Chlorella: Benefits, Side Effects, and Everything In Between

Whoever thought that algae would be so beneficial to the human body? Yes, you heard it right. There are a few algae that are very helpful in keeping the human body in tip top shape! Curious? Well, one such alga (Nope, that’s not a typo. That’s singular for “algae”. You’re welcome. c”,) ) is chlorella.

Have you ever heard of the superfood spirulina? Scientists say it may be one of the best sustainable solutions to combat nutrient deficiency in many developing countries? Well, chlorella here is its close cousin. So what is chlorella exactly? Much like spirulina, it’s an alga. However, unlike the multicelled spirulina, chlorella is a single-celled freshwater alga. It has the ability to reproduce four times a day. This makes it an equally sustainable nutrient source as spirulina.

This alga is grown in large freshwater ponds and then is carefully spray-dried in order to preserve its nutritional content. After being harvested, it then undergoes a special treatment to break down its cellular wall… to make it safe for humans to digest.

Today, chlorella is one of the most recognized superfoods in the market and they are available in either tablet or powder form.

Chlorella Origins

Apparently, this superfood has been around for two billion years already. However it wasn't until the 19th century that the world knew about it, all thanks to Dutch microbiologist Dr. Beijnerink.

It was first used during World War I by the Germans as a protein source. In the 1920s, the Japanese followed suit and cultivated a pure culture of chlorella. After WWII, the United States, Japan, and Germany had all been conducting collaborative studies on the alga.

About 5 decades after that, this superfood became one of the most popular health supplements in Japan. It was best recognized for its effect on height and weight gain in children known as the Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF). However, some users experienced inconvenient photosensitivity issues such as blisters after exposure to sunlight. So for years after that, its popularity in Japan suffered a setback.

It wasn't until the technology to break its cell wall was invented and the whole foods movement and organic eating started to boom in the United States that chlorella started gaining attention once again.

Nutrition Facts

Did you know that chlorella is ranked as one of the top 10 healthy foods in the entire worldIt has phytonutrients and essential fatty acids. Also, it boasts of protein, calcium, chlorophyll, iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc. This superfood also contains: 
  • alpha-carotene
  • beta-carotene
  • biotin
  • folic acid
  • vitamin A, C, E, and K
  • vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12

It also has inositol, nucleic acids, PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), and pantothenic acid. Whew! Now that’s a mouthful!

Chlorella Benefits

Now don’t let this pond scum fool you (yes, some people think chlorella is literally that icky stuff you see in murky fish ponds). It might look downright disgusting, but trust me, it can do wonders for your overall health.

Not convinced? Here are just some of the benefits this healthy alga can provide to the human body.

Boosts the Immune System

There was a study conducted in the Yonsei University in South Korea in which they studied healthy individuals and the responses of their immune systems after taking this superfood. The results showed that the immune systems of subjects responded positively, increasing the production of NK cells in the body. NK (Natural killer) cells are active lymphocytes that keep tumor growth and microbial infections in check, which are produced in the immune system.

Another study published in the Nutrition Journal showed that after 8 weeks of taking chlorella, NK cell activity improved.

This superfood also provides strength to the immune system. This results in it working harder to protect the body.

Helps in Anti-Aging

Chlorella possesses many anti-aging properties. Chlorophyll, for example, can get rid of toxins that cause premature aging. It also promotes the body’s own RNA and DNA to rejuvenate themselves. This keeps the skin looking more youthful and healthy.

Another way that chlorella can help with aging is it improves the skin’s condition. It helps in the production of collagen, which is primarily responsible for skin elasticity. This keeps the skin looking firm and toned. Chlorella also lowers the occurrence of breakouts and redness associated with acne. In addition, it also gets rid of wrinkles, fine lines, crow’s feet, and age spots.

Improves Oral Health

Halitosis sufferers, rejoice! Taking greens, specifically chlorella, will boost your oral hygiene. It has properties that can reduce bad breath. One study shows that brushing with chlorella-laced toothpaste improves all-around dental health, specifically the teeth and gums.

Helps with Eyesight

Chlorella has an abundant supply of carotenoids. These are beneficial for your eyes. These carotenoids are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lutein. They feed your peepers the needed nutrition to stay sharp and focused. Lutein specifically protects the eye from cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and UV radiation damage. Omega-3 fatty acids also play an important role in eye health.

Promotes Weight Loss

Losing weight is undoubtedly difficult to do. It gets even more difficult the older we get. Chlorella may make this problem easier. A recent published research stated that the intake of chlorella “resulted in noticeable reductions in body fat percentage” (Journal of Medicinal Food).

What this healthy alga does to help you lose weight is it regulates hormones, improves circulation, and speeds up metabolism. It also reduces weight and body fat.

Relieves Gastrointestinal Problems

Food in the digestive tract causes inflammation of the intestinal lining, absorption of toxic substances, and growth of harmful microbes. This makes way for many other health problems. Chlorella improves gut function for faster movement of food. This prevents stagnation and diverticulitis.

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties also brings relief to people who suffer from ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn’s disease.

In Japan, this superfood is traditionally used to treat gastritis, hypertension, duodenal ulcers, and constipation.   

Lowers Blood Sugar and Cholesterol

Studies show that taking in 8,000 mg of chlorella a day can lower blood glucose levels and cholesterol. What happens is it clears bad cholesterol from the digestive tract. It also prevents its reabsorption into the body.

Helps in Radiation and Chemotherapy Effects

Chlorella is used by those undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, to reduce the body’s chemical load. It also supports the detoxification pathways without ridding the body of beneficial minerals.

Boosts Your Brain

Chlorella is a good source of vitamin B12. This is vital for maximum brain function. Vitamin B12 deficiency is linked to memory loss, depression, and brain shrinkage. Taking in chlorella every day ensures that you never run out of B12.

The magnesium content in this superfood is beneficial as well. It increases memory and learning capacity in both young children and older adults.

Detoxifies Heavy Metals

Many don’t know this, but this healthy alga is an effective detoxifying supplement. When taken in small amounts over time, it avoids heavy metal buildup in the body.

However, always keep in mind to always work with an experienced practitioner of heavy metal removal. Removing these metals too quickly or incorrectly may make things worse.

Chlorella Concerns

Of course, as with everything else, there are some side effects to this superfood. Some of these negative effects include swelling of the face or tongue, headaches, acne, lethargy, fatigue, sensitivity to sunlight, upset stomachs, tremors, and vertigo.

However, these side effects are common in any detoxification program.

Chlorella also contains a moderate amount of iodine. Those who are allergic to iodine or those with iodine-sensitive thyroid conditions should first consult with their physician before trying out chlorella.

Those with autoimmune diseases should be wary as well. Since it increases immune function, it might make your condition worsen.

Pregnant and nursing women should take extra precaution, too. They need to speak to their obstetricians for proper evaluation. This determines if chlorella is safe for them to take.

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