Best of Chlorella and SpirulinaJanuary 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)
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!
Tags: Chlorella, Pregnancy, Spirulina
Posted in Diabetes, Exercise, Nutritional Supplements