Mind & Body

Reasons You Should Eat Microalgae

Spirulina and chlorella deliver a potent mix of nutrients in a tiny package
TIMEDecember 28, 2021

If you’re looking for superfoods that have whole-body benefits, come in a convenient supplement and powdered form, and are high in protein and rich in phytonutrients, then look no further than spirulina and chlorella. These algae are cousins that have similar—but different—health benefits, and they’re well worth adding to your daily routine.

If you aren’t overly fond of leafy greens or don’t get enough of them in your diet, then spirulina or chlorella may be helpful (though fresh vegetables are irreplaceable). When you blend them into a smoothie, you’ll barely even notice them, but you’ll still benefit from all of their green goodness.

What Is Chlorella?

Chlorella is a single-celled green microalgae that’s native to Japan and Taiwan, and it’s a super source of amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, magnesium, B vitamins, beta-carotene, and chlorophyll. Three tablespoons (about one ounce) of powdered chlorella provide 16 grams of protein, 287 percent RDA of vitamin A, 202 percent of iron, 133 percent of zinc, 71 percent of vitamin B2, 33 percent of vitamin B3, and 22 percent of magnesium.

[Editor’s note: Many people have too much iron in their blood, which can cause adverse health effects. Be aware of this if you’re eating processed foods fortified with iron, have high iron content in your well water, or take multivitamins that include iron.]

What Is Spirulina?

Like chlorella, spirulina is a single-celled microalgae (of the blue-green variety) that’s high in protein (more than in chlorella), boasts a detoxifying factor, and harbors impressive levels of nutrients, including omega-3s, iron, magnesium, copper, and several B vitamins. It has been named the “single most nutritious food on the planet.”

Three tablespoons (21 grams) of dried spirulina contains 12 grams of protein, 33 percent RDA of vitamin B1 (thiamin), 45 percent of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), 12 percent of niacin, 62 percent of copper, and 33 percent of iron, as well as good amounts of magnesium, manganese, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Use of chlorella and spirulina have been credited with a lot of health benefits. Here are some of the more notable ones.

Detoxify Heavy Metals and Radiation

Chlorella has the ability to attach to toxins in the body, including cadmium, lead, mercury, and uranium and prevent their absorption. These and other heavy metals can enter the body through food (such as fish), mercury dental fillings, air pollutants, affected water, paint, environmental factors, and vaccinations. The chlorophyll in chlorella can also protect against damage from ultraviolet radiation treatments. Regular intake of chlorella can help prevent heavy metals from accumulating in the body and eliminate radioactive particles.

Promote Gut Health and Digestion

Both spirulina and chlorella support and promote healthy digestion and a flourishing beneficial bacteria environment in the gut. A healthy gut, in turn, supports an optimally functioning immune system.

Boost Immune Function

Immune system cells known as natural killer cells get a boost from chlorella, according to Korean researchers. Other research has shown that individuals with brain tumors who took chlorella had fewer respiratory infections and flu-like illnesses than those not taking the supplement.

Slow Aging

Who wouldn’t like this benefit? Spirulina contains a winning combination of carotenoids and the enzyme SOD (superoxide dismutase, a potent antioxidant), which has been shown to be good for skin health by improving age spots, acne, rashes, and eczema.

Research published in a Clinical Laboratory article noted that chlorella significantly reduces oxidative stress, a major factor associated with aging. Oxidative stress is caused by a poor diet, pollution, and stress. The microalgae also naturally boost the levels of glutathione, vitamin A, and vitamin C in the body, which in turn gets rid of cell-damaging free radicals.

Help With Weight Loss

Chlorella facilitates weight loss in several ways, including regulation of hormones, improving circulation, stimulating greater energy levels, reducing body fat, eliminating toxins, and promoting metabolism. In a Japanese study, the authors found that chlorella supplementation resulted in “noticeable reductions in body fat percentage” among both healthy adults and those at high risk for lifestyle diseases.

Fight Cancer

The use of chlorella supplementation may help fight cancer by enhancing immune system function, removing toxic heavy metals from the body, and boosting the activity of T cells (immune cells that fight abnormal cells).

Serve as Plant Protein Alternatives

Spirulina and chlorella are better sources of complete protein than red meat and most plant proteins. In fact, beef is 22 percent complete protein and lentils are 26 percent, while spirulina is about 65 to 71 percent protein and chlorella is 58 percent protein.

Support Cardiovascular Health

Spirulina has a special cell structure composed of mucopolysaccharides, which are easily digested. This feature is a reason why the algae can lower triglycerides and cholesterol and thus support cardiovascular health.

The authors of one recent study reported that overweight adults with high blood pressure who consumed spirulina daily for three months showed improvement in blood pressure and endothelial function, as well as in weight and body mass index, all of which have an effect on cardiovascular health.

How to Buy and Take Spirulina and Chlorella

Both supplements are available as a powder, tablet, and capsule. The recommended form is powder, since it is easily added to smoothies and liquids. Because the cell walls of chlorella are a challenge to digest, you should look for supplements that read “cracked cell wall chlorella,” which means your body will be able to more easily absorb the supplement.

Suggested preventive and therapeutic dosages of spirulina for adults are 6 to 10 grams daily and 11 to 20 grams daily, respectively. For chlorella, they’re 3 to 4 grams daily and 5 to 7 grams daily, respectively.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly describe chlorella. Chlorella is a single-celled green algae.

Sources

Axe J. 7 proven chlorella benefits

Azamai ESM et al. Chlorella vulgaris trigger apoptosis in hepatocarcinogenesis-induced rats. Zhejiang Univ Sci B 2009 Jan; 10(1): 14-21

Jung SM et al. Assessment of spirulina-PCL nanofiber for the regeneration of dermal fibroblast layers. In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology. Animal 2013 Jan; 49(1): 27-33

Kwak JH et al. Beneficial immunostimulatory effect of short-term Chlorella supplementation: enhancement of Natural Killer cell activity and early inflammatory response. Nutrition Journal 2012; 11:53

Leech J. 10 health benefits of spirulina. Healthline 2017 June 4

Merchant RE et al. Dietary Chlorella pyrenoidosa for patients with malignant glioma: effects on immunocompetence, quality of life, and survival. Phytotherapy Research 1990 Dec; 4(6): 220-31

Mizoguchi T et al. Nutrigenomic studies of effects of Chlorella on subjects with high-risk factors for lifestyle-related disease. Journal of Medicinal Food 2008 Sep; 11(3): 395-404

Miczke A et al. Effects of spirulina consumption on body weight, blood pressure, and endothelial function in overweight hypertensive Causasians: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences 2016; 20(1): 150-56

Panahi Y et al. Chlorella vulgaris: a multifunctional dietary supplement with diverse medicinal properties. Current Pharmaceutical Design 2016; 22(2): 164-73

Panahi Y et al. Investigation of the effects of Chlorella vulgaris supplementation on the modulation of oxidative stress in apparently healthy smokers. Clinical Laboratory 2013; 59(5-6): 579-87.

Deborah Mitchell is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. This article was originally published on NaturallySavvy.com