By Dr. Mercola
Many are doing whatever they can to optimize their health, especially their heart health, so a new study from the journal Clinical Nutrition1 is encouraging and helpful, as it emphasizes how powerful natural compounds such as those found in chlorella are for different aspects of your well-being.
This systematic review revealed that chlorella, a nutrient-dense green alga that’s especially popular in Asian countries and is used to make medicine as well as nutritional supplements, is a powerful way to support your cardiovascular system, especially in terms of lowering your risk factors.
Researchers at Shahrekord University in Iran looked at 19 chlorella supplementation studies conducted prior to January 2017, focusing on those with thorough coverage on how chlorella influences blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, body mass index (BMI) and lipid profile, as these four factors often have a dramatic impact your cardiovascular disease risk.
While the effects of chlorella on BMI weren’t conclusive, the researchers noted that supplemental intake with natural antioxidants, lipid-lowering agents or drugs designed to lower glucose levels, should undergo further study to determine the value of combination therapy for cardiometabolic health.
Combined, the studies included 797 participants, mostly from Japan, but also some from Iran and Korea, with an array of health conditions. Some were borderline or mildly hypertensive, or hypercholesterolemic, while others were pregnant or smokers; some were healthy individuals. Food Science focused on the bioactive compounds in chlorella that can optimize metabolism of lipids. As reported by NutraIngredients:
“The water-soluble fibers, which are high in chlorella (13g/100g), bind to the digested fat and reduce the absorption of sterols (such as cholesterol) from the intestine; therefore, the amount of sterols in the feces increase … In addition, the analysis revealed that the consumption of chlorella had greater effect in unhealthy participants in contrast to their healthier counterparts. This is because it greatly enhanced indicators such as blood pressure and total cholesterol.”2
For two months, researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond gave chlorella supplements to individuals suffering from fibromyalgia (10 grams of Sun Chlorella tablets and 100 mL of a more concentrated liquid chlorella supplement daily). Afterward, tests indicated that the pain experienced by the study subjects had decreased by an average of 22 percent.3
Chlorella: What It Is and What It Can Do for You
So why might chlorella be given superfood status? Food Science notes it provides many of the most important nutrients, including the antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene, enzymes, amino acids, proteins, minerals, fiber and vitamins C and E. But perhaps it’s what those nutrients do for you that ushers chlorella into the annals of healthier-than-the-average, nutrient-dense foods.
A type of green alga with more chlorophyll than any other plant,4 chlorella also helps clean your blood, protect your liver, cleanse your intestines and improve your digestive system due to presence of such digestive enzymes as chlorophyllase and pepsin. Food Science observes:
“Packed with nutrients and promotes good health. This green algae grows in freshwater ponds and is common in South East Asia. It was discovered by a Dutch microbiologist in 1890 and was examined as a possible source of protein by German scientists.
However, it was only globally studied after the Second World War in an attempt to feed people cheaply, but it was found to be uneconomic. Later on, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) assessed it to be an ideal food for astronauts … To be used as a supplement, chlorella must be dried to a paste, crushed to a fine powder, and turned to tablets.”5
According to Medical News Today, one little-known advantage is that the protein in chlorella can be absorbed quite well, making it an excellent protein source for vegans.6 Additionally, a 2015 study7 found that:
“B-12 taken from chlorella helped to improve the health markers of 17 vegans and vegetarians between the ages of 26 to 57 years old with a history of B-12 deficiency. This result suggests that the body effectively absorbs the B-12 found in chlorella, making the alga a useful option for vegans and vegetarians with vitamin B-12 deficiency.”
How Chlorella Benefits Your Body
There are many more functions, however. For example, chlorella can:
• Help boost your immunity, especially in healthy people, and have “a positive effect on immunity-related cell activity.”8 Because it contains anti-inflammatory properties, it can help your body resist infection.9 In fact, studies have shown that it reduced cancer cells in animal studies, and may even kill cancer cells that already exist in a process known as apoptosis or programmed cell death.10
• Increase energy; one case in point is a study that showed how chlorella decreased fatigue in breast cancer patients (as well as improving skin health).11 Another study indicated that effects of chlorella included “increased vitality and decreased levels of fatigue.
• Boost your metabolism, which can help your body resist weight gain via complete nourishment. Your body may help you feel satisfied after meals and keep cravings at bay. In addition, participants in one study revealed a reduction in the percentage of body fat.12 Another study found it may also inhibit the growth of fat cells to help fight obesity.13
Along the same lines, chlorella may also help manage blood sugar levels, as a 2013 study also found that ingesting it prevented fat cell growth and blood fat levels, which improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.14
• Promote the proliferation of beneficial intestinal bacteria and otherwise improve gut health and intestinal flora to reduce diarrhea . This premise was supported by a recent study in France, which found that chlorella may have the potential to treat mild indigestion and similar disorders, possibly by stimulating digestive enzyme activity.15
• Improve brain function. Because chlorella contains vitamin B12 (and is in fact one of the few plant-based sources16), magnesium and amino acids, brain function is also positively impacted. This not only may prevent the oxidative stress that can bring about age-related cognitive decline, but may also reduce memory loss, another study indicated.17
Chlorella for Detoxification — Mercury, Lead, Chemo and Radiation
One of the most important functions of chlorella is its ability to detox your body of harmful substances such as pesticides and heavy metals such as mercury. Dental fillings and contaminated seafood are two of the leading causes of mercury poisoning today, but it can also occur with all forms of mercury — elemental, vapor, inorganic and organic, Mayo Clinic explains.18
One study showed that chlorella given to pregnant mice not only lowered mercury levels from their own blood and brains, but their offspring as well.19 One reason the study is so important is because pregnant women can transfer their mercury toxicity to their babies. The damage can include a number of serious problems for mothers, and central nervous system damage, kidney damage and neuron degeneration in the infants.
One strategy people use for successful detoxification is a twofold approach, such using chlorella in conjunction with cilantro, a fragrant herb often associated with Mexican or Indian dishes and known to have a number of potent health benefits all on its own.
Chlorella can also be helpful against radiation damage,20 particularly in those undergoing chemotherapy, because not only will chemo kill cancer cells, it can also have devastating effects on healthy white blood cells, which can weaken your immune system, thereby increasing your risk for infection. Health Line notes:
“Older research suggests that the chlorophyll found in chlorella helps protect the body against these harmful effects. For example, one 1990 study showed that people who took chlorella supplements during chemotherapy experienced less respiratory infections and flu-like illnesses.”21
Chlorella is also being tested for its ability to protect against damaging radiation from the sun.22 For the purpose of detoxification, though, it’s important to use chlorella and other types of detoxification agents gradually, even over several months, as I did, and some people require as long as a few years to detoxify safely. In the process, while you may feel slightly unwell at times, it’s an unfortunate part of the process and worth it to rid your body of health-damaging toxins — unless the side effects become severe.
In the same way, lead toxicity can also be eliminated using chlorella. An animal study in 2013 found that mice exposed to lead showed a “dramatic” reduction of 66 percent in their blood levels due to the chelating effects when both substances were given simultaneously. While mice improved by only 30 percent when there had been prior lead exposure, the effect of chlorella on lead has great potential, the study concluded.23
How to Take Chlorella Supplements
Because chlorella has a tough cell wall, it’s impossible to digest it and have it do any good, so it’s processed before being sold so its nutrients can be properly absorbed. However, how the cell wall is broken is very important. If broken cell wall chlorella is unavailable, especially for detoxification, fermented chlorella has thin cell walls, so it, too, would be a good choice.
When taking chlorella supplements, make sure they’re as absorbable and digestible as possible, and with no synthetic ingredients. Also, make sure you don’t consume algae supplements that are freeze-dried or pasteurized, as they won’t contain the crucial benefit of enzymes such as these.
Most chlorella supplements come in 500 milligram (mg) tablet form, so up to five tablets a day is optimal and ending up with a total of 4 grams per day. Working your way up to that point is wise, so you could start with a lower dose and work upward. Be aware that minor side effects may occur when taking chlorella supplements, including the following. Taking it with food may help prevent these problems.
Sensitivity to sunlight
Further, there are times when taking chlorella may not be safe, such as if you’re:
Immune system is low
Suffering from an autoimmune disease
Suffering from a blood disorder
Prone to allergies such as iodine or molds
Chlorella Compared to Spirulina
Spirulina is another type of alga, often called blue-green algae. Without saying whether one is better than the other, Healthline notes there are differences between the two:
- Chlorella has nearly twice the nucleic acids, which benefit your DNA and RNA
- Chlorella also contains twice the amount of chlorophyll
- Chlorella is able to bind to heavy metals for detoxification
- Spirulina contains higher amounts of iron, protein and gamma-linolenic acid
- Spirulina has a history of helping fight allergies and boosting immunity
You may benefit from taking both of them together. Chlorella supplements are often attributed to helping people with so-called “lifestyle diseases” like diabetes and heart disease. Amazing Wellness noted that in one study, chlorella:
“Significantly decreased risk by reducing body fat, lowering cholesterol, and lowering levels of blood sugar. Researchers observed that chlorella improved the way genes are activated, leading to healthier metabolism.”24
However, that does not mean you should treat this superfood as an excuse to eat all the worst foods you know are bad for you and expect chlorella to take up the slack in your damaged system. How much better would you feel and function if you ate well, and on top of that gleaned the benefits of this amazing green alga?