Ask Gerda: What’s the deal with spirulina, chlorella and chlorophyll?


Hi, Angela. Thanks for asking. I needed a reason to arrive with the research. And I was a little surprised at how decent reasons there are for taking chlorophyll supplements or for eating chlorella or spirulina.

Chlorella and spirulina are algae that are usually eaten in powder form. Both are rich in nutrients, and spirulina is amazing for cardiovascular health. Chlorophyll is a green pigment that plants use to absorb energy from light. It is naturally present in chlorella, spirulina, other algae and green vegetables. As mentioned, chlorophyll is also available in the form of supplements. Chlorophyll can be used for this hazy concept called detoxification, and can be useful for body odor. With chlorophyll you will only have to dig out the capsule. With chlorella and spirulina you will need to figure out how to take at least a teaspoon of the powder.

If detox is what interests you, there are a few interesting studies on purified chlorophyll supplements. (In fact, most supplements aren’t exactly chlorophyll. The ingredient on the label will be chlorophyll, which is a more stable form.) We don’t absorb a lot of chlorophyll, and that’s key to its benefits: Chlorophyll binds toxic compounds and keeps them from being absorbed by stool. For example, chlorophyll and chlorophyllin reduce aflatoxin absorption, which is a common carcinogenic liver produced by mold that can grow on peanuts and corn.

Chlorophyll supplements seem to do the same trick for sequestration for two unhealthy types of chemicals found in meat. The first are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are in the tastiest, charred part of BBQ meat. Others are dioxins, which are industrial contaminants that accumulate in meat and other animal products. (Dioxins reduce sperm production in animals, especially affecting male sperm so that fewer men are born. some evidence that it can happen to humans as well.) I’m thinking of rushing to the chlorophyllin store if we continue tomorrow and make ribs. Or I could just double the side of the spinach salad.

It has been suggested that chlorophyll contain the vegetables you eat can be opposed possible harmful effects of eating red meat. This could be the reason why when researchers try to link eating red meat with health problems, there seems to be a link in some studies, but not in others. I like to find evidence to support the way I like to eat: lots of greens with little meat. (When I used to be able to eat milk products, I similarly streamlined eating ice cream by accompanying it with an apple or orange to help the fibers bind cholesterol.)

By switching to body odor, chlorophyllin capsules can help some people reduce body odor and the smell of urine and feces, especially people with a stoma bag. Chlorophyllin too helps solve TMA, a smelly chemical produced by bacteria in your gut when you eat certain foods. Most people can turn TMA into a form that does not have an intense odor. But some people can’t, and end up having an unpleasant smell of urine, sweat and breath. Chlorophyllin is thought to excrete TMA in the gut by being excreted in the stool instead of these other routes.

With any supplement it is important to think possible risks as well as benefits. Chlorophyllin has certainly been used for many years, so the following risks are unlikely, but it’s good to be aware. In addition to binding toxic compounds, chlorophyll could also bind beneficial ones, so it could have unexpected side effects if taken for a long time with each meal. And beware: Chlorophyllin can cause a false positive stool blood test.

Of course, you can get natural chlorophyll eats green vegetables. About an ounce of kale or a few ounces of parsley or spinach will give you as much chlorophyll as a hundred milligram capsule. My mother always had parsley mill on the dinner table and we ground parsley – curly parsley works much better than a flat leaf – on almost everything.

Chlorophyll – along with many nutrients – can be obtained from algae such as chlorella and spirulina. These are foods, not refined compounds. The portion size of chlorella or spirulina is a teaspoon or two of powder, which is more than it fits in a capsule. Chlorella and spirulina contain proteins, B vitamins, carotene, astaxanthin and more. It has been reported that some, but not all, chlorella products – and to a lesser extent spirulina – contain vitamin B12, which would make them extremely rare vegan sources of this vitamin.

The two algae differ in an important way: When it comes to research showing clinical benefits, spirulina is far ahead. It is it has been shown to improve blood cholesterol, blood pressure, sugar and oxidative status of people, and probably has anti-inflammatory effects. There is much less clinical research on chlorella. The quality and composition of chlorella products vary, in part because of the different processes used to break down tough cell walls. Spirulina does not have this particular problem.

If spirulina and chlorella only interest you because superfoods are rich in nutrients, here are a few additional ways to include more vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in your diet. It’s a fantastic option one of the vitamin protocols of goop. Each contains a convenient daily packet of nutrients, omega-3 fats and herbs designed for a specific stage of life. If you are in your reproductive years, I warmly recommend The Mother Load. It is not easy to get the iron needed for energy levels. Mother Load is one easy way. And if you have menopause, Madame Ovary is amazing. This nutritional protocol contains herbs, adaptogens, phytonutrients and vitamins adapted to women who are approaching, in pain or just in menopause. *

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Superfoods and supplements can be incredibly helpful, but the most basic approach to a nutrient-rich diet is to eat whole foods. For some of us, this means a small reduction in sugar. I know from personal experience that this is not a trivial endeavor and that some help is greatly appreciated. Try Sweetkick mints from which sugar has a sweeter taste. *

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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

This article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article contains the advice of a physician or physicians, the views expressed are those of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of the goop.

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