Spirulina extract may boost memory for older people with MCI: RCT

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© tashka2000 / Getty Images
© tashka2000 / Getty Images

Related tags spirulina Algae MCI Cognitive function Memory Brain health

Twelve weeks of supplementation with a Spirulina extract may boost visual learning and visual working memory test results in older people, says a new study from Korea.

Brain functioning is known to naturally decline as we age, and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a transitional state when small changes in memory and other mental abilities coexist with normal functioning.

Such declines in functions are often a warning sign of dementia – a term used to describe various different brain disorders that a progressive loss of brain functioning in common.

Data from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial indicated that three grams per day of the Spirulina maxima​ extract also led to enhancements in vocabulary in people with MCI.

“This study was the first clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety of S. maxima extract (SM70EE) for improving memory function,” ​stated scientists from the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST), the  University of Science and Technology (UST) in Jeju  and Jeonbuk National University Medical School.

“The improvement of memory function activity by SM70EE ingestion was first confirmed in clinical tests, and patients with early AD [Alzheimer’s Disease] such as MCI confirmed that continuous intake of SM70EE could show improvement in memory function through improved visual memory and vocabulary,” ​they wrote in Nutrients​.


Spirulina – a blue-green alga or cyanobacterium – has been in the natural product arena for many years, and many consumers have been taking supplements formulated with the algae for decades with positive results. 

The algae are a rich source of over 50 vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron, and a wide variety of phytonutrients like phycocyanin, chlorophyll, carotenoids, and enzymes, but it’s the protein content that is gaining increasing attention.

Over 600 research papers have been published on Spirulina’s health benefits, including findings from a pilot study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition​, which reported that the alga may reduce physical and mental fatigue after exercise.

The new study is said to be the first to investigate the algae’s potential benefits for memory and cognitive function in older people with MCI, and, if replicated in other study, could broaden the list of potential health benefits for the ingredient.

Study details

Eighty Koreans with MCI were recruited to participate in the clinical trial. The volunteers were randomly assigned to receive either 3 grams per day of the Spirulina extract or placebo for 12 weeks.

The data from computerized neurocognitive test (CNT) indicated statistically significant differences between the spirulina group and placebo for the visual leading test and the visual working memory test.

Additional tests using the Korean version of the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA-K) showed that vocabulary was significantly improved in the Spirulina group, compared to placebo.

“The significant increase in vocabulary found in this study as evaluated using the MoCA-K would appear to be due to the effects of visual memory improvement and related synergies,”​ wrote the researchers.

“Therefore, continuous consumption of SM70EE by individuals in the MCI phase of early AD could lead to improved memory function through improved visual memory and vocabulary.”

Source: Nutrients
2022, 14​(18), 3714; doi: 10.3390/nu14183714
“The Effects of ​Spirulina maxima Extract on Memory Improvement in Those with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial”
Authors: W-Y. Choi, et al.


Related topics Research East Asia

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