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Best of Chlorella and Spirulina

January 31, 2011 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

In the world of high fashion models there are certain physical traits that you expect to find in the men and women strutting down the catwalk. But every once in a while an unlikely superstar emerges. These individuals generally don’t possess the typical characteristics found in other “supermodels”. They may be heavier, shorter or just downright “unique” in appearance. A similar phenomenon is found in the field of naturopathic medicine. There are plenty of remedies derived from beautiful sources such as echinacea flowers, lavender buds and milk thistle. However other popular supplements are extracted from decidedly unattractive reservoirs.

In the eyes of many people, algae such as Chlorella and Spirulina are nothing more than common pond scum. Alternative medicine buffs and research scientists vehemently disagree with that point of view. Both perspectives have a basis in reality. Certain varieties of algae can, in fact, be toxic and virtually all algae have an unpleasant aroma and taste. Naturally, these attributes lend themselves to giving algae a bad reputation. But under a microscope or in the context of medical studies, these very same outcasts are often found to have very promising health promoting features. (1,2,3)

Here’s a bullet point overview of some of the most recent data relating to both of these blue-green supermodels:

  • Chlorella and Pregnancy - A group of 70 women with pregnancy anemia and pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH) were given either 6 grams/daily of Chlorella or a placebo from the 12th week of gestation until delivery. Those receiving the Chlorella supplements demonstrated improvements in anemia in their second and third trimesters – as measured by hemoglobin levels. Two key signs of pregnancy induced hypertension (edema and proteinuria) also declined in the Chlorella users during the third trimester. The Japanese scientists conducting the trial noted that Chlorella contains organic sources of folic acid, iron and Vitamin B12 which probably contributed to some of the health benefits exhibited in this study. (4)
  • Chlorella and Smokers - A study published in the August 2009 edition of the journal Nutrition examined the effects of Chlorella supplementation in a group of male smokers. A group of participants with ages ranging from 20 to 65 were asked to take 6.3 grams of Chlorella vulgaris or a placebo over the course of 6 weeks. Blood samples were taken pre and post trial. The results of the testing revealed that the Chlorella users showed increased levels of select antioxidants such as Vitamins C (44% higher) and Vitamin E (16% higher). There were also indications of greater systemic antioxidant enzymes (erythrocyte catalase and superoxide dismutase) and a reduction in DNA damage resulting from tobacco use. The researchers concluded that “Chlorella is an important whole-food supplement that should be included as a key component of a healthy diet”. (5)
  • Chlorella and Animal Studies - Several recent animal trials also shed light on potential future applications for Chlorella. An October 2009 study in the journal Neuroscience Letters describes how Chlorella supplementation can decrease age-related oxidative stress and prevent cognitive decline in older mice. That same month, another trial in the Journal of Medicinal Food reported that adding Chlorella to an unhealthy diet “may prevent insulin resistance” in diabetes-prone rats. In addition, a Taiwanese study determined that Chlorella is as effective as milk thistle in protecting the liver of lab rats against chemically induced damage. This is noteworthy because milk thistle is considered the number one natural remedy for supporting liver health. (6,7,8)
  • Spirulina and Athletic Performance - Adding 6 grams daily of Spirulina to the diets of “moderately trained males” for 4 weeks was shown to improve exercise performance and stamina, increase fat burning and systemic antioxidant levels (glutathione/GSH) and reduce exercise induced oxidative stress (lipid peroxidation). (9)
  • Spirulina + Chlorella and Heavy Metals - A new experiment conducted at the Department of Pharmacology at the Mymensingh Medical College in Bangladesh discovered that Spirulina extracts can effectively remove arsenic from the livers of mice suffering from arsenic poisoning (arsenicosis). In September 2009, a group of Japanese researchers also reported that Chlorella could “contribute to the prevention of gastrointestinal absorption of lead and the promotion of the excretion of lead” in mice. In many parts of the world, heavy metal exposure is a leading cause of developmental disorders and illness. Medicinal algae may be a safe and viable strategy to mitigate such a risk in regions where arsenic or lead exposure is common. (10,11)
  • Spirulina and Diabetes - 30 days worth of Spirulina supplementation provoked positive changes in diabetic rats according to an Indian study from Pondicherry University in Kalapet. Improvements in blood glucose, body weight, insulin and pancreatic health were noted. Yet another Indian trial determined that combining Spirulina with a common anti-diabetic medication (Rosiglitazone or Avandia) could reduce the risk of drug related bone loss in a group of insulin resistant rats. The authors theorized that the calcium and phosphorous in Spirulina may account for the bone strengthening effect noted. I would personally add that Vitamin K and Vitamin K2 may also be at work here. In addition, improvements in “fasting serum glucose, HDL, LDL and triglycerides” were found in the rats receiving the Spirulina/drug combination. (12,13)
Spirulina May Improve Athletic Performance
Source: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: January 2010 (link)

While searching through the scientific literature I wasn’t surprised to find numerous studies emanating from Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea. But what I found particularly interesting was the rather impressive number of algae experiments conducted in India. I simply wasn’t aware of the commercial or traditional use of therapeutic algae in that country. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who was taken aback by this news. A scientific review of traditional Indian plants in the September 2009 edition of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology includes Chlorella vulgaris in it’s evaluation of this topic. The authors describe Chlorella and 12 plant species as “reported for the first time for the treatment of inflammation related diseases” in the Indian healing tradition. (14)

Future prospects also look particularly bright for medicinal algae. An eye drop consisting of an extract of Spirulina platensis is currently being evaluated for corneal diseases of the eye such as macular degeneration. Preliminary evidence suggests that this natural eye drop may one day offer a more affordable and safer option to currently available drugs including Avastin and Lucentis. (15)

The human studies I’ve referenced today have utilized encapsulated or tableted forms of Chlorella and Spirulina. Both algae have a somewhat aquatic flavor and odor. Therefore, most people prefer swallowing a handful of algae pills rather than sprinkling it into their morning cereal or yogurt. However, it is often possible to mask the taste quite well in a protein shake or smoothie. At the moment, I’m taking a “green food” supplement that comes in a capsule form. In the past I have also used a mixed greens formula that provided both Chlorella and Spirulina in a delicious powder form – no joke! This is one type of supplement that can largely be influenced by your taste. If you have a sensitive palate, I would suggest opting for capsules, tablets or naturally flavored powdered forms. Be sure to choose a form that suits your needs. If you can’t stand the taste, it’s unlikely that you’ll take it consistently.

Update: January 2011 - Over the past year or so there have been a number of new studies involving both Chlorella vulgaris and Spirulina platensis. Some of the findings add new information to the established knowledge base of these microalgae. However the majority of the current data simply supports previous research which, in and of itself, is important to note. With respect to Chlorella, researchers are reporting that: a) it can be used topically as a wound dressing to help promote healing and reduce the formation of scar tissue; b) it’s unlikely to lower blood sugar in diabetics, but appears to protect against oxidative DNA damage and lipid peroxidation and; c) it may significantly improve physical endurance by altering the levels of free fatty acids, glucose, lactic acid and triglycerides.

Neither is Spirulina one to be ignored in the medical literature. Recent experiments indicate that it can: a) protect against heavy-metal induced birth defects in mice exposed to high levels of cadmium; b) shield healthy cells from free radical damage that can otherwise result in “apoptic cell death”; and c) work synergistically with whey protein to chelate heavy/toxic metals and scavenge free radicals which are capable of causing liver damage. Many of the health attributes of these unique microalgae are closely linked to their antioxidant potential. And while most of the previously mentioned experiments were conducted in-vitro and in experimental animal models, they still offer an intriguing glimpse into the potential of Chlorella and Spirulina in those who choose to supplement with them. (16,17,18,19,20,21)

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!

JP

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15 Comments & Updates to “Best of Chlorella and Spirulina”

  1. Renee Stanley Says:

    JP thanks for the info,I’ll keep my fingers crossed. do you remember blue green alge? It was all the rage about 15 years ago,the alge came from lakes in oregon or washington,sounds like its similar to chlorella.

  2. JP Says:

    Renee,

    I hope you’ll find positive results. Try to keep an optimistic mindset and please report back – no matter what happens.

    I do remember blue green algae. It’s still around but not as popular as it used to be. In some ways it’s similar to chlorella and spirulina. Thankfully, the latter two have much more research to support their use.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Tab Benedict Says:

    Looooooove it!! The meal replacement shake has this in it :) among lots of other goodies. I’m so glad I’m not the only one to see the value!

  4. Dave Says:

    Thanks for all the info JP!

    But what about spirulina and diabetes? Any more news on that? I’ve seen that chlorella may not help, but is spirulina still considered helpful?

  5. JP Says:

    Dave,

    Spirulina seems promising for T2D.

    This study (linked below) found positive effects of high-dosage Spirulina in diabetics:

    http://e-nrp.org/search.php?where=aview&id=125264&code=0161NRP&vmode=FULL

    A few older trials have also noted other and similar benefits:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15754482

    http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089%2F10966200152744463

    Be well!

    JP

  6. Fran Says:

    Does Chlorella and sprilina do anything for muscle scar tissue?

  7. JP Says:

    Chlorella Update:

    http://www.nutritionj.com/content/pdf/1475-2891-13-57.pdf

    Nutr J. 2014 Jun 11;13(1):57. [Epub ahead of print]

    Impact of daily Chlorella consumption on serum lipid and carotenoid profiles in mildly hypercholesterolemic adults: a double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled study.

    Ryu NH, Lim Y, Park JE, Kim J, Kim JY, Kwon SW, Kwon O.

    BACKGROUND:

    High level of serum cholesterol is considered to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). A double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial was performed to test the hypothesis that a daily intake of Chlorella may improve serum lipid profile through enhancement of serum carotenoid concentration in mildly hypercholesterolemic subjects.

    METHODS:

    Eligible subjects (n = 63) were randomized to either Chlorella (5 g/day) or placebo for a double-blinded trial with a 2-week lead-in period and a 4-week intervention period. Serum triglycerides, total cholesterol, lipoproteins, apolipoproteins and carotenoids were assessed at the beginning and the end of the trial.

    RESULTS:

    Compared with the control group, the Chlorella group exhibited remarkable changes in total cholesterol (Chlorella -1.6%; placebo 0.03%; P = 0.036), triglycerides (Chlorella -10.3%; placebo 11.9%; P = 0.002), lutein/zeaxanthin (Chlorella 89.6%; placebo -1.7%; P < 0.0001), and alpha-carotene (Chlorella 163.6%; placebo 15%; P < 0.0001). Improvement of serum lipids was supported by significant reductions of very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (Chlorella -11%; placebo 11.8%; P = 0.006), apolipoprotein B (Chlorella -1.5%; placebo 1.7%; P = 0.044), non high-density lipoprotein (Chlorella -2.6%; placebo -0.5%; P = 0.032), and high-density lipoprotein/triglycerides (Chlorella 4.0%; placebo -9.5%; P = 0.023), suggesting an inhibitory effect of Chlorella on the intestinal absorption of dietary and endogenous lipids. Further, the changes of serum lipids appeared to be associated with the changes of serum carotenoids.

    CONCLUSION:

    Daily consumption of Chlorella supplements provided the potential of health benefits reducing serum lipid risk factors, mainly triglycerides and total cholesterol, in mildly hypercholesterolemic subjects. The effect was related to carotenoid consumption.

    Be well!

    JP

  8. JP Says:

    Hi Fran,

    I apologize for my delayed reply. It appears that topical chlorella may assist with (skin) wound recovery.

    http://www.seuroma.it/clinica_terapeutica/apps/autos.php?id=818

    That’s all I could find in the scientific literature that pertained to your question.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. JP Says:

    Chlorella aids those with fatty liver disease:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25097844

    Health Promot Perspect. 2014 Jul 12;4(1):107-15. doi: 10.5681/hpp.2014.014. eCollection 2014.

    The Effect of Chlorella vulgaris Supplementation on Liver En-zymes, Serum Glucose and Lipid Profile in Patients with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.

    Ebrahimi-Mameghani M1, Aliashrafi S2, Javadzadeh Y3, AsghariJafarabadi M4.

    BACKGROUND:

    Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming a public health problem worldwide and using microalgae is a new approach on its treatment. The aim of this study was to investigate the effect of Chlorella vulgaris supplementation on liver enzymes, serum glucose and lipid profile in patients with NAFLD.

    METHODS:

    This double-blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial was conducted on 60 NAFLD patients from specialized clinics of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences from December 2011 to July 2012. The subjects were randomly allocated into 2 groups: 1) “intervention” (n=30) received 400 mg/day vitamin E plus four 300 mg tablets of Chlorella vulgaris and, 2) “placebo” (n=30) received 400 mg/day vitamin E and four placebo tablets per day for 8 weeks. Weight, liver enzymes and metabolic factors were assessed in fasting serum and dietary data was collected at baseline and end of the study.

    RESULTS:

    Weight, liver enzymes, fasting blood sugar (FBS) and lipid profile decreased significantly in both groups (P<0.05). The differences in weight, ALP and FBS between the two groups were statistically significant (P=0.01, P=0.04 and P=0.02, respectively).

    CONCLUSION:

    C. vulgaris seems to improve FBS and lipid profile and therefore could be considered as an effective complementary treatment in NAFLD.

    Be well!

    JP

  10. JP Says:

    Update 07/09/15:

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0965229915001016

    Complementary Therapies in Medicine – 18 June 2015

    A Randomized Controlled Trial of 6-Week Chlorella vulgaris supplementation in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder

    Background: Major depressive disorder (MDD) is a widespread psychiatric disorder with incapacitating symptoms. Oxidative stress has been identified to play a role in the pathophysiology of MDD.

    Objective: To evaluate the therapeutic effectiveness of a chemically defined and antioxidant-rich Chlorella vulgaris extract (CVE) as adjunct to standard treatment in patients suffering from MDD.

    Methods: Subjects with MDD diagnosis according to DSM-IV criteria who were receiving standard antidepressant therapy were assigned to add-on therapy with CVE (1800 mg/day; n=42), or continued standard antidepressant therapy alone (n=50) for a period of 6 weeks. Changes in the frequency of depressive symptoms were assessed using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II) scale.

    Results: There were significant reductions in total and subscale BDI-II and HADS scores in both CVE and control groups by the end of trial. The magnitude of reductions in total BDI-II score [-4.14 (-5.30 to -2.97)] as well as physical [-2.34 (-2.84 to -1.84)] and cognitive [-1.12 (-1.62 to -0.61)] subscales were significantly greater in the CVE versus control group, however, reduction of the affective symptoms was greater in the control compared with the CVE group [0.95 (0.18 to 1.72)]. Total HADS [-3.71 (-4.44 to -2.98)] as well as individual subscales of depression [-1.46 (-2.02 to -0.90)] and anxiety [-2.25 (-2.74 to -1.76)] were reduced to a greater degree in the CVE group. CVE was well tolerated and no serious adverse event was reported.

    Conclusion: This pilot exploratory trial provides the first clinical evidence on the efficacy and safety of adjunctive therapy with CVE in improving physical and cognitive symptoms of depression as well as anxiety symptoms in patients who are receiving standard antidepressant therapy.

    Be well!

    JP

  11. JP Says:

    Updated 07/25/15:

    http://www.nutritionj.com/content/14/1/70

    Nutr J. 2015 Jul 21;14(1):70.

    Impact of daily supplementation of Spirulina platensis on the immune system of naïve HIV-1 patients in Cameroon: a 12-months single blind, randomized, multicenter trial.

    BACKGROUND: Micronutrient deficiencies occur early in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infections they have reverse effects on the nutritional status. The diet supplementation with a natural nutraceutical rich in proteins and micronutrient like Spirulina platensis, may be effective and efficient in delaying HIV disease progression by frequently reported improvement in immune response.

    METHODS: A prospective single-blind, randomized, multicenter study conducted on 320 HIV-1 ARV-naïve participants for 12 months. Participants received either S. platensis supplementation and standard care or standard care and local balanced diet without S. platenis. Selected hematological and biochemical as well as CD4 count cells, viral load copies were assessed at three separate times.

    RESULTS: Among the 169 ART-naïve participants enrolled in the study, the female was mostly represented (67.1 %). The significant increase of CD4 count cells (596.32-614.92 cells count) and significant decrease of viral load levels (74.7 × 103-30.87 × 103 copies/mL) of the patients who received a supplementation of S. platensis was found after 6 months of treatment. Haemoglobin level was also significantly higher in the same group while the fasting blood glucose concentration decreased after 12 months compared to control.

    CONCLUSION: A daily supplementation with S. platensis to diet combined with a reasonable balanced diet has significantly increased the CD4 cells and reduced the viral load after 6 months. Further studies are recommended among a large specific group of people infected by the HIV in order to investigate the mechanisms involved on the effect of S. platensis on immune system.

    Be well!

    JP

  12. JP Says:

    Updated 02/20/16:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26888417?dopt=Abstract

    Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Feb 17:1-4.

    A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled study of spirulina supplementation on indices of mental and physical fatigue in men.

    Spirulina may increase people’s ability to resist mental and physical fatigue. This study tested that hypothesis in a randomized, double blinded, placebo controlled study in men. After 1 week, a 3 g/day dose of spirulina produced a small, but statistically significant increase in exercise output (Kcals consumed in 30 min exercise on a cross trainer machine). A mathematical based mental fatigue test showed improved performance 4 h after the first time of supplementation as well as 8 weeks later. Similarly, a subjective survey for a sense of physical and mental fatigue showed improvement within 4 h of the first supplementation as well as 8 weeks later. These results show that spirulina intake can affect fatigue in men.

    Be well!

    JP

  13. JP Says:

    Updated 07/21/16:

    http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/jmf.2015.0143

    J Med Food. 2016 Jul;19(7):645-53.

    Clinical Safety of a High Dose of Phycocyanin-Enriched Aqueous Extract from Arthrospira (Spirulina) platensis: Results from a Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study with a Focus on Anticoagulant Activity and Platelet Activation.

    The goal for this study was to evaluate safety regarding anticoagulant activity and platelet activation during daily consumption of an aqueous cyanophyta extract (ACE), containing a high dose of phycocyanin. Using a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study design, 24 men and women were enrolled after informed consent, and consumed either ACE (2.3 g/day) or placebo daily for 2 weeks. The ACE dose was equivalent to ∼1 g phycocyanin per day, chosen based on the highest dose Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Consuming ACE did not alter markers for platelet activation (P-selectin expression) or serum P-selectin levels. No changes were seen for activated partial thromboplastin time, thrombin clotting time, or fibrinogen activity. Serum levels of aspartate transaminase (AST) showed a significant reduction after 2 weeks of ACE consumption (P < .001), in contrast to placebo where no changes were seen; the difference in AST levels between the two groups was significant at 2 weeks (P < .02). Reduced levels of alanine transaminase (ALT) were also seen in the group consuming ACE (P < .08). Previous studies showed reduction of chronic pain when consuming 1 g ACE per day. The higher dose of 2.3 g/day in this study was associated with significant reduction of chronic pain at rest and when physically active (P < .05). Consumption of ACE showed safety regarding markers pertaining to anticoagulant activity and platelet activation status, in conjunction with rapid and robust relief of chronic pain. Reduction in AST and ALT suggested improvement in liver function and metabolism.

    Be well!

    JP

  14. JP Says:

    Updated 10/27/16:

    http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.jafc.6b03550

    J Agric Food Chem. 2016 Oct 24.

    Characterization and Quantitation of Vitamin B12 Compounds in Various Chlorella Supplements.

    Vitamin B12 was determined and characterized in 19 dried Chlorella health supplements. Vitamin contents of dried Chlorella cells varied from < 0.1 μg to approximately 415 μg per 100 g dry weight. Subsequent liquid chromatography/electrospray ionization-tandem mass spectrometry analyses showed the presence of inactive corrinoid compounds, a cobalt-free corrinoid, and 5-methoxybenzimidazolyl cyanocobamide (factor IIIm) in four and three high vitamin B12-containing Chlorella tablets, respectively. In four Chlorella tablet types with high and moderate vitamin B12 contents, the coenzyme forms of vitamin B12 5′-deoxyadenosylcobalamin (approximately 32%) and methylcobalamin (approximately 8%) were considerably present, whereas the unnaturally occurring corrinoid cyanocobalamin was present at the lowest concentrations. The species Chlorella sorokiniana (formerly C. pyrenoidosa) is commonly used in dietary supplements and did not show an absolute requirement of vitamin B12 for growth despite vitamin B12 uptake from the medium being observed. In further experiments, vitamin B12-dependent methylmalonyl-CoA mutase and methionine synthase activities were detected in cell homogenates. In particular, methionine synthase activity was significantly increased following the addition of vitamin B12 to the medium. These results suggest that vitamin B12 contents of Chlorella tablets reflect the presence of vitamin B12 generating organic ingredients in the medium or the concomitant growth of vitamin B12-synthesizing bacteria under open culture conditions.

    Be well!

    JP

  15. JP Says:

    Updated 10/29/16:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5061973/

    Int J Pediatr. 2016;2016:1296414. Epub 2016 Sep 29.

    Spirulina Supplements Improved the Nutritional Status of Undernourished Children Quickly and Significantly: Experience from Kisantu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    Aim. Despite high levels of malnutrition, there is still very little information on the nutritional benefits of Spirulina, a natural alga that provides essential amino acids, rare essential lipids, and numerous minerals and vitamins, to undernourished children in the world. Methods. We carried out a prospective study of 50 children aged between six and 60 months. The intervention group consisted of 16 children who received 10 g of Spirulina daily, as well as the local diet administered by the nutritional centre, and the control group of 34 children who just received the local diet. Both groups of children were assessed on day zero, day 15, and day 30. Results. After treatment, the weight-for-age Z scores and weight-for-height Z scores increased significantly in the intervention group. At day 15, there was a statistically significant difference between the mean corpuscular volume, total proteins, and albumin (p < 0.05) in both groups, in favour of the intervention group, and at day 30, this difference extended to all of the studied parameters (p < 0.05). Conclusion. This study found that the nutritional status of undernourished children who received Spirulina supplements as well as the local diet administered by the nutritional centre improved quickly and significantly.

    Be well!

    JP

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