It’s very easy to get caught up in superfood hype. Every day, I have to gently explain to several readers and clients that so many superfoods really aren’t what they’re cracked up to be. Thankfully, chlorella benefits our health in such important ways that I can give it my highest recommendation.
Chlorella is rich in protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients, and it even detoxifies the body. I’m such a fan that I even included it in my Energy Greens drink powder. Let’s take a look at what makes chlorella so special.
Awesome Chlorella Benefits
Chlorella is a type of green algae, a single-celled plant that grows naturally in shallow, freshwater lakes and ponds in sunny and warm locations.
It’s packed with chlorophyll and as a supplement or food product, you’ll find it dried and powdered, formed into tablets or left as a powder that you can add to liquids.
A History of Chlorella Health Benefits
Back in the 1940s and 1950s the world’s population was growing rapidly and leaders worried about being able to produce enough food for everyone using just traditional agriculture.
As a result, universities and other research institutions began looking to chlorella as a potential solution to the problem of world hunger. They found it to be a nutrient-dense food that could be grown in large quantities at a low cost.
Researchers demonstrated that chlorella could convert 20 percent of the energy from sunlight into edible nutrition. This high photosynthetic efficiency means that chlorella is better at turning energy into protein than any other plant.
Traditional protein-rich foods, like meat, require a lot of time, money, energy, and space to produce, so to find a food that could provide a lot of protein for less was important.
The researchers found that chlorella was not just rich in protein and easy and cheap to grow; they discovered that it contains many other important nutrients as well. They suggested using chlorella as a food source, but also as a supplement to be added to other food products for increasing the nutritional content.
In the end, chlorella didn’t feed the world. Advances in traditional agriculture improved the efficiency and production of crops and the hunger disaster was averted.
In the decades since, chlorella has been relegated to the fringes of nutrition, but is now making a comeback. Here are some of the most important reasons why we should return to the idea of including this ultimate superfood in our diets:
1. Chlorella is a nutrient-dense food
As the early researchers of chlorella found out, this type of green algae is extremely efficient at using the sun’s energy to create food.
Incredibly, chlorella uses sunlight to create a food source that is 50 percent protein. An equivalent amount of chlorella has even more protein than soy, one of our most protein-rich traditional plants.
There is some variation in preparations of dried chlorella, but generally, one ounce contains 115 calories, 16 grams of protein, 4 grams of unsaturated fats, and 6 grams of carbohydrates.
It also has a variety of vitamins and minerals including significant amounts of vitamins A and C, B vitamins, iron, and folic acid. There is little to no cholesterol or saturated fats in chlorella. It is truly a nutrient-dense food with little fluff or empty calories.
2. Chlorella absorbs and eliminates toxins from the body
The ability of chlorella to absorb toxins has been known for a long time, but more recent research has shown that it will absorb and help you excrete toxins from your digestive tract!
[Related: Top 13 Cleansing Spices to Add into Your Diet]
The cell walls of chlorella absorb toxins, like heavy metals, in the gut and also encourage muscle contractions. The result is that when you eat chlorella, it picks up toxins and gets your bowels moving to help excrete them.
This quick movement also reduces any reabsorption of the toxins back into your bloodstream.
In one study, rats poisoned with an insecticide called chlordecone were given chlorella. The supplement eliminated at least half of the poison through absorption and excretion. (1)
In another study with human subjects, chlorella was shown to help eliminate the heavy metal cadmium from the body through the excretion of urine. (2)
3. Chlorella detoxifies breast milk
Breast milk is crucial for the optimal health of newborns. It provides babies with needed nutrients and also important antibodies from the mother which helps to develop their new immune systems.
In a study performed in Japan, women were found to have significant levels of dioxins in their breast milk. Dioxins are environmental pollutants that we are all exposed to through the foods we eat and newborns are especially vulnerable to its negative health effects. (3)
The women in the study who took chlorella supplements were measured again and found to have significantly reduced dioxin levels. Chlorella effectively detoxified the breast milk, making it safer for newborns. The women who took chlorella also had increased levels of important antibodies in their breastmilk. Chlorella not only detoxified the breast milk, but boosted antibodies.
4. Chlorella reduces side effects of diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a major modern health problem and is related to lifestyle. Eating a better diet, getting more exercise, and losing weight are all linked to reducing the effects of diabetes, slowing its progress, and even reversing the disease, but these moves are not always enough and sometimes come too late.
Studies have found that chlorella supplements protect against the chronic health effects of the disease. (4)
In studies with diabetic rats, supplementation with chlorella reduced fasting blood glucose levels (high levels indicated diabetes). The chlorella was also shown to improve the rats’ sensitivity to insulin, and to reduce the chance that they developed diabetes-related conditions like cataracts and loss of vision.
[Related: How to Reverse Type 2 Diabetes: 3 Inexpensive Foods You Need to Know About]
5. Chlorella lowers fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure
Diabetes is not the only lifestyle-related disease that chlorella combats; it has also been shown to lower cholesterol, drop body fat percentage, and reduce blood pressure.
A Japanese study looked at people at risk for these health conditions and gave them chlorella to supplement their diets. (5) The result was that the participants saw a dramatic reduction in body fat percentage and blood cholesterol levels over a period of 16 weeks.
In another study, participants with high blood pressure took 10 grams of chlorella in tablet form for two months. More than one-third saw a significant reduction in blood pressure. As an added bonus, those people reported feeling less depressed or anxious because they had their hypertension under control and no longer needed to take medication.
6. Chlorella boosts immunity
In studies using the supplement with cancer patients, researchers found that chlorella benefits immune function and improves the overall health of these vulnerable patients.
There is no evidence that chlorella has any effect on tumors, but the immune-boosting impact helped cancer patients fight off opportunistic infections and protected against the negative side effects of chemotherapy.
And it isn’t just cancer patients who can benefit from this effect; anyone can get an immune boost from chlorella. It generally enhances the immune system, protects against infection, and promotes healing in the body.
7. Chlorella boosts energy and improves heart, nerve, and brain health
Chlorella is a potent source of vitamin B12, which is important to many of the body’s functions. B12 is an often-overlooked nutrient, but a crucial one. (6)
It is found mostly in meats and dairy, so vegetarians and vegans are vulnerable to a deficiency. B12 keeps nerves, the brain, and the heart healthy and prevents anemia, an illness that makes you tired and drained of energy.
Vitamin B12 deficiency is characterized by tingling or numbness in hands and feet, fatigue and weakness, jaundiced skin, balance problems, and in more serious cases, confusion, memory loss, and paranoia. Chlorella as a supplement can provide plenty of the B12 your body needs for energy, a healthy heart and functioning nerves.
8. Chlorella improves digestion
As mentioned earlier, as chlorella absorbs toxins from the gut, it also promotes muscle contraction. In other words, it gets things moving along in the bowels.
In this way, chlorella benefits those who are dealing with constipation. Another action of chlorella in the gut is to promote the growth of probiotics, which are those useful bacteria that help you digest food. If you’re experiencing tummy troubles, I’ve written a couple posts on how to improve your situation here and here.
Ulcerative colitis, a very serious and uncomfortable condition in which the large intestine is inflamed and ulcerated, affects many people and is not curable. Patients with ulcerative colitis who were given chlorella supplements for one month reported significant relief of symptoms. All patients involved in one study saw improvements in all measurable symptoms.
9. Chlorella relieves fibromyalgia pain
Yet another chronic, incurable illness that has been treated with chlorella is fibromyalgia. The most common symptom of the condition is overall pain and achiness.
Fibromyalgia is still poorly understood, but it affects two to four percent of the population and causes numerous other symptoms in addition to pain, including depression.
In a study of patients with fibromyalgia, more than half of those taking a chlorella supplement for three months experienced significant pain relief. They also got more quality sleep and felt less anxious and depressed.
Although it is too early to understand why chlorella benefits fibromyalgia patients in this way, researchers have hypothesized that chlorella may stimulate growth hormones that are deficient in people with fibromyalgia.
I’m not telling you how great chlorella is based on my opinion alone; all of these chlorella benefits are backed up by research.
Some of this research is preliminary and more work will hopefully be done to confirm these positive health effects, but what we know for certain is that this is a simple, yet potent nutrient-dense superfood and an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Few foods are as efficient at providing nutrients as chlorella.
There are few reasons not to add chlorella to your diet. With any kind of supplement, you should be careful about interactions and side effects, but in all of the research that has been done, there have been almost no adverse chlorella side effects.
Only a handful of people are warned against it. If you have an autoimmune disorder, are sensitive to iodine, or are on blood thinners you should check with your doctor before adding chlorella to your diet.
What is the difference between chlorella and spirulina?
Chlorella and spirulina are both high-protein super foods that are loaded with tons of vital micronutrients. In fact, they are the highest source of protein (about 60%) of any food on the planet. However, there are a few differences to be aware of:Chlorella is a green algae (spirulina is a blue-green algae), which means that it typically boasts more chlorophyll (a great blood purifier) than spirulina, which makes it great for detox purposes.Spirulina contains slightly more protein per weight than chlorella. Did you know that on average spirulina contains 12 times more protein than beef!Spirulina is also better source of GLA (gamma-linoleic acid), a healthy fat that is essential for brain and heart function, and great skin.Spirulina contains higher concentrations of phycocyanin, a phytochemical that can help prevent cancer and gives spirulina its special blue tint.Those are some of the main differences between the two. There are others but ultimately both foods are great options for better health.
When to drink chlorella?
Both chlorella and spirulina are best combined in green superfood powders (like my All-Day Energy Greens) to mask their inherent “fishy” taste. When you drink them really doesn’t matter. Whenever works best for you.
Which is better: chlorella powder or tablets?
Both tablets and powders work well. All that matters is which one is easier for for you to consume. Consistency is key. And if you’re looking for new ways to take your greens, check out these 12 creative greens powder recipes.