For a while I’ve wanted to talk about these green algae, that spite of their minuscule size, they deliver a punch and score high in maintaining good health. I was a little hesitant to write such a long blog, but due to the nature of the topic and the overwhelming abundance of online information, I took some time to gather valuable information on the well-researched benefits that I hope clarifies and helps understanding these green giants.
Please, use this information as a resource only. If you have health concerns, always consult with your medical team first. Remember, supplements are to complement your health care, not to replace any treatment or food.
They have been around longer than the bible, and there are recordings that for instance, Spirulina was the primary protein source for the Aztecs by the time the conquistadores stepped foot on the new land. Conquistador Cortez chronicled that the Aztecs made them into “cakes like bricks…that they will eat regularly and sell them at the markets…”
Chlorella is single-cell green algae grown in fresh water. Native to Taiwan and Japan, but it is commercially harvested in many other places in Asia as well as in Germany (which are grown in huge green houses). It is as old as 2 billion years, however not discovered until the late 19th century. It contains the most amount of chlorophyll known to any plant, up to 10 times than Spirulina, which makes it more suitable for detoxification. Chlorella has an impressive array of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals (A, D, E, K1, beta carotene, lutein, B vitamins, iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc). It also has more iron than Spirulina.
Its older cousin Spirulina is blue-green algae, also known as the most nutrient dense food around. In fact, some communities around the world used it to treat illnesses and malnutrition by helping the body to better absorb nutrients. It grows in fresh water ponds, rivers and lakes. It thrives in pesticide-free conditions with plenty of sunlight, and it is highly adaptable to extreme temperature conditions. Spirulina is the winner in protein content, more protein than beef, with up to 70% protein by weight and it has all the essential amino acids we need. It also contains highest level of GLA, a good fat vital for the health and function of the brain, heart, and other organs.
They both are considered a good source of plant protein, favored for vegans and vegetarians, but most importantly, they both are high in chlorophyll, thus their dark green hue color.
but… WHAT IS SO GREAT ABOUT THESE TWO?
Don’t let the green color scare you. Both Spirulina and Chlorella are ancient algae that have been around for million of years. Although they are usually sold and seen as supplements, experts suggest they are ‘superfoods’ to be exact, for their nutritional value and their health benefits.
Let’s take a look at some of their valuable health benefits that have been the subject of many scientific studies:
1. HEAVY METALS AND TOXINS DETOXIFICATION
Have you heard about the possible danger of having amalgam teeth fillings? Are you concern you are eating too much sushi, or fish in general, specially when you might not know the quality of the fish? Fear no more!!! consider the undercover superhero Chlorella.
Both Spirulina and Chlorella are great at detoxification, however, Chlorella takes up the golden medal. Everyday throughout our daily routine we are exposed to chemicals and heavy metals lurking in our environment. Our body is exposed to so much pollution each day that removing them all is almost impossible, but limiting our exposure to them is a good start. One way to remove some of these pesky toxins is to consume whole foods like these super algae that act like a little vacuum picking up the toxic trash.
The liver does a superb job at getting rid of toxins and unwanted waste from our bodies, but excess toxicity would be too much work for the liver to neutralize. Chlorella helps detoxify the body by removing toxins that are neutralized in the liver and delivered to the GI tract through the bile. If the toxins are not expelled soon enough and instead are lingering around, they might come back around and get reabsorbed into the bloodstream. The molecular composition of Chlorella allows it to wrap around and bind to toxins that are accumulated in tissues and organs and aids in its elimination through the poop and urine, thus preventing the toxins from getting reabsorbed into the bloodstream. (1,2)
This detoxifying power makes chlorella a great adjunct supplement for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy of radiation treatment. It is not a secret that radiation and chemotherapy get rid of cancerous cells by overloading the body with toxins, but even the cancer cells that die from the treatment become toxins too. Unfortunately, this toxic build up can cause more harm than the cancer itself, so it is important to get rid of them sooner. Imagine, anything dead is decaying and releasing toxic material that could potentially contaminate the good healthy stuff around it. Because of this, even though it is not widely known and used in western medicine, some practitioners use it as a supplement for radiation in cancer patients.
Meanwhile, Spirulina can also remove some heavy metals, but not up to the level of Chlorella due to its lack of cell membrane. Spirulina has been found to be efficient at removing arsenic, mercury, and radioactive substances from the body, as well as cadmium and lead from water (3).
2. BOOSTING YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Scientific research has shown that Chlorella increases white blood cell numbers (immune cells) and improves their activity thus strengthening the immune response (4, 5). Also, chlorella was found to preserve the function of important immune cells under stress and perhaps lowering the stress hormone cortisol. It has also been shown that Chlorella supplementation reduces the effects of stress on the formation of blood cells including immune cells (6). This has been observed in cases of cancer patients when their immune system is greatly compromised.
But wait, Spirulina is not that far behind!! According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, various studies have shown that Spirulina promotes the production of antibodies and cells that promote immunity. Spirulina has also been associated to reducing inflammation, which contributes to many chronic diseases including cancer. How? Because Spirulina is high in antioxidants, specifically phycocyanin that fights free radicals and inhibits inflammatory signaling (7).
Also, because its anti-inflammatory properties and high antioxidant content, Spirulina was shown to protect the liver. Studies show that Spirulina reduces liver inflammation, inhibits the oxidative degradation of lipids by free radicals, prevents the buildup of triglycerides in the liver, and protects liver damage by heavy metals (mercury and lead).
3. CANCER FIGHING NINJAS
it boosts the immune system
it removes toxins from the body
it heals the gut
Here is a fun fact: chlorella contains high levels of chlorophyll which is similar in structure to hemoglobin, the protein molecule in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body. When light shines on chlorophyll it emits oxygen (like in photosynthesis). This means that chlorophyll can easily travel around the body because it resembles hemoglobin, and in the presence of light, it produces oxygen, and hear this! – OXYGEN IS WHAT CANCER CELLS HATE, cancer cells don’t thrive well in oxygenated environment (10).
Spirulina also protects against cancer because of its powerful antioxidant active ingredients (phycocyanin) that help combat DNA damage and perhaps prevent cancer. In particular oral cancer where Spirulina has been well studied, as well as in some in-vitro studies of pancreatic cancer cell lines.
4. HELP LOWER CHOLESTEROL
High cholesterol and type 2 diabetes are two major chronic diseases that are on the rise. In a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food, Chlorella was found to reduce cholesterol and blood glucose levels. Chlorella helps the liver convert cholesterol to bile, thus supporting the natural process of the body to get rid of cholesterol. It also helps by sequestering bile in the digestive tract so that it doesn’t get reabsorbed back into the body. Also, because toxins are also removed in the bile, this is another way chlorella assists in toxin clearance (11, 12).
Studies have found that taking 1 gram Spirulina a day also lowers total cholesterol by 8.9%, lowers LDL cholesterol by 10.1% and triglycerides by 16.3%, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol (13) and also in diabetes patients when taking 2 grams a day (14).
5. THEIR ROLE IN BLOOD SUGAR AND DIABETES
Chlorella normalizes blood sugar by activating a number of genes responsible for insulin sensitivity within cells. This means that cells could more readily take up blood sugar from the circulation. This research indicates that chlorella helps improve insulin resistance at the cellular level by assisting a number of insulin signaling pathways (15).
Meanwhile, in a study in the Journal of Medical Food, 2 grams a day of taking Spirulina was shown to reduce blood sugar levels by 1% which is substantial and can even lower the risk of diabetes. This could benefit diabetic patients, also because Spirulina reduces inflammation
It was also shown that Spirulina increase the production of nitric oxide, which in turn improve vasodilation, the widening of the blood vessels, thus decreasing blood pressure (16).
OTHER HEALTH BENEFITS…
Providing B vitamins from an animal source
Aids in gut repair, easy digestion and constipation
Enhancing your ability to focus and concentrate
Increasing your energy levels
Balancing your body’s pH
Freshening your breath
Improves sinus and allergies issues
May improve muscle strength and endurance
May improve HIV viral load
Promotes beneficial bacterial growth in the intestines
Helps eliminate leaky gut and Candida
Effective way to treat anemia
You see, no wonder these two are among the top 10 health foods in the world because of its nutrient density score. In fact, per gram they are way more nutrient dense than other greens including kale, spinach and broccoli!!
Chlorella might be a favorite because of its high nutritional value and its powerful detoxification benefits, but Spirulina is more easily digestible because it lacks the cellulose wall.
FINDING GOOD QUALITY CHLORELLA AND SPIRULINA
It is very crucial that they are of high quality and purity because some cheaper options could contain mercury. As far as the chlorella, make sure that it is heat or chemical free processing to break down the cell wall, otherwise the nutrients could be destroyed. However, this process makes Chlorella cost more than Spirulina.
Have you tried either Chlorella or Spirulina? What are your thoughts?