Spirulina extract’s effects on seniors’ health

October 10, 2013 — by Jack Mazurak

Dr. Gailen Marshall displays immulina in its capsule form.

Dr. Gailen Marshall displays immulina in its capsule form.

Can spirulina, the blue-green algae rich in linoleic acids, B vitamins and a variety of minerals – and used for centuries across ancient cultures to promote better health – improve immune systems in today’s seniors?

A clinical trial still enrolling participants is under way, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) in the Division of Allergy and Immunology, to test the theory that it may.

The pilot study at UMMC aims to identify whether and how much of the spirulina extract immulina it takes to improve the immune response of adults 60 and older. Seniors stand a greater risk for complications from colds, flu and other common infections.

“As people age, their susceptibility to mortality from influenza increases,” said Dr. Gailen Marshall, professor and R. Faser Triplet Sr. M.D. Chair in Allergy and Immunology. “Even the flu vaccine becomes less effective for them.”

Immulina magnified

Immulina magnified

Similarly, people’s immune systems weaken with age. That’s why older people die from infections, including flu, pneumonia, West Nile virus and sepsis, more often than younger people.

“If we can improve people’s immune system response with immulina, they may respond more robustly to the vaccine, which would better prepare their bodies to fight off the actual, live flu virus,” Marshall said.

He plans to enroll 50 people into the study. He began taking volunteers in August and will accept more on a rolling basis.

Participants will receive an envelope of pills – either immulina or a placebo – to take four times daily. They will visit a UMMC clinic weekly for four weeks to fill out questionnaires and give saliva samples and two tablespoons of blood.

After researchers collect the remaining pills, participants will make two return visits two weeks apart. By analyzing blood and saliva samples taken during and after the immulina treatment, Marshall and his team will be able to tell to what level and how long the immune-boosting effects lasted.

For the pilot study, Marshall is working with the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi, which is supplying and preparing the immulina. “I’ve collaborated for a couple years with Dr. Larry Walker and Dr. David Pascoe,” Marshall said. “They’d been working with immulina for a while and have considered it for use in cancer patients.”

If the results show promise, Marshall will apply to the National Institutes of Health to fund an investigation of immulina’s abilities to boost the effectiveness of flu vaccines in seniors. “That study would also consider whether immulina’s effects are different based on gender and race,” he said.

The pilot represents a piece in a larger puzzle, too. Marshall aims to establish a center for integrative medicine at UMMC that will investigate, teach and practice proven treatments and methods from the world’s major medical systems.

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