If the trendy teal blue smoothie bowl (it gets its eat-with-your-eyes hue courtesy of the edible algae spirulina) got your wellness senses tingling, there’s another algae in town that’s vying for a “health food” title: chlorella.
So what is chlorella?
“Chlorella grows in freshwaters and is also commercially made and produced,” says Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N. That means you can find it in various forms of consumption, such as powders, tablets, capsules and extracts.
Now you know that it’s another edible algae, but its nutrient makeup and the claims that it can help with a host of health issues is what’s bubbled it to the surface. “It’s emerging as a more widely recognized dietary supplement,” explains Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., clinical biochemist, author and founder of the Institute for Functional Medicine. Chlorella contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and more, and it's been said to help with everything from blood sugar control to detoxification.
But there’s still much research to be done before science tells us for sure whether chlorella deserves a place in healthful diets, or if it's just dressed up in a health halo. “A majority of studies so far have been conducted on animals or have a very small human sample size, so we need to tread cautiously before making bold statements about chlorella’s ability to be a health food miracle,” Shaw adds. Also, the nutrient values often vary depending on the form of chlorella that you’re consuming.
These are some of the potential health benefits of chlorella.
Chlorella is packed with nutrients.
While the research on chlorella’s potential to positively impact specific aspects of health still has a ways to go, one thing we do know is that it’s a nutritional powerhouse, and that the ones it contains do confer benefits. Chlorella is a source of:
“Chlorella contains vitamin D and B12, which are two nutrients that aren’t found in many plant-derived foods,” says Shaw, and its higher folate and iron levels are also notable.
Chlorella may target free radicals.
Carotenoids are important antioxidants, and you may recognize them as the plant compounds that give fruits and vegetables their orange or yellow hues (in this case, chlorella’s chlorophyll content pushes its hue all the way green). The carotenoids in chlorella may help rid the body of free radicals, which left unchecked can do damage and lead to the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cognitive conditions, Shaw says.
Chlorella may support immunity.
“We know vitamin D has a connection with strong immune health, and one study found that chlorella may have the potential to enhance immunity,” says Shaw, but more research is needed to determine which form and dose would be most beneficial. In general, vitamin D plays a role in regulating the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties; keeping tabs on inflammation allows your immune system to function better.
Chlorella is a complete protein.
Not all protein sources are created equal — some are complete proteins, which contain all nine essential amino acids that our body can’t produce on its own, and (you guessed it!) incomplete proteins only have some of those amino acids.
Since chlorella is type of complete protein, it contains those amino acids that create the building blocks for bone, tissue, and muscle formation.
Chlorella may support eye health.
While there haven’t been specific studies conducted to explore chlorella and vision health, research shows that carotenoids, specifically lutein, may help improve age-related macular diseases or prevent their development in the first place — and chlorella is a source of these eye helpers, says Shaw.
Chlorella fights inflammation.
The vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and omega-3s that chlorella contains are known to have ant-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation can damage cells over time and is associated with the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Chlorella may promote good heart health.
Clinical research on the potential impact of chlorella on heart health is needed , however the algae is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which we know are part of a heart-healthy diet. Omega-3s are thought to support a healthy heart by decreasing levels of triglycerides (fats) in the blood, lowering blood pressure slightly, and taming inflammation.
Chlorella may contribute to healthy blood.
Chlorella contains three nutrients that are crucial for the formation of red blood cells: iron, folate and vitamin B12. Blood is what carries oxygen all throughout your body so that your organs, muscles and more can function as they should.
How to supplement with chlorella:
Even though more studies are needed to determine exactly how chlorella can support various aspects of good health, you may still want to consume it in order to enjoy all the vitamins and minerals it contains. “As with any supplements, I recommend talking with your doctor first to make sure it’s the right choice for you,” says Shaw, and for advice on dosage.
Chlorella powders can be added to smoothies, soups and even dips like guacamole or hummus. Whether choosing a supplement in powder, capsule, extract or tablet form, look for reputable companies that do third-party testing, says Shaw.