New Delhi: Spirulina, believed to be a source of food for the ancient Mexicans, may hold the solution to India`s problem of malnutrition, as candies made from the blue-green algae show promise in promoting overall growth of young children, according to a new study.
Spirulina is a microscopic fresh-water plant rich in nutrients, protein, and enzymes. It is low in calories and saturated fat and is one of the only non-mucous, non-acid forming high protein food, which NASA has also included as space diet for astronauts.
The new research, involving about 2,000 children aged two to five years in the tribal regions of Nilgiris district in Tamil Nadu, found that those who took `spirulina candies`
had remarkable changes in overall health than those who were in a control group which was not given the supplement.
"Comparison of changes in the anthropometric parameters -- such as growth of weight, height, head circumference etc -- revealed that children who were given spirulina candies were significantly taller and heavier than those in the placebo group," said Dola Mahapatra, National Director of Child Fund India, that sponsored the study.
"The study thus underlines the necessity for large scale, long term and widespread intervention programmes, with special reference to spirulina, in order to enhance the
nutritional status of tribal children," Mahapatra told PTI.
Food supplements like spirulina are generally regarded as safe, and are low cost and may prove to be beneficial to children especially in tribal belts where they are deprived of
the nutrition they require, said Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and founder of `theweightmonitor.com`.
"However, the quality of spirulina and its processing needs to be taken care of," she added.
The study was conducted by a team from Nilgiri Adivasi Welfare Association (NAWA) and the Avinashilingam Institute for Home Science and Higher Education for Women, Coimbatore.
The findings were discussed at a special session of a recent four-day event of Child Fund India here. Experts who attended the event were of the view that spirulina could become a key driver to eradicate the country`s malnutrition problem.
According to UNICEF, over 60 per cent of children below the age of four in India are malnourished and one in every three malnourished children in the world live in India.
"With this study, we are trying to suggest a cheap and viable solution towards the menace of malnutrition. If just two candies of spirulina taken for about six months can improve overall health parameters of these children, regular intake of the supplements can have a huge impact on their health," said Mahapatra.
Dipa Sinha, Advisor to the Supreme Court appointed Commissioner on Right to Food, said: "The study suggests that efforts in micro-level need to be intensified to tackle the problem of malnutrition.
"ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) should be revamped. Anganwadi Workers should be trained in such a way that they can easily sense the health and nutrition needs of local people."
Khosla also suggested that supplements like spirulina candies should be provided to children in tribal regions or areas where malnutrition is high, the way mid-day programme is being carried out.
However, besides providing these supplements, assessment of their nutritional deficiencies, nutrition and hygiene education, and promoting healthy eating and cooking
practices should also be taken seriously, she said.
"We are going to introduce spirulina in tribal regions of Udaipur district in Rajasthan very soon," C R Joy, a senior programme coordinator of Child Fund India, said.
"Our samples have already been sent for lab testing, a decision is soon to be taken regarding the production and distribution of the supplements," he added.