Nutrition Notes

Detox and Beyond: The Broad Health-supportive Roles of Chlorella

Chlorella (Chlorella spp.) is a type of unicellular organism found in aquatic ecosystems. It is categorized as green algae or microalgae. Recent research has explored the potential health benefits of some bioactive compounds and nutrients found in microalgae, such as chlorella.

In their natural state, chlorella cells are nondigestible by humans due to the content of their cell walls. However, chlorella cell walls are mechanically broken down when prepared for supplementation. The nutritional profile of chlorella is composed of protein, dietary fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and essential amino acids. It also contains many minerals and vitamins, including vitamin D2 and several B vitamins. When compared by dry weight, chlorella contains higher levels of folate than spinach. Chlorella also contains polysaccharides, which have been shown to support the body’s response to oxidative stress and immune function.

Chlorella has been studied for its potential role in the support of detoxification. An animal study explored the potential effects of supplementation with chlorella in the presence of dioxins. The dioxins are in a category of compounds that may be harmful to the human body. In this controlled study, animals were exposed to dioxins while the treatment arm was fed a diet supplemented with chlorella. The treatment group was shown to have significantly greater fecal dioxin levels as compared to the controls, which indicates that chlorella may have helped clear dioxins from the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, chlorella supplementation was shown to significantly decrease the gastrointestinal absorption of dioxins.

Certain extracts of chlorella polysaccharides have been studied for their potential role in the support of immune function. Laboratory studies have indicated that polysaccharides from certain species of chlorella may influence the expression of cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-1-beta, IL-6, IL-10, and IL-12. Changes in tumor necrosis factor-alpha, T-cell and macrophage activation, and nitric oxide production were also observed in the presence of chlorella polysaccharides.

Other ways chlorella may support health have been studied in recent research. Chlorella may influence the composition of the gastrointestinal microbiome. Supplementation with chlorella has also been evaluated in animal and human studies for its potential to support lipid metabolism. Clinical studies have shown improvements in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, and systolic blood pressure in the presence of chlorella supplementation.

Clinical studies have explored the liver-supportive role of chlorella. One randomized trial assessed supplementation with chlorella for 8 weeks in individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. At the end of the trial, serum concentrations of liver enzymes were significantly lower in the treatment arm.

Chlorella is a type of green algae that may support the body’s natural detoxification pathways, liver health, and immune function. Future studies may further our understanding of the supportive role of chlorella for human health.

By Colleen Ambrose, ND, MAT