What does science have to say about this would-be miracle-food? Does it live up to the hype, and is it worth hunting out and adding to your diet?
Read on to find out.
Contents of this article:
What is chlorella?
Chlorella supplements are available in liquid, tablet, or powder forms.
There are plenty of practical benefits to eating and growing chlorella, including the fact that it is high in protein and grows quickly.
On top of its more everyday benefits, however, there are many claims made about its ability to fight various diseases.
Chlorella comes in different strains with each one having different nutritional qualities. The types of chlorella most commonly sold as food supplements are claimed to have the highest nutritional value. Supplements are available as tablets, powder, or liquid extracts.
Chlorella has a tough cell wall, which makes it rigid and impossible to digest in its natural form. For that reason, chlorella is processed before being sold so its nutrients can be properly digested.
Researchers have also looked at chlorella as a possible alternative and renewable fuel source for agricultural equipment.
The exact balance of nutrients found in chlorella can vary a lot depending on the way it has been grown and processed, as well as the particular strain used.
A 2014 study found that chlorella treated with activated clay, to make it more suitable as a fuel source, lost over 70 percent of its fatty acid content. Chlorella sold in health stores should have a higher nutritional value than that being considered for fuel.
There is a lack of regulation over the safety and efficacy of supplements in the United States, however, so people should still use caution when purchasing from these retail stores.
Below are some of the nutritional benefits of chlorella:
Chlorella vulgaris, one of the most commonly used varieties, is up to 58 percent protein.
Chlorella protein is absorbed by the body almost as well as protein from eggs and milk. This is rare for plant protein sources and makes chlorella a great protein option for vegans.
Chlorella is one of the few plant sources of vitamin B-12, as confirmed by a 2002 study.
A 2015 study found that B-12 taken from chlorella helped to improve the health markers of 17 vegans and vegetarians between the ages of 26–57 years old with a history of B-12 deficiency.
This result suggests that the body effectively absorbs the B-12 found in chlorella, making the alga a useful option for vegans and vegetarians with vitamin B-12 deficiency.
Chlorella is rich in iron and can stave-off an iron deficiency. One 2009 study found that a group of pregnant women given a chlorella supplement experienced significantly lower rates of pregnancy-associated anemia.
Possible health benefits
Chlorella may help to reduce the risk of dementia, as well as reducing cancer risk.
Alongside the nutritional content mentioned above, several studies have also suggested that chlorella has the potential to provide other health benefits:
May protect against dementia
However, no human studies have been done to date.
May improve the immune system
A 2012 study was carried out to test the effects of chlorella on the salivary immune system of human subjects.
A total of 30 healthy people were given chlorella and studied over a 4-week period alongside 30 people who received a placebo. This trial was repeated 12 weeks later for another 4-week period on the same individuals.
The researchers found various positive and significant changes that suggested a strengthened immune system due to taking chlorella. However, the researchers recognized there were limitations to the study and suggested further testing was needed.
May fight estrogen-mimickers and reduce cancer risk
Estrogen is a naturally occurring hormone, important for the health of both men and women. There are certain estrogen-mimicking substances that can get into the body through contaminated soil, water, air, and other sources.
A 2005 study found that a laboratory culture contaminated with a xenoestrogen called BPA could be effectively treated with chlorella. In the study, the chlorella completely removed all of the estrogenic activity of the BPA from the culture.
While research needs to be carried out on animal and human subjects, chlorella may be able to reduce significantly the risk of cancers caused by estrogen-mimicking compounds.
The American Cancer Society have previously stated that there is a lack of scientific evidence showing chlorella is effective in fighting cancer or any other human diseases.
Anyone who wishes to take chlorella as a dietary supplement should be aware of potential risks from lack of oversight in its production.
Risks and side effects
Before taking supplements, it is important to ensure that they will not interact with any medication being taken, or any existing conditions.
People should be aware that every superfood could have a few potential risks and side effects associated with it. Unfortunately, chlorella is no different in this respect.
A 2003 study noted that green algae, such as chlorella, could become infected by viruses.
Some evidence has been found by researchers at Johns Hopkins University of these algal viruses infecting humans and leading to reduced mental functions.
A study dating back to 1996 found endotoxin-like properties in an extract of chlorella. Endotoxins are substances that are known to cause inflammation in humans when given in laboratory conditions. The effect depends largely on the size of the dose, however.
Chlorella is touted by its supporters as a highly nutritious dietary supplement that can make up for some of the nutrient deficiencies commonly experienced by vegetarians and vegans.
However, chlorella supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. This leads to questions regarding efficacy and safety.
There is some early scientific evidence behind the claims that it might be able to improve mental function, boost immunity, and even reduce the risk of cancer. However, more studies on humans are needed to substantiate any of these claims.
One of the potential downsides to chlorella is that it may cause inflammation in some people, although the bulk of the evidence suggests otherwise.
If someone were to feel unwell while taking chlorella, they should stop immediately and consult a doctor. As there is no regulation of chlorella supplements, there is a risk of contaminants. For instance, a user might buy virus-infected chlorella and become infected.
As a dietary supplement, chlorella may have some benefits. However, given the lack of regulation in the production of these supplements, people should always use caution when taking them.