Learn About Chlorella: Is Eating Algae Beneficial For You?

Chlorella is a microalgae that is commercially available as a dietary supplement. It contains good amounts of vitamin B12, vitamin D, folate, and iron compared to other plant-derived foods. Chlorella has been shown to decrease blood glucose, cholesterol, and pressure. Read more to learn about the benefits and side effects of chlorella.

Microalgae live in seawater and freshwater. Like plants, they use sunlight and CO2 to produce important nutrients, including essential amino acids, omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, and a wide range of vitamins.

Chlorella is a microalgae that was first consumed in Asia. Chlorella species are categorized as C. vulgaris, C. lobophora, and C. sorokiniana (also known as C. pyrenoidosa).

Nutritional value of chlorella

Chlorella is a nutritious source. Thirteen commercially available Chlorella products contain:

Dietary fiber65%

Additionally, chlorella products contain essential vitamins, including:

  • Vitamin B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), biotin (B7) and folate (B9).
  • Vitamin C, D2, E, and K, and α- and β-carotenes.
  • Iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium.

Health benefits of chlorella

Chlorella has various health benefits, from heart health to liver health.

Antioxidant nutrients and compounds

Chlorella contains antioxidants such as beta-carotene, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins E and C, and selenium. Antioxidant compounds capture free radicals which otherwise damage cells.

Free radicals occur as a result of metabolism and exposure to environmental factors such as smoking, air pollution, and UV radiation. Antioxidants capture and eliminate free radicals, preventing cell damage and death.

Good nutrient source for vegans

Vegan and vegetarian people may experience deficiencies of nutrients that are mainly found in animal-based foods. Chlorella is a non-animal source of iron and vitamins B12 and D2 (plant source of vitamin D).

Chlorella products can contain 1 mg of iron per g of dry weight, a very good amount of iron compared to other plant-based foods. Some studies suggest chlorella supplementation can prevent iron-deficiency anemia.

Chlorella's vitamin B12 content varies from 6 to 500 µg/100 g dry weight. Chlorella can be a good source, considering organ meats have approximately 25–53 µg vitamin B12/100 g fresh weight.

The best source of vitamin D is sunlight exposure. Limited amount of vitamin D is found in fish, eggs, and milk. Plant-based sources are even more limited. Some sun-dried mushrooms are a good vitamin D source for vegans. Chlorella contains similar amounts of vitamin D as sun-dried mushrooms.

Lower blood pressure and cholesterol

Untreated hypertension may increase the risk of heart diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Some foods contain antihypertensive compounds, which may improve high blood pressure.

Blood cholesterol is another marker of heart health. Abnormal blood lipid levels (high LDL and triglycerides; low HDL) can cause cardiovascular diseases. LDL (bad cholesterol) can accumulate in the walls of blood vessels, resulting in atherosclerotic plaque. Atherosclerotic plaque narrows blood vessels, restricting blood flow, which may cause heart attacks.

A meta-analysis of 19 randomized controlled studies evaluated the effects of Chlorella supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors. Chlorella supplementation significantly decreased LDL (bad cholesterol) and systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Anti-diabetic effects

Abnormal blood glucose and insulin (a hormone regulating blood glucose levels) metabolism may cause diabetes. In animal studies, the hypoglycemic effects of Chlorella have been reported.

However, there is limited data from human studies. In a clinical study, type 2 diabetes patients were given 1500 mg/day of Chlorella vulgaris or a placebo for 2 months. There were no significant differences in glycemic status.

Improve liver function

The liver has important functions, including detoxification, protein synthesis, hormone production, and nutrient metabolism and storage. Liver enzyme tests are used to evaluate liver diseases such as fatty liver, the most common liver disease in the U.S.

In a clinical study, 1200 mg/day of Chlorella vulgaris was given to patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) for 2 months. Patients taking Chlorella vulgaris supplementation showed significantly lower liver enzymes and inflammation markers, indicating improved liver function.

Side effects of chlorella

Chlorella contains high amounts of vitamin K, which can decrease the effectiveness of warfarin, a medicine used to prevent blood clots. People taking blood thinners (warfarin) should monitor the dietary intake of vitamin K because the vitamin can decrease warfarin effectivity, which can be life-threatening. Following recommended daily intake of vitamin K is vital to limit medication and vitamin K interactions.

Chlorella may cause:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Nausea
  • Flatulence
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Green stools
  • Photosensitivity reactions

Keep in mind that dietary supplements are not regulated the same as medicines. Assessing the safety of supplements is the manufacturer's responsibility. In some cases, differences between the actual and labeled ingredients were reported.

Key takeaways:

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