10 Reasons to Add Chlorella to Your Diet

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on May 19, 2017Written by Emily Cronkleton

What is chlorella?

Chlorella is a nutrient-dense type of green algae that contains chlorophyll. It’s said to promote good health and well-being, which is why it’s used to make nutritional supplements and medicine. Chlorella is especially popular in Asian countries.

Although more research is needed to understand the extent of chlorella’s potential benefits, several possibilities are already being explored. Keep reading to learn more about chlorella’s possible health benefits, side effects, and more.

1. It’s a superfood

Chlorella is labeled as a superfood, because it can provide essential nutrients that you may not get from your diet alone.

These include:

  • amino acids
  • protein
  • chlorophyll
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • beta-carotene
  • dietary fiber
  • antioxidants
  • bioactive substances
  • enzymes
  • fiber
  • lipids
  • carbohydrates

2. It’s rich in antioxidants

Chlorella contains several antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, lutein, and beta-carotene. Antioxidants keep you healthy and help to prevent disease. A small study showed chlorella improved skin health and decreased fatigue in breast cancer patients.

Chlorella has also been shown to have antioxidant properties that can help reduce the growth of cancer cells in rats. It may also help kill cancer cells that already exist. More research is needed to determine the extent of chlorella’s anticancer properties.

Check out: The health benefits of acai »

3. It can eliminate heavy metals

Some research suggests that chlorella may be a natural way to remove toxic heavy metals from the body. For example, a 2003 study on lead-exposed mice found that chlorella was effective in reducing blood lead levels.

Heavy metals can affect the entire body and lead to health problems. In the study, mice that were given chlorella experienced decreased infection rates. They also recovered thymus weight that was lost because of lead exposure.

4. It can detoxify radiation

Chlorella may be especially beneficial for people who are undergoing chemotherapy. Although chemotherapy works to kill cancerous cells, it can also damage the healthy white blood cells. This can result in a weakened immune system, which can put you at risk for infection.

Older research suggests that the chlorophyll found in chlorella helps protect the body against these harmful effects. For example, one 1990 study showed that people who took chlorella supplements during chemotherapy experienced less respiratory infections and flu-like illnesses.

Current theory being tested in research is that chlorella may be protective from the damaging radiation from the sun, and it’s possibly useful in radiation treatment for cancer.

5. It can boost your immune system

A 2012 study found that chlorella supplements boost immunity in healthy people and have a positive effect on immunity-related cell activity. Chlorella also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help boost overall health and help your body become more resistant to infection.

6. It can help with digestion

Chlorella promotes the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria, flora, and probiotics. Because of this, it’s been studied as an alternative to antibiotics to improve gut health and reduce diarrhea.

A study on pigs from 2017 showed the potential of chlorella to treat mild digestive disorders and maintain intestinal health. This is thought to be in part because it stimulates digestive enzymes. This was shown in a 2014 study with fish.

7. It can boost your metabolism

Chlorella is often praised for its slimming effects. Its complete nourishment can help you to feel sated and reduce cravings. Chlorella may also affect the genes involved in fat metabolism, which can lead to weight loss.

Researchers in one 2008 study found that people who took chlorella experienced a reduction in body fat percentage. Another study produced similar results: Chlorella consumption appeared to have anti-obesity effects, as well as inhibit the growth of fat cells.

Learn more: Chia seeds and weight loss »

8. It can give you energy

Chlorella may also have a positive effect on your energy levels. Researchers in one 2014 study found that chlorella increased vitality and decreased levels of fatigue. This could be because your body is able to resist infection, clear toxins, and give you the nourishment you require to function at your best.

9. It can help manage blood sugar and cholesterol

Chlorella has been shown to have a positive effect on blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This may make chlorella especially beneficial for people who have diabetes or are obese.

A 2013 study researched the effects of chlorella extract on obese mice and rats on a high-fat diet. Chlorella consumption was found to prevent the growth of fat cells and improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Blood fat levels were also reduced.

Check out: Top 10 diabetes superfoods »

10. It can improve cognitive function

Chlorella contains B-12, amino acids, and magnesium, all of which contribute to healthy brain function. Chlorella may also prevent oxidative stress that can cause age-related memory loss and cognitive decline. These factors can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. A 2009 animal study showed the potential of chlorella in preventing cognitive impairments.

How to use chlorella and where to buy it

A typical dose of chlorella is 3 to 10 grams per day. You can take it as a powder, tablet, or capsule. It’s also available in liquid form, with a typical dosage of 4 to 10 milliliters per day.

Dosages may vary depending on the brand, so be sure to read the label and use as directed. Starting with a smaller dose and gradually increasing your intake can help minimize potential side effects. It’s safe to take it for up to two months at a time.

Be aware that the Food and Drug Administration does not monitor chlorella for quality, dosage, purity, or packaging.

You should only buy chlorella from a store or website that you trust, and do the following:

  • Be sure that it’s labeled as broken cell wall chlorella (so that it’s digestible).
  • Ensure that that are no additives. Opt for organic if it’s available.
  • Check to see if the product has been tested for contaminants.

A reputable brand will have information about the product readily available on the label. A store representative should be able to answer any questions you have.

Are there any side effects?

You may experience minor side effects when you first start taking chlorella. These will most likely subside within a week or so after your body has gotten used to its effect.

While your body adjusts, you may experience:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • gas
  • stomach cramping
  • sensitivity to sunlight
  • green color to bowel movements

Because there is no research proving safety, you shouldn’t use chlorella if:

  • you’re pregnant
  • you’re breastfeeding
  • you have a compromised immune system
  • you have an autoimmune disease
  • you have a blood disorder

Chlorella can cause allergies, especially in people who are sensitive to iodine or allergic to molds.

Chlorella vs. spirulina

Chlorella and spirulina are both types of algae. Chlorella is a green alga, and spirulina is a blue-green alga.

A couple of key differences are:

  • Chlorella has almost twice as many nucleic acids, which help with DNA and RNA.
  • Chlorella has almost twice as much chlorophyll as spirulina.
  • Spirulina has more iron, protein, and gamma-linolenic acid.
  • Chlorella is able to bind to heavy metals and detox the body.
  • Spirulina is often used to fight allergies and boost immunity.

It’s not easy to say whether one is better than the other, because they have many different benefits. They’re both full of healing potential. You may find that you prefer one to the other in terms of how it supports your health, affects your body, and makes you feel. You could even use both of them at once, or alternate taking them for a few weeks at a time.

Learn more: What are the benefits of spirulina? »

The bottom line

Make sure to find a quality chlorella supplement with no additives. Start with a small amount and increase your dose as your body adjusts. If you can, take chlorella along with healthy food to help reduce your risk of side effects.

You may be able to feel some benefits immediately, but it will more likely take a month or longer for your body to detox. While you’re getting used to the chlorophyll and detoxing, your body may feel slightly unwell at times. Keep going and remember it’s all part of the process.

If your side effects become severe, discontinue use. See your doctor if the side effects persist even after you’ve stopped taking chlorella.

Keep reading: 7 superfoods for good health »

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