension (12).
On the attached figure it appears an increase in the proportion of white blood cells following the intake of spirulina. As a reminder, our immune system depends on the quantity and quality of our white blood cells.
The researchers of this study conclude that the results obtained show a real benefit to the daily intake of spirulina (3g/d) to fight against anemia due to a lack of iron and to fight against immunosenescence.
Considering the absence of risk to the use of spirulina, the launching of a large randomized clinical study would allow to confirm the recommendation of its regular consumption by elderly people and people suffering from anemia.