9 Impressive Health Benefits of Chlorella

What Is Chlorella?

Chlorella is a single-celled, green freshwater algae.

There are over 30 different species, but two types — Chlorella vulgaris and Chlorella pyrenoidosa — are most commonly used in research.

Because chlorella has a hard cell wall that humans cannot digest, you must take it as a supplement to reap its benefits.

It’s available in capsule, tablet, powder and extract form.

In addition to being used as a nutritional supplement, chlorella is also used as a biodiesel fuel.

Interestingly, studies indicate it can have many health benefits. Here are 9 of them.

1. Very Nutritious

Chlorella’s impressive nutritional profile has led some to call it a “super food.”

While its exact nutrient content depends on growing conditions, the species used and how supplements are processed, it’s clear it packs several beneficial nutrients.

They include:

  • Protein: Chlorella is 50–60% protein. What’s more, it’s a complete protein source, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.
  • Vitamin B12: It’s also a great source of vitamin B12. An analysis of one chlorella variety found each gram contained over 50% of an adult’s daily need.
  • Iron and vitamin C: Chlorella can be a good source of iron. Depending on the supplement, it may provide anywhere from 6–40% of your daily need. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps you absorb iron.
  • Beta-carotene: It’s an excellent source of beta-carotene, meeting anywhere from 30–60% of the recommended daily intake.
  • Other antioxidants: In addition to beta-carotene and vitamin C, these tiny green cells provide a wide range of antioxidants.
  • Other vitamins and minerals: Chlorella provides small amounts of magnesium, zinc, copper, potassium, calcium, folic acid and other B vitamins.
  • Omega-3s: As with other algae, chlorella contains some omega-3s. Just 3 grams of chlorella delivers 100 mg of omega-3s.
  • Fiber: In large quantities, chlorella can be a good source of fiber. However, most supplements don’t provide even 1 gram of fiber per dose.

2. Binds to Heavy Metals, Aiding Detox

Chlorella in a Bowl

Chlorella has gotten some buzz for its ability to help the body “detox.”

In fact, studies have shown that it’s effective at helping remove heavy metals and other harmful compounds from the body.

Heavy metals include some elements that are essential in small amounts, such as iron and copper, but these and other heavy metals like cadmium and lead can be toxic in larger amounts.

While it’s rare for people to have dangerous levels of heavy metals in their system, people can get exposed to heavy metals through pollution or certain jobs such as mining.

In animals, algae, including chlorella, has been found to weaken the heavy metal toxicity of the liver, brain and kidneys.

One way it does this is through its chlorophyll and vitaminB12 content. These nutrients help produce glutathione, a compound that acts as an antioxidant, protecting the body against toxicity and disease.

Furthermore, chlorella has been shown to help lower the amount of other harmful chemicals that are sometimes found in food. One of these is dioxin, a hormone disruptor that can contaminate animals in the food supply.

Based on this evidence, it seems that chlorella could help enhance your body’s natural ability to clear toxins.

3. Could Enhance Your Immune System

Your immune system helps keep you healthy by fighting off infections.

It’s a complex system made up of multiple mechanisms and cells that get into gear when an invader enters your body.

Chlorella has been found to enhance the immune response in both animal and human studies, although the evidence so far is limited.

In one small study, men produced more antibodies when taking chlorella than when they took a placebo. Antibodies help fight foreign invaders in your body, meaning this finding is quite promising.

In another small, eight-week study, healthy adults who took chlorella showed markers of increased immune activity.

Nevertheless, findings have been mixed, with some studies showing little to no effect.

For instance, one study found that chlorella supplements enhanced immune function in participants aged 50–55, but not those over 55.

So it’s possible that chlorella may have immune-boosting effects in some populations and age groups, but not in all. More and larger-scale studies are needed.

4. May Help Improve Cholesterol

Several studies have suggested that chlorella supplements may help lower cholesterol.

Specifically, several studies have shown that taking 5–10 grams of chlorella daily lowered total and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in people with high blood pressure and/or slightly elevated cholesterol.

Chlorella’s content of the following may help improve blood lipid levels:

  • Niacin: A B vitamin known to lower cholesterol.
  • Fiber: A cholesterol-lowering agent.
  • Carotenoids: Have been shown to naturally lower cholesterol.
  • Antioxidants: Help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is known to contribute to heart disease.

5. Acts as an Antioxidant

Chlorella contains several compounds that are considered antioxidants, including chlorophyll, vitamin C, beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein.

These antioxidants can help fight many chronic diseases.

Some of these antioxidants seem to reduce the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which drive many of the complications of diabetes.

In animals and lab studies, chlorella has interfered with the way genes age.

Also, a human study showed chlorella supplements increased antioxidant levels in chronic cigarette smokers, a population at a higher risk of oxidative damage.

Although much of this research is promising, it is still preliminary.

6. Helps Keep Blood Pressure in Check

Chlorella supplements could help promote heart and kidney health, which is essential for normal blood pressure.

In one study, people with mildly high blood pressure took four grams of chlorella daily for 12 weeks.

By the end, these people had lower blood pressure readings than participants who took the placebo.

Another small study in healthy men showed that taking chlorella supplements was linked to less stiffness of the arteries, a factor that affects blood pressure.

One theory to explain this is that some of chlorella’s nutrients, including arginine, potassium, calcium and omega-3s, help protect arteries from hardening.

7. Could Improve Blood Sugar Levels

Some research shows that chlorella may help lower blood sugar levels.

One study found that taking chlorella for 12 weeks lowered fasting blood sugar levels in both healthy individuals and those at high risk of lifestyle-related diseases.

Other studies have shown that supplementing with chlorella improves blood sugar control and increases insulin sensitivity in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

There isn’t enough research yet to say that you should take chlorella to manage blood sugar, but it may help when combined with other therapies.

8. May Help Manage Respiratory Diseases

Managing respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often requires controlling inflammation.

Chlorella has some components that can help reduce inflammation, including its many antioxidants.

One study found that chlorella supplements improved antioxidant status in COPD patients, but that didn’t translate into any improvements in breathing capability.

More studies are needed to determine its true effect on respiratory conditions, but chlorella might help with inflammation.

9. May Enhance Aerobic Endurance

Only one study has looked at chlorella’s effect on aerobic endurance, but it showed a positive effect.

Researchers gave a group of young adults six grams of chlorella or a placebo daily for four weeks.

At the end of the study, the chlorella group showed a significantly improved ability to saturate their lungs with oxygen, which is a measure of endurance. The placebo group did not experience any changes in endurance.

This effect may be due to chlorella’s branched-chain amino acid content.

Branched-chain amino acids are a collection of three amino acids that have been found to improve aerobic performance in various studies.