Quantcast

Eat Your Algae: 9 Health Benefits of Chlorella

Health + Wellness

By Kerri-Ann Jennings

Move over spirulina, there's a new algae in town—chlorella. This nutrient-dense algae has been receiving a lot of buzz for its health benefits.


Furthermore, as a supplement, it has shown promise in improving cholesterol levels and ridding the body of toxins.

This article tells you all you need to know about chlorella, including what it is, the research behind its health claims and how to take it as a supplement.

What Is Chlorella?

Chlorella is a single-celled, green freshwater algae (1).

There are more than 30 different species, but two types—Chlorella vulgaris and Chlorella pyrenoidosa—are most commonly used in research (2).

Because chlorella has a hard cell wall that humans cannot digest, you must take it as a supplement to reap its benefits (3).

It's available in capsule, tablet, powder and extract form (3).

In addition to being used as a nutritional supplement, chlorella is also used as a biodiesel fuel (4).

Interestingly, studies indicate it can have many health benefits. Here are nine of them.

1. Very Nutritious

Chlorella's impressive nutritional profile has led some to call it a "superfood."

While its exact nutrient content depends on growing conditions, the species used and how supplements are processed, it's clear it packs several beneficial nutrients.

They include:

  • Protein: Chlorella is 50–60 percent protein. What's more, it's a complete protein source, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids (3, 5).
  • Vitamin B12: It's also a great source of vitamin B12. An analysis of one chlorella variety found each gram contained more than 50 percent of an adult's daily need (6).
  • Iron and vitamin C: Chlorella can be a good source of iron. Depending on the supplement, it may provide anywhere from 6–40 percent of your daily need. It's also an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps you absorb iron (1, 3, 7).
  • Beta-carotene: It's an excellent source of beta-carotene, meeting anywhere from 30–60 percent of the recommended daily intake (6).
  • Other antioxidants: In addition to beta-carotene and vitamin C, these tiny green cells provide a wide range of antioxidants (1, 3).
  • Other vitamins and minerals: Chlorella provides small amounts of magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium, calcium, folic acid and other B vitamins (1, 3, 6).
  • Omega-3s: As with other algae, chlorella contains some omega-3s. Just 3 grams of chlorella delivers 100 mg of omega-3s (6).
  • Fiber: In large quantities, chlorella can be a good source of fiber. However, most supplements don't provide even 1 gram of fiber per dose (1, 6).

Summary: Chlorella contains many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and omega-3 fats. Exact quantities may differ among brands.

2. Binds to Heavy Metals, Aiding Detox

Chlorella has gotten some buzz for its ability to help the body "detox."

In fact, studies have shown that it's effective at helping remove heavy metals and other harmful compounds from the body (8, 9, 10).

Heavy metals include some elements that are essential in small amounts, such as iron and copper, but these and other heavy metals like cadmium and lead can be toxic in larger amounts.

While it's rare for people to have dangerous levels of heavy metals in their system, people can get exposed to heavy metals through pollution or certain jobs such as mining (11).

In animals, algae, including chlorella, has been found to weaken the heavy metal toxicity of the liver, brain and kidneys (12).

One way it does this is through its chlorophyll and vitamin B12 content. These nutrients help produce glutathione, a compound that acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body against toxicity and disease (1, 13, 14, 15).

Furthermore, chlorella has been shown to help lower the amount of other harmful chemicals that are sometimes found in food. One of these is dioxin, a hormone disruptor that can contaminate animals in the food supply (16, 17).

Based on this evidence, it seems that chlorella could help enhance your body's natural ability to clear toxins.

Summary: Chlorella may help the body detox by binding to heavy metals and other toxins.

3. Could Enhance Your Immune System

Your immune system helps keep you healthy by fighting off infections.

It's a complex system made up of multiple mechanisms and cells that get into gear when an invader enters your body.

Chlorella has been found to enhance the immune response in both animal and human studies, although the evidence so far is limited.

In one small study, men produced more antibodies when taking chlorella than when they took a placebo. Antibodies help fight foreign invaders in your body, meaning this finding is quite promising (18).

In another small, eight-week study, healthy adults who took chlorella showed markers of increased immune activity (19).

Nevertheless, findings have been mixed, with some studies showing little to no effect.

For instance, one study found that chlorella supplements enhanced immune function in participants aged 50–55, but not those over 55 (20).

So it's possible that chlorella may have immune-boosting effects in some populations and age groups, but not in all. More and larger-scale studies are needed.

Summary: Chlorella may bolster immune function by increasing the activity of various parts of the immune system.

4. May Help Improve Cholesterol

Several studies have suggested that chlorella supplements may help lower cholesterol (5, 21, 22).

Specifically, several studies have shown that taking 5–10 grams of chlorella daily lowered total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high blood pressure and/or slightly elevated cholesterol (5, 21).

Chlorella's content of the following may help improve blood lipid levels:

  • Niacin: A B vitamin known to lower cholesterol (1, 23).
  • Fiber: A cholesterol-lowering agent (1, 24).
  • Carotenoids: Have been shown to naturally lower cholesterol (21, 25, 26).
  • Antioxidants: Help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is known to contribute to heart disease (27).

Summary: The nutrients found in chlorella, including niacin, fiber, carotenoids and antioxidants, may help lower your cholesterol levels.

5. Acts as an Antioxidant

Chlorella contains several compounds that are considered antioxidants, including chlorophyll, vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein (28).

These antioxidants can help fight many chronic diseases (28).

Some of these antioxidants seem to reduce the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which drive many of the complications of diabetes (1, 29).

In animals and lab studies, chlorella has interfered with the way genes age (1, 30).

Also, a human study showed chlorella supplements increased antioxidant levels in chronic cigarette smokers, a population at a higher risk of oxidative damage (31, 32).

Although much of this research is promising, it is still preliminary.

Summary: Chlorella's antioxidant content may provide some protection against chronic disease, but more human studies are needed to confirm this.

6. Helps Keep Blood Pressure in Check

Chlorella supplements could help promote heart and kidney health, which is essential for normal blood pressure.

In one study, people with mildly high blood pressure took four grams of chlorella daily for 12 weeks.

By the end, these people had lower blood pressure readings than participants who took the placebo (33).

Another small study in healthy men showed that taking chlorella supplements was linked to less stiffness of the arteries, a factor that affects blood pressure (34).

One theory to explain this is that some of chlorella's nutrients, including arginine, potassium, calcium and omega-3s, help protect arteries from hardening (34, 35).

Summary: Some research on chlorella has pointed to a blood pressure-lowering effect. Many of its nutrients have been shown to prevent arteries from hardening.

7. Could Improve Blood Sugar Levels

Some research shows that chlorella may help lower blood sugar levels (1).

One study found that taking chlorella for 12 weeks lowered fasting blood sugar levels in both healthy individuals and those at high risk of lifestyle-related diseases (22).

Other studies have shown that supplementing with chlorella improves blood sugar control and increases insulin sensitivity in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (36, 37, 38).

There isn't enough research yet to say that you should take chlorella to manage blood sugar, but it may help when combined with other therapies.

Summary: Taking chlorella supplements may help lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.

8. May Help Manage Respiratory Diseases

Managing respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often requires controlling inflammation (39, 40).

Chlorella has some components that can help reduce inflammation, including its many antioxidants (1, 41).

One study found that chlorella supplements improved antioxidant status in COPD patients, but that didn't translate into any improvements in breathing capability (42).

More studies are needed to determine its true effect on respiratory conditions, but chlorella might help with inflammation.

Summary: The antioxidants in chlorella may have anti-inflammatory effects, which can possibly improve asthma and other respiratory diseases.

9. May Enhance Aerobic Endurance

Only one study has looked at chlorella's effect on aerobic endurance, but it showed a positive effect.

Researchers gave a group of young adults six grams of chlorella or a placebo daily for four weeks.

At the end of the study, the chlorella group showed a significantly improved ability to saturate their lungs with oxygen, which is a measure of endurance. The placebo group did not experience any changes in endurance (43).

This effect may be due to chlorella's branched-chain amino acid content.

Branched-chain amino acids are a collection of three amino acids that have been found to improve aerobic performance in various studies (44, 45).

Summary: Chlorella may improve your aerobic performance, although scientific support for this benefit is limited.

Other Potential Benefits

Many other possible benefits have been proposed, but there's little research to support these claims.

Here are some of the main health claims, along with any reasoning to support them:

  • Promotes eye health: Chlorella contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that protect the eye and lower the risk of macular degeneration (46, 47, 48).
  • Increased energy levels: This proposed benefit is likely related to chlorella's vitamin B12 content, though B12 supplements typically only increase energy when people are deficient in it (49).
  • Supports liver health: Chlorella supplements have been shown to improve markers of liver health in people with liver disease. However, it's not clear whether there's a benefit for healthy people (36, 37, 38, 50).
  • Improved digestion: Many sources claim chlorella eases digestion, reduces bloating and acts like a probiotic. However, no studies have assessed these proposed benefits.
  • Relieves PMS: Anecdotal evidence says that chlorella can relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It could be a stretch, but chlorella contains calcium and B-vitamins, both of which have been shown to reduce PMS (51, 52).

While there's no specific research to back up these claims, chlorella's nutrient content could, in theory, have these benefits (53).

Summary: Chlorella has been claimed to improve energy levels, liver health, digestion and symptoms of PMS. Nevertheless, scientific evidence is currently lacking to directly support these claims.

Potential Concerns

Chlorella has been deemed "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA (1, 54).

However, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering chlorella supplements:

  • Possible side effects: Some people have experienced nausea and abdominal discomfort (55).
  • Lack of regulation: Some countries, including the U.S., do not regulate supplements and you can't be sure you're getting what the label says.
  • Inconsistent products: The nutrition content of chlorella supplements may vary, depending on the algae species, growing conditions and processing (56, 57).
  • Immune effects: Since chlorella affects the immune system, it may not be appropriate for people with immunodeficiency or on immune system medications.

Furthermore, it's important to keep in mind that dietary supplements may interact with some medications.

While chlorella is generally recognized as safe and few side effects have been reported, it might not be appropriate for everyone.

Summary: For most people, taking chlorella supplements doesn't seem to pose any serious risks.

How to Supplement With Chlorella

The current scientific literature on chlorella doesn't specify a specific dosage.

This is because there's insufficient evidence to determine the amount needed to see therapeutic effects (1).

Some studies have found benefits with 1.2 grams per day, while others looked at doses of 5–10 grams per day (5, 21, 36, 37, 38).

Most supplements indicate a daily dosage of 2–3 grams, which seems about right considering the research.

Moreover, it's important to find a quality supplement. The best way to do this is to look for one that has a quality assurance seal from third-party testing.

Additionally, some product descriptions mention testing for quality assurance, as well as the source and growing conditions of the chlorella.

Try to find chlorella supplements from a supplement brand you trust.

Summary: Look for a quality assurance seal to ensure you're getting what you pay for. The dose of 2–3 grams indicated by most supplements seems appropriate, given the doses used in studies.

The Bottom Line

Chlorella is a type of algae that packs a big nutrient punch, as it's a good source of several vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

In fact, emerging research shows that it could help shuttle toxins out of your body and improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels, among other health benefits.

For now, there doesn't seem to be any harm in taking chlorella supplements and they could support your health.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Authority Nutrition.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images

By Jennifer Molidor

One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Remsburg / VW Pics / Getty Images

Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on the hunting of the large mammals.

"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pxhere

By Richard Denison

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

Read More Show Less
De Molen windmill and nuclear power plant cooling tower in Doel, Belgium. Trougnouf / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Grant Smith

From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue

By Brett Walton

When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Gabriele Holtermann Gorden / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.

This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.

Read More Show Less
Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.

That's the conclusion of a new study from think tank Autonomy, which found that Germany, the UK and Sweden all needed to drastically reduce their workweeks to fight climate change.

"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."

The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.

The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.

The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.

"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."

Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.

"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."

Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.

"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice held a press conference after the annual shareholder meeting on May 22. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice

Amazon shareholders voted down an employee-backed resolution calling for more aggressive action on climate change at their annual meeting Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Read More Show Less