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Nature’s Supergreen

Trying to eat more greens? Check out chlorella, a bright green algae that's a concentrated source of nutritional goodness.

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Want to take advantage of the health benefits of green foods that we hear so much about? Chlorella just might be the answer. Its name comes from two Latin words: “chlor,” meaning green, and “ella,” meaning tiny. The exact composition of chlorella varies somewhat, depending upon the supplement brand, but it’s generally made up of about 60 percent protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, fiber, and chlorophyll.

What Is Chlorella?

A single-cell form of algae that grows in fresh water, chlorella has a rich emerald color that comes from its high levels ofchlorophyll, a natural detoxifier. Although dense in nutrients, chlorella’s cell walls are tough, making it difficult for our digestive systems to handle. To solve the problem, supplement manufacturers break down the cell walls to make chlorella’s nutrients more bioavailable. (Look for products described as “broken cell wall,” or “pulverized.”)

Chlorella is used to enhance overall health and for a variety of other benefits, including improving immune health; detoxifying metals and preventing metal toxicity; reducing immune suppression from cancer chemotherapy; improving digestion and relieving inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis; relieving PMS symptoms, bad breath, and constipation; lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels; improving skin health; and relieving asthma symptoms.

Less Lifestyle Disease

Diabetes and heart disease are considered “lifestyle diseases,” because they’re largely driven by unhealthy habits. In Japan, researchers tested the effects of chlorella supplements on 17 people who were at high risk for such diseases. Published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, the study found that chlorella supplements significantly decreased risk by reducing body fat, lowering cholesterol, and lowering levels of blood sugar. Researchers observed that chlorella improved the way genes are activated, leading to healthier metabolism.

Immune Enhancement

To investigate chlorella’s ability to protect and enhance the immune system, researchers in Virginia tested it on 21 patients undergoing treatment for brain tumors. The therapy is known to suppress immune function and, as a result, increase respiratory infections. The study, published in Phytotherapy Research, lasted two years and found that taking chlorella supplements kept immune function at near-normal levels and reduced respiratory and flu-like infections.

In another study, researchers in Korea compared the effects of chlorella and a placebo on immunity of 51 healthy people, during an 8-week period of supplementation. They found that taking 5 grams of chlorella per day enhanced natural killer cells and other markers of improved immune function.

Energy Improvement

People who take chlorella often report increased energy. In studies, day-to-day energy levels in healthy people are difficult to measure, but researchers have tested the effects of chlorella on fibromyalgia, where symptoms include extreme fatigue, as well as pain. Although the condition has no cure, chlorella has relieved symptoms for some people.

At Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, researchers gave chlorella to 18 people with fibromyalgia for two months. Tests showed an average pain reduction of 22 percent, although individual responses varied. Seven people in the study experienced overall improvement in multiple symptoms, six experienced no change, and five felt that their symptoms worsened.

Researchers concluded: “The results of this pilot study suggest that dietary chlorella supplementation may help relieve the symptoms of fibromyalgia in some patients.” Those in the study received daily supplements of 10 grams of Sun Chlorella tablets and 100 mL of a more concentrated liquid chlorella supplement, Wakasa Gold.

Reduced Blood Pressure

Another study at Virginia Commonwealth University tested the same supplement regimen in a group of 24 people with moderately elevated blood pressure. Before taking the supplements, those in the study stopped taking blood pressure medications for four weeks.

After two months of chlorella supplementation, 25 percent of participants reduced their blood pressure to healthy levels without medication. Among the others, blood pressure did not increase beyond their non-medicated levels. All of the study participants felt that their overall health improved while taking chlorella.

How to Use Chlorella

Chlorella supplements come in tablet or liquid form, as well as in granules and powders that can be mixed with water, juice, smoothies, or salad dressings. A typical serving size ranges from 2 to 6 grams. If you experience digestive discomfort, take it with food and start with a smaller amount. Chlorella is also available in topical creams for skin health, and in wafers for pets.

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