Chlorella is a fresh-water green algae that is gaining immense popularity for its numerous health benefits. Native to Japan and Taiwan, chlorella is rich in chlorophyll, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers.
Not only does it help boost energy, but it also is helpful in detoxing from heavy metals like lead and mercury. Chlorella benefits our health in ways such as it helps in detoxification, protects against cancer, lowers cholesterol, boosts the immune system, promotes weight loss, etc.
Read on to learn more about chlorella, its health benefits and the side effects associated with it.
What is chlorella?
Chlorella is a single-celled freshwater algae with biological and pharmacological properties that are important for human health (1).
There are 30 different species of chlorella, and each one has different nutritional qualities. Chlorella’s green color comes from its high concentration of chlorophyll.
This algae has a tough cell wall which is impossible to digest in its natural form. So it has to be taken in a supplement form if you want to reap its benefits (2). These supplements are available as capsules, tablets, powders and as liquid extracts.
Numerous studies have shown that chlorella benefits us by promoting healthy hormonal function, improving cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and aiding detoxification of our body.
Scientists are also considering using chlorella as a bio-fuel for agricultural equipment.
Health Benefits of chlorella
1. It is highly nutritious
Many people consider chlorella as a superfood as it contains many nutrients (3). The nutritional profile of chlorella may vary slightly on the growing conditions and the methods used to extract the supplement.
Protein: Chlorella is a rich in protein. In fact, it is a complete source of protein as it contains all the essential amino acids.
Vitamins: Chlorella contains impressive amounts of vitamin A, B2, B3, and Vitamin C. Some varieties of Chlorella also contain Vitamin B12.
Iron: Chlorella is an excellent source of iron. Depending on the supplement you take, it can provide you 6 to 40 percent of your daily requirement for iron.
Other minerals: Chlorella also provides a small number of other minerals like magnesium, zinc, calcium, potassium, and copper.
Omega-3: Chlorella is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Just 3 grams of chlorella can give 100 mg of omega-3.
2. Helps in detoxification
Toxins can enter our body through the food we eat and the environment. Mercury fillings, regular consumption of fish, exposure to radiation, can all lead to heavy metals in the body.
Chlorella has been particularly effective in removing heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, and lead (4). When we take chlorella supplements regularly, the fibrous shell binds with the heavy metals and other toxins and carries them out of our body.
Regularly consuming chlorella supplements can also prevent heavy metals from accumulating in our soft tissues and organs.
When people start taking these supplements, they may experience frequent bowel movements during the first few weeks. This discomfort is an effect of the detoxification process.
3. Protects against cancer
Chlorella protects our body from cancer in many ways. It helps flush out toxins can lead to cancer. Its antioxidant properties prevent free radical damage.
It also enhances the actions of T cells, which help identify and destroy damaged cells that may lead to the formation of tumors. A recent animal-based study also found that chlorella helps prevent cancer in many different ways (5).
The high levels of chlorophyll in chlorella protect the body from the ultraviolet radiation treatment while removing radioactive particles from the body.
During a two-year study by the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical College, the researchers observed that when glioma-positive patients took chlorella, they had fewer respiratory infections and flu-like illnesses (6).
4. Boosts immune system
Several studies have found that chlorella helps improve immunity.
According to a 2011 study, the subjects produced more antibodies when they took chlorella than when they received a placebo. This helps improve the mucosal immune function in humans (7).
During 2012, another study was done to study the effects of chlorella on the salivary immune system of the humans. The study which took place for four weeks and was then repeated after another 12 weeks, found that chlorella helps improve the immune system and enhanced natural killer cell activity (8).
Some other studies have also shown that chlorella is helpful in enhancing immune function in 50 to 55-year-olds but not in those above 55 (9).
5. Helps lower cholesterol
Several studies have shown that chlorella can help lower cholesterol levels.
During 2001 study, when patients of fibromyalgia, hypertension, and ulcerative colitis took chlorella supplements for two to three months, it helped lower their blood cholesterol, blood pressure and improved their immune functions (10).
Studies have also shown that chlorella supplements can lower LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in people with high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol (11).
Chlorella contains antioxidants, carotenoids, fiber, and niacin, all of which are known to lower cholesterol.
6. Acts as an antioxidant
Antioxidants prevent the cell damage caused by free radicals. They bind with free-radicals that are known to cause severe cell damage in the body.
Chlorella is a rich source of antioxidants like chlorophyll, vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein (12).
The antioxidants in chlorella help fight many diseases. They reduce the production of advanced glycation end products, which can reduce the complications that lead to diabetes (13).
During a 2013 study, 38 smokers were given chlorella extract for six weeks. This supplementation improved their antioxidant status (14).
Chlorella is also helpful in keeping your blood pressure under control. During a 2009 study, chlorella was administered for 12 weeks in subjects with high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension.
The results suggested that GABA-rich chlorella significantly decreased blood pressure and is a beneficial supplement for prevention of hypertension (15).
During a multicomponent analysis of a chlorella-containing tablet, scientists discovered that it contains antioxidant vitamins, arginine, potassium, calcium, and n-3 unsaturated fatty acids, which can reduce arterial stiffness. Arterial stiffness can lead to increased blood pressure (16).
Chlorella is also helpful in reducing blood sugar levels.
A 12-week study that involved administering chlorella supplements to 17 healthy subjects and 17 subjects with high-risk factors found that chlorella helps reduce fasting blood sugar levels (17).
Other studies have also shown that chlorella supplements can help reduce blood sugar levels and improve liver function in patients with NAFLD (18).
If you are trying to lose weight, chlorella supplements may be just right for you. Chlorella helps regulate hormones, which improves metabolism and circulation and promotes higher levels of energy.
We have already learned that chlorella helps with the detoxification of the body. The detoxification process helps those who are trying to lose weight process.
According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, chlorella helps in the reduction of body fat percentage, fasting blood glucose levels and total serum cholesterol (19).
10. Improves skin
Chlorella is rich in amino acids, lipids, vitamins, and minerals, all of which are essential for skin regeneration. Chlorella increases the levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, and glutathione in the body and this eliminates the harm-causing free-radicals.
11. Promotes eye health
Chlorella is a rich source of beta-carotene. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that are known to lower the risk of macular degeneration (20).
Lutein gets concentrated in the lens, retina and the macular region of the eye and protects it from UV radiation.
Precautions and side effects
Though chlorella is generally considered to be safe by the FDA, it can have side effects in some individuals. Some of its side effects include headaches, nausea, abdominal discomfort, swelling of face and tongue, acne, fatigue, sensitivity to light, vertigo, lethargy and shaking.
Many countries, including the US, do not regulate supplements. So, you can’t really be sure of the quality of the supplement you are getting. The nutritional content of supplements can also vary according to the growing conditions and processing.
Since chlorella affects the immune system, it should not be taken by people with immunodeficiency and those who are taking immune system medications.
People, who are allergic to iodine and those who are taking Coumadin or Warfarin, should also not take chlorella supplements without consulting with their doctor.
Ways to take chlorella and the correct dosage
Chlorella can be consumed as a tablet. You can also add chlorella powder to your smoothie to mask its strong taste.
Though there is no specific recommended dosage for chlorella supplements, we suggest you start with a small dose and watch out for allergic reactions.
Some studies have found benefits in taking 1.2 grams of chlorella a day, while other studies suggest you take at least 5 to 10 grams of chlorella a day. Most supplements indicate a dose of 2 to 3 grams a day.
Difference between chlorella and spirulina
Chlorella and spirulina are both freshwater algae which are rich in chlorophyll. They are packed with nutrients which are responsible for their numerous health benefits.
Spirulina is a single-celled, spiral-shaped microalgae that grown in warm freshwater lakes. Chlorella, on the other hand, is a spherical-shaped, single-celled microorganism.
Chlorella is green, while spirulina is blue-green in color. The green color of chlorella indicates that it is richer in chlorophyll than spirulina.
Spirulina is more abundant in healthy fats and proteins than chlorella. The WHO has used it for providing nourishment to malnourished children.
A single dose of spirulina a day can counteract vitamin A deficiency. Spirulina also provides richer doses of phytochemicals that can prevent cancer.
Chlorella is better known for its detoxification properties, its ability to fight allergies and boost the immune system.
Chlorella is a freshwater algae that is considered highly beneficial to health. Several studies have proved that it helps in detoxification of heavy metals; helps reduce cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
It also helps in weight loss and improves skin tone. However, chlorella can cause allergic reactions in some people. People who take immune system medication must consult with their doctor before taking this supplement.