Chlorella: What Are Its Benefits and Uses?

Organic Chlorella Powder and Tablets

Story at-a-glance -

  • Chlorella is one of the many types of algae known today. It is sourced from a single-celled freshwater algae called Chlorella vulgaris that’s processed to break down the plant’s cell walls
  • Find out where chlorella comes from, how it differs from spirulina and what its possible uses and health benefits are

When you hear the word “algae,” you’ll likely think of seaweed. However, this designation generally refers to organisms that can produce oxygen via photosynthesis.1 The term chlorella is a combination of two Greek words: "chloros" (green) and "ella" (small),2 and refers to one of the many types of algae known today. Keep reading this page to learn more about what chlorella is, how you can use it to your advantage and the side effects to watch out for.

What Is Chlorella in a Supplement Form?

Chlorella is sourced  from a single-celled freshwater algae called Chlorella vulgaris  that’s processed to break down the plant’s cell walls. The water-soluble chlorella extract features a combination of substances dubbed the “chlorella growth factor” – it includes amino acids, peptides, proteins, vitamins, minerals, sugars and nucleic acids, all of which may have various benefits for your health.3

Chlorella is available as a powder that is added to tablets, granules and soft gelatin capsules.4,5 This algae is commonly grown in farms in Japan or Taiwan.6 Take note that chlorella should not be confused with spirulina. While chlorella and spirulina are both algae, the former is usually green in color while the latter is blue-green.7 To know how chlorella stacks up versus spirulina,  take a look at this table:8

Chlorella Spirulina
  • Has almost twice as many nucleic acids which help with DNA and RNA9
  • Has around 10 times more chlorophyll compared to spirulina
  • Can bind to heavy metals and detox the body
  • Is a complete protein that contains minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium,10 and high amounts of gamma-linolenic acid11
  • Often utilized to fight allergies12 and boost immunity13

Health Benefits of Chlorella

Chlorella is labeled a "superfood," as it actually provides beneficial nutrients that may potentially boost your health. Here are some of the nutritional components in chlorella:

Chlorophyll.14 This compound helps protect the body against infections.15

Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, lutein and beta-carotene.16 Chlorella is also home to carotenoid antioxidants that may deliver anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.17

Other vitamins and minerals: You can find small amounts of folic acid,18 B vitamins, and minerals like magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and calcium in chlorella.19 This was also highlighted in a 2016 article published in the journal Current Pharmaceutical Design.20

One of chlorella’s most positive impacts comes from its ability to work as a detoxifier, especially against heavy metals, chemicals and pesticides in the digestive tract, which is considered your body's pathway to the bloodstream. When these harmful toxins enter your digestive tract, they may make their way into your body’s cells.21,22,23

Furthermore, chlorella has a unique ability to identify the substances that your body requires and those that must be eliminated – hence, it does not bind to essential minerals like calcium, magnesium or zinc. Apart from detoxification, chlorella can be beneficial for:

Boosting the immune system:24,25 A 2017 Nutrients study highlighted that chlorella supplements were linked to improved immune system function.26

Raising energy levels:27 According to results from a 2014 Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine study, enhanced quality of life was recorded among breast cancer patients who took chlorella and chlorella extract.28

Assisting with normalizing blood sugar levels:29,30 Animal studies, such as this 2011 Phytotherapy research article, showed that chlorella may aid in boosting insulin resistance, which may benefit  your blood sugar levels.31

Helping regulate blood pressure levels:32,33 A 2009 Clinical and Experimental Hypertension article revealed that oral administration of chlorella promoted an anti-hypertensive effect in people with high to normal blood pressure levels.34

Helping reduce cholesterol levels:35 Researchers of this 2014 Nutrition Journal article study discovered that chlorella can be beneficial for decreasing the triglyceride and total cholesterol levels among mildly hypercholesterolemic subjects.36

Counteracting the negative effects of oxidative stress:37,38 A 2009 study published in the journal In Vivo revealed that chlorella extracts helped protect rats’ bodies against oxidative stress.39

Contributing to healthy brain function40,41 (because of vitamin B12,42,43 amino acids and magnesium): Because chlorella can combat oxidative stress in your body, this may eventually result in improved brain function and decreased risk for cognitive decline, as seen in this 2009 Neuroscience Letters study.44

Promoting better metabolism:45,46 According to this 2008 Journal of Medicinal Food study, chlorella prompted changes to certain genes “related to signal transduction molecules, metabolic enzymes, receptors, transporters and cytokines.”47

The book “The Brain Wash” also highlights two other known chlorella benefits, namely improving digestion, especially among people suffering from constipation, and promoting improved focus and concentration.48

What Is Chlorella Used For?

Chlorella is mainly used as a powerful detoxifier, as  it's rich in chlorophyll, which is known to:

Help you process more oxygen

Purge key elimination systems like the bowel, liver and blood

Assist with blood purification and toxin clean-up

Help promote optimal blood pressure levels

Assist with eliminating molds from the body

Aid in neutralizing bad air you might breathe in

Boost tissue growth and repair


Chlorella can also be used to increase good bacteria in your gut,  and eventually help improve digestion and assist with addressing ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease and diverticulosis. According to WebMD, topical application of chlorella was said to be useful for addressing skin ulcers, rashes caused by radiation treatment and trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted disease. Other medicinal purposes of chlorella include helping:49

Reduce side effects of radiation treatment

Help raise white blood cell counts among HIV or cancer patients

Address premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and ease fibromyalgia

Slow down the aging process

Eliminate bad breath

Lessen asthma attacks

Studies on Chlorella

Chlorella has been the subject of various studies for many years, and researchers concluded that it may be useful in helping combat certain diseases or conditions, such as:

Liver cancer: A 2009 study in the Journal of Zhejiang University Science revealed that chlorella vulgaris extract suppressed liver tumor growth and caused apoptosis or cell death in liver cancer-induced rats. A compound like chlorella extract may have a chemopreventive effect on tumors.50

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotype 1: Patients with chronic HCV tolerated chlorella supplements well and experienced significant reductions in ALT liver enzyme levels, as noted in this 2013 World Journal of Gastroenterology article.51

Chlorella was also examined for its potential toward growth performance, nutrient digestibility and gut health. A February 2017 study in the journal Animal showed that both chlorella and spirulina supplements may help promote intestinal development in weaned piglets. Results also showed that mild digestive disorders in these animals may be addressed through intake of chlorella supplements.52

What to Look for in a Chlorella Supplement

If you want to take chlorella supplements, make sure that it is broken cell wall chlorella, since this type of chlorella supplement is the only form that allows your body to use reap this algae’s detoxification abilities. Ideally, purchase chlorella (any form) produced by a trustworthy manufacturer, and ensure that:

It’s labeled as broken cell wall chlorella (so it can be digested).

It is organic and there are no additives.

The product has been tested for contaminants and comes from a naturally clean water source.

It is harvested from pure sources, as its structure can be affected by polluted water and the algae itself may retain environmental toxins.

Chlorella Side Effects to Watch Out For

When taking any form of chlorella, it’s important to remember that  detoxification shouldn’t be done quickly, and even if you believe you are healthy, you need to start the process slowly, otherwise it can lead to severe flare-ups. Some people may have a higher tolerance for chlorella, while others may need to take it more slowly and may need a few more years to effectively and safely detoxify the body.

Minor side effects have been linked to chlorella,  which occur as the body adjusts to the detoxification. These effects will most likely subside within a week or so after the body has gotten used to chlorella:

Nausea

Gas

Stomach cramping

Green color in bowel movements

It’s possible for there to be major complications that arise after chlorella intake. Should you or someone you know experience any of these, consult a doctor immediately:

Development of allergies

Asthma

Dangerous breathing problems

Sensitivity to sunlight

WebMD further advises that if you belong to any of the following groups, you should avoid chlorella, as  there is no current research  proving its safety: 

Pregnant or breastfeeding women

People with an autoimmune disease, since chlorella can increase the immune system's activity and trigger symptoms

People who take anticoagulant medicines like warfarin, since vitamin K in chlorella may reduce its anticoagulant effect53

People with a compromised immune system, as there’s a possibility that chlorella can trigger proliferation of harmful bacteria in intestines of people with a weak immune system

People with an iodine sensitivity, as chlorella can contain iodine and trigger an allergic reaction

People with mold allergies

On a final note, remember that chlorella is known to contain large amounts of iron. While iron levels in women aren't usually a problem because the menstrual cycle causes frequent iron loss, excessive quantities of this mineral in men and postmenopausal women may lead to several health problems.

If you're a man or a postmenopausal woman  using chlorella, regularly checking your blood iron levels is important. A ferritin test is a good option. Iron levels should be between 20 and 80 ng/ml range. If iron levels reach 150 mg/nl or higher, these may be already problematic and must be addressed through blood donations or therapeutic phlebotomies. 

Count on Chlorella for Improved Health and Well-Being

 ability to help detoxify the body and  get rid of harmful toxic substances is a major boost, given the high amounts of toxins that people are frequently exposed to. Along with it’s various health-boosting possibilities, such as boosts for the immune system and the brain, chlorella  a supplement  you should consider.

Unfortunately, while some people can take chlorella without side effects, this may not be the case for others. It's highly advisable to talk to a physician first before taking any form of chlorella to avoid developing complications.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Chlorella

Q: Is chlorella a microalgae?

A: Yes. Chlorella is sourced from a single-celled water algae that’s typically grown in Japan and in Taiwan.

Q: How does chlorella reproduce?

A: Chlorella reproduces via asexual reproduction. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, chlorella reproduction begins with non-motile reproductive cells, or autospores, that breach into a mother cell.54

Q: What are the vitamins and minerals found in chlorella?

A: You can find an impressive amount of vitamins in chlorella, such as folic acid and other B vitamins. Minerals like phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, copper and calcium are also found in chlorella.

+ Sources and References
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