Algae superfood chlorella supports good health through multiple bio-activities.
Chlorella is an edible, nutrient-rich algae used in greens supplements. It may confer multiple health benefits due to its:
- Antioxidant activity. Chlorella contains multiple antioxidants and nutrients that improve the body’s antioxidant system.
- Immune system support. Chlorella has been shown to boost the immune system.
- Improvement of blood lipids. Chlorella helps regulate cholesterol and other blood fats.
- Supply of nutrients. Chlorella is a rich source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and bio-active compounds.
Chlorella is a type of edible green algae – a single-celled, photosynthetic microorganism. Chlorella is known for a rich nutritional profile that includes essential fatty acids, vitamins (particularly vitamin B12, and folate), minerals such as iron and magnesium, fiber, carotenoids such as lutein, and chlorophyll. Moreover, chlorella is a good source of complete protein (~60% of total content), meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Given chlorella’s ability to quickly multiply, scientists in the 1940s proposed that it could be used as a cheap, high-quality food source to help with world hunger. However, they later discovered that chlorella requires very specific conditions to grow efficiently and cannot be digested in its natural form due a tough cell wall.
Despite these findings, chlorella recently regained popularity as a “superfood”, and is frequently included as an ingredient in greens supplements. Some of the proposed health benefits of chlorella include better digestion, immune system function, metabolism, weight loss, and improvement of overall health and wellness.
How Chlorella Might Improve Your Health
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how chlorella exerts its beneficial effects because of how many different nutrients and bio-active compounds it contains. However, researchers have proposed several mechanisms:
Many of the nutrients and bio-active compounds in chlorella – including vitamins, minerals, phenols, and chlorophylls – either act as antioxidants themselves or enhance the body’s inherent antioxidant defense system. Increase antioxidant capacity helps offset the excess generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which has been implicated in a wide range of health concerns including diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders, and even the process of aging itself.
Chlorella may also reduce inflammation and enhance the body’s immune response. For example, it has been demonstrated to boost levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody critical to immune function, and enhance the body’s production of the INF-γ, IL-12, and IL-1β cytokines – protein molecules that stimulate the immune system.1 2
Enhancing lipid metabolism
Chlorella has been demonstrated to enhance several blood lipid risk factors, such as elevated cholesterol. Although it’s not entirely clear how it achieves this, one hypothesis is that carotenoids and other compounds on chlorella inhibit the absorption of fats.
Chlorella Uses & Benefits
Chlorella is a popular greens supplement reputed to support overall health and prevent illness. Among its many benefits, chlorella is claimed to help digestion, immune function, weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular health, and detoxification. Although more research is needed, there is some scientific evidence that chlorella’s biological activities might add up to these and other benefits.
Chlorella is also rich in lutein, a carotenoid compound that has been demonstrated to support eye health and improve visual function in patients with macular degeneration.3
Animal studies of chlorella supplementation have reported a number of beneficial findings:
- Reduced blood glucose levels in diabetic rats5
- Reduced cholesterol and total blood lipid levels in rabbits fed a high-cholesterol diet6 7
Clinical trials of chlorella highlight a number of beneficial properties, such as enhancement of immunity, reduction of high blood pressure, and antioxidant activity.
This randomized, crossover trial examined the effects of chlorella on immune function. Fifteen men were given 30 placebo or 30 chlorella tablets (6 g total) daily for 4 weeks, with a 12-week washout period between the two treatments, and had their saliva examined. Chlorella supplementation resulted in a significant elevation of immunoglobulin A (SIgA), an antibody used as a common marker of immune function.
- The researchers concluded that “4-week ingestion of a chlorella-derived multicomponent supplement increases salivary SIgA secretion and possibly improves mucosal immune function in humans“8
In this randomized study, researchers tested the effects of chlorella on high blood pressure (hypertension). Eighty adults with elevated blood pressure were given placebo or chlorella daily for 12 weeks. Systolic blood pressure was reduced significantly in people given chlorella, while diastolic blood pressure had the tendency to be lower.
- The researchers concluded that “GABA-rich Chlorella significantly decreased high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension, and is a beneficial dietary supplement for prevention of the development of hypertension“9
This randomized, double-blind trial investigated the antioxidant potential of chlorella. Fifty-two smokers (aged 20-65) took placebo or chlorella (6.3 g) daily for 6 weeks and had their blood examined. Chlorella supplementation increased the levels of two antioxidant nutrients: vitamin C levels by 44% and alpha-tocopherol (a form of vitamin E) by 15.6%. Chlorella also boosted the activity of the antioxidant enzymes erythrocyte catalase and superoxide dismutase.
- The researchers concluded that “our results are supportive of an antioxidant role for Chlorella and indicate that Chlorella is an important whole-food supplement that should be included as a key component of a healthy diet“10
In this double-blind, randomized study, 63 people were given placebo or chlorella (5 g) daily for 4 weeks to test its effects on blood lipids. Chlorella supplementation improved lipid levels as shown by a reduction in total cholesterol, triglycerides, very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and other fats and proteins involved in fat metabolism.
- The researchers concluded that “Daily consumption of Chlorella supplements provided the potential of health benefits reducing serum lipid risk factors, mainly triglycerides and total cholesterol, in mildly hypercholesterolemic subjects“11
- Most successful clinical trials use a 6 g dose of chlorella
- Single-ingredient chlorella supplements provide doses of 1 – 3 g daily
- Multi-ingredient green food products contain lower doses (~400 mg)
- General chlorella dosage is 2 – 6 grams
Supplements in Review Says
- Chlorella 3 – 6 g daily in powder or pill form.
Supplementing with chlorella is an effective way to support your health. Chlorella is full of nutrients and unique compounds that may benefit our bodies, such as carotenoids. Furthermore, the benefits of chlorella are supported by a growing number of clinical studies.
Chlorella can be taken as a capsule, tablet, or powder. Six grams seems to be enough to reap all the benefits of chlorella, but as always it’s best to start out with a lower dose (3 g) and assess the effects.
- Guzmán S et al. Anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory activities of polysaccharide from Chlorella stigmatophora and Phaeodactylum tricornutum. Phytother Res. 2003 Jun;17(6):665-70. ↩
- Nakano S et al. Chlorella (Chlorella pyrenoidosa) supplementation decreases dioxin and increases immunoglobulin a concentrations in breast milk. J Med Food. 2007 Mar;10(1):134-42. ↩
- Richer S et al. Double-masked, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of lutein and antioxidant supplementation in the intervention of atrophic age-related macular degeneration: the Veterans LAST study (Lutein Antioxidant Supplementation Trial). Optometry. 2004 Apr;75(4):216-30. ↩
- Nakano S et al. Chlorella pyrenoidosa supplementation reduces the risk of anemia, proteinuria and edema in pregnant women. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010 Mar;65(1):25-30. ↩
- Rodríguez-López M, López-Quijada C. Plasma-glucose and plasma-insulin in normal and alloxanized rats treated with Chlorella. Life Sci II. 1971 Jan 8;10(1):57-60. ↩
- Okuda M et al. The Effects of Chlorella on the Levels of Cholesterol in Serum and Liver. The Japanese Journal of Nutrition and DieteticsVol. 33 (1975) No. 1 P 3-8. ↩
- Sano T, Tanaka Y. Effect of dried, powdered Chlorella vulgaris on experimental atherosclerosis and alimentary hypercholesterolemia in cholesterol-fed rabbits. Artery. 1987;14(2):76-84. ↩
- Otsuki T et al. Salivary secretory immunoglobulin A secretion increases after 4-weeks ingestion of chlorella-derived multicomponent supplement in humans: a randomized cross over study. Nutr J. 2011 Sep 9;10:91. ↩
- Shimada M et al. Anti-hypertensive effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-rich Chlorella on high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension in placebo-controlled double blind study. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2009 Jun;31(4):342-54. ↩
- Lee SH et al. Six-week supplementation with Chlorella has favorable impact on antioxidant status in Korean male smokers. Nutrition. 2010 Feb;26(2):175-83. ↩
- Ryu NH et al. Impact of daily Chlorella consumption on serum lipid and carotenoid profiles in mildly hypercholesterolemic adults: a double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Nutr J. 2014 Jun 11;13:57 ↩