Chlorella is a type of seaweed. More specifically, it is a single-celled green algae found in fresh waters. Proponents consider it a superfood due to its rich nutritional value and associated health benefits. For example, if you are a vegan, then this organism is a good source of vitamin B12, cobalamin, and iron. This is not ordinary B12, but the type that the body can readily use. The iron is also the biologically available type. Usually, animal products are good sources of iron and vitamin B12 but this is a ‘No-go-zone’ for vegans.
According to study published in the Journal of Nutrition (1995), it was found that, vegans who consumed adequate amounts of chlorella had higher serum concentration of vitamin B12.
Chlorella possesses a tough cell wall that is difficult to digest. For this reason, to benefit from its nutrients, the cell wall has to be broken. It is therefore vital to read the supplement label of your product’s package and see whether the chlorella ingredient is indicated as ‘broken cell wall chlorella’.
Nutritional composition of chlorella
Apart from the biologically active iron and vitamin B12, chlorella contains other health promoting nutrients. These include the following.
- Fats. This can constitute a minimum of about 12% and a high of up to 32% dry weight of chlorella. The method of processing chlorella is important since it can reduce the amount of lipids by up to 70%. This includes high levels of polyunsaturated fats (almost 40%). This is an important source of omega 3 fatty acids for people who for one or other reason do not take fish and other animal sources of the fatty acids.
In one study published in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology of February 1992, it was found that Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) made up an average of 35% of the total polyunsaturated fatty acids tested. EPA is associated with a lower risk of cell inflammation and its associated health issues. This means that, adequate amounts of chlorella in your diet plan can help to reduce the symptoms of painful conditions but without the side effects associated with pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory products such as corticosteroids, opiates and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Proteins. Almost half of chlorella’s dry weight is made up of proteins. This makes it an affordable form of protein supplementation for human beings. This protein type is unique in that its absorption into the body is as efficient as that of milk and eggs. This is not the case with other plant sourced proteins. In addition to this, chlorella proteins contain all the 9 amino acids needed for good health.
- Vitamins. A number of vitamins have been isolated in chlorella. These include vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin C, the already discussed vitamin B12, and folic acid. It also contains high amount of vitamin K. this vitamin supports good blood clotting mechanism among other functions.
- These include iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, and potassium.
- This is vital for a healthy digestive system among other benefits.
- Antioxidant properties. In addition to vitamin C and the minerals such as zinc that possess antioxidant properties, chlorella contains carotenoids. These are powerful antioxidants that have been shown to have a ‘bad’ cholesterol lowering effects.
Other antioxidant ingredients in chlorella include lycopene, lutein, and chlorophyll.
Health benefits of chlorella
There are many benefits associated with the use of chlorella in the diet or as a supplement. It is important to note that many more research studies on the green algae are ongoing. A few of these research based benefits include:
Support for health blood sugar metabolism.
It has blood sugar level lowering effect in both healthy and diabetic individuals. According to the Journal of Medicinal Food of September 2008 also improves insulin sensitivity which may be helpful in patients suffering from diabetes due to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Supports the respiratory system health
Chlorella’s anti-inflammatory properties are important in helping people suffering from chronic and inflammatory conditions of the respiratory system. People suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and those with asthma can benefit from chlorella supplementation.
Supports heart health
Narrowed blood vessels due to the accumulation of ‘bad’ cholesterol is a major risk factor in the development of heart disease. The antioxidants, calcium, arginine, and the omega 3 fatty acids found in chlorella can all work synergistically to support healthy and supple blood vessels. This supports good blood circulation with less resistance and hence less work needed for the heart to pump blood throughout the body – normal blood pressure.
Supports the immune system
One study suggested that, a 4 week supplementation with chlorella led to an improved immune response in the study subjects. Another study published in Nutrition Journal of 2012 arrived at a similar conclusion.
Supports body detoxification efforts
Chlorella has the ability to bind and help in the elimination of toxic heavy metals in the body. These include heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, and mercury. This helps in supporting good health in organs that usually bear the burden of a toxic metals laden body. These include the brain, the liver, and the kidneys.
The cleansing effects of chlorella are not limited to heavy metals. It has been shown to reduce the levels of a common food contaminant called dioxin in the body.
Iron and vitamin B12 deficiencies increase risk of anemia among vegans and vegetarians. Chlorella forms a safe, reliable and an inexpensive way for reducing this risk in this group of people.
Reduces the symptoms of chronic inflammatory conditions
The omega 3 fatty acids (and especially the EPA component) help to reduce inflammation. This may help some patients to reduce the use of prescription pain medications or even to do away with them altogether.
Is chlorella safe?
Chlorella is a generally safe product. However, individual users may experience digestive problems such as nausea with or without vomiting. Other symptoms include loose stools, abdominal cramps, and flatulence.
On rare occasions, it has triggered allergic reactions in some people. People with immune conditions or those using medications for such conditions should consult their health experts before using chlorella.
People on blood thinning medications should be cautious with chlorella due to the high levels of vitamin K it has. This vitamin promotes blood clotting.
Some chlorella has been found to be contaminated with viruses that can infect human beings.
Depending on the source, chlorella may be contaminated with environmental pollutants.
To minimize the risk of using unsafe chlorella products, always determine the source. Note the reputation of the source. Note any guarantees the company offers and any quality seals the packaging label may have.
Dosage and presentation
Chlorella can be presented as stand-alone nutrient or as part of an ingredient in a multivitamin and mineral supplement. The dosage has not been determined but it is important to stick to the manufacturer’s suggested dosage. For example, Belisan’s Essential contains 50mg of organic chlorella as part of a wide range of ingredients for overall health. For more information about this, go here
Yongmanitchai, W, and O P Ward. “Growth of and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Production by Phaeodactylum Tricornutum under Different Culture Conditions.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 57.2 (1991): 419–425. Print.
Wessels, D. (2017, November 18). "What are the health benefits of chlorella?." Medical News Today. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320067.php.
Otsuki, T., Shimizu, K., Iemitsu, M., & Kono, I. (2011). Salivary Secretory Immunoglobulin a secretion increases after 4-weeks ingestion of chlorella-derived multicomponent supplement in humans: a randomized cross over study. Nutrition Journal, 10, 91. http://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-91
Kwak, J. H., Baek, S. H., Woo, Y., Han, J. K., Kim, B. G., Kim, O. Y., & Lee, J. H. (2012). Beneficial immunostimulatory effect of short-term Chlorella supplementation: enhancement of Natural Killer cell activity and early inflammatory response (Randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial). Nutrition Journal, 11, 53. http://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-11-53