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Nutrition

Chlorophyll: wonder supplement or wellness spin?

May 7th 2017 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment

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We thought it stopped with simple green juice, but liquid chlorophyll and chlorophyll supplements are being touted as the current “detoxifying” must-haves. We look into whether you should really spike your smoothie with pricy plant products

Photosynthesis: you know the drill. The process by which plants absorb energy from the sun to make their own food, so to speak, is enabled by the chlorophyll molecule, a green hued, oxygenating good guy that keeps the plant world lush and ticking over. Eat said plants (particularly of the dark leafy variety such as spinach and kale) and you’ll reap the rewards of health-giving phytonutrients and antioxidants by way of high levels of key vitamins, plus a good dose of all important fibre. You’ve been told to tuck into your greens for yonks, and for good reason, but how about supplementing your diet with chlorophyll in isolation?

From pills to powders to liquid chlorophyll added to drinks, advocates claim that chugging chlorophyll in droplet form or via algae-derived supplements such as chlorella and spirulina can “pull heavy metals out of the body” and “work like a deep cleansing agent in the body.” So far, so vaguely virtuous, but with equally spurious selling points including its “alkalinizing effects”, rumoured capacity to enable weight loss and even potential to cure herpes and slow the growth of cancer cells, you could be forgiven for forking out for litres of liquid chlorophyll and swimming in the stuff.

The thing is, while plants containing chlorophyll are without doubt beneficial to your health, it’s certainly not the chlorophyll content alone that has a protective effect. Chlorophyll isn’t a nutrient in itself, and while the likes of chlorophyll containing chlorella are indeed rich in protein and all important vitamins C and B, human studies haven’t borne out the Goop sourced statements quoted above relating to chlorella’s abundant chlorophyll content. Here are a few insights into the buzz about all things chlorophyll, so you can decide for yourself whether or not to invest in more green goo:

The for

Water soluble chlorophyll has been doing the rounds since the 1940s as a means to reduce bad breath and body odour- pharmacist and co-founder of Victoria Health Shabir Daya explains why it’s been renowned for it’s freshening effect for so long:

“Chlorophyll is an excellent internal deodoriser. Instead of masking odours like deodorants do, chlorophyll appears to work by getting rid of the odour causing compounds. Chlorophyll helps to relieve bad breath, body odour and perspiration odour effectively - in fact, there was even a well known chewing gum which contained chlorophyll within the formulation.”

Scientific studies are limited and observational so far, but if you did want to try it, Shabir recommends a Liquid Chlorophyll supplement over a tablet or powder, but also recommends that you seek medical advice before adding it into your diet.

Some experts, such as Dr Andrew Weil MD, believe that chlorophyll could also be a good source of magnesium, and Shabir supports this:

“At a molecular level, chlorophyll is almost identical to haemoglobin, the oxygen carrier in our blood which is why some people refer it as the “blood” of plants. The only difference between haemoglobin and chlorophyll is that haemoglobin has iron at the centre of the molecule whereas chlorophyll has magnesium.”

Given that 70% of the adult population are thought to be deficient in magnesium, a mineral that’s essential for optimal bone health and to release energy from food, adding in a chlorophyll supplement could help in theory, but given that there are no recommended daily dosages or comprehensive scientific studies as yet, the jury’s still out. To reassure you, chlorophyll is considered nontoxic, nonpoisonous and is of course present in many of the foods we eat, which is why taking in a full nutritional profile of vitamins and minerals by way of dark green leafy veg in particular is far preferable to taking a chlorophyll supplement to boost your health.

Limited studies do show that a chlorophyll supplement could promote weight loss and a decrease in bad cholesterol, such as a study of 38 overweight women in 2014 who added in a daily chlorophyll supplement to their weight loss plan. Over 12 weeks the group taking a chlorophyll supplement lost around three pounds more than the control group, and had lower levels of LDL cholesterol, however the study was small and further evidence is needed. Shabir does think that there’s something in the idea of chlorophyll as a metabolism booster, but it’s links to weight loss aren’t solid:

“Chlorophyll oxygenates our bodies. Its assimilation through the ingestion of plants and vegetables enables oxygen to be taken up efficiently by the red blood cells. Without sufficient oxygen, our bodies become sluggish because all the processes rely on the cells being sufficiently oxygenated. With insufficient oxygen, energy production is greatly diminished and our metabolism drops.”

As always, Shabir would insist that certain supplements are used for different reasons and that a one-size-fits-all approach should never be adopted.

If you do get your chlorophyll hit via algae derived supplements such as chlorella and spirulina, you will be getting a hit of vitamins and antioxidants as above, and it’s interesting to note that after the Second World War chlorella in particular was considered as a potential food source due to its high protein, vitamin and mineral content, plus its rapid growth rate. As part of a varied and balanced diet, chlorophyll heavy algae supplements could have their place, and limited research shows that chlorella could have a positive effect on the immune system in healthy people, but other research indicating that chlorella could inhibit the growth of cancer cells is based on animal studies and yet to be explored in humans. Until human studies become larger in terms of sample size and scope, many of the claims of chlorophyll rich supplements simply can’t hold up.

The against

For starters, as I keep hammering on about, the scientific community is yet to study chlorophyll as a nutritional supplement at length, and any benefits are largely unproven. In fact, some of the suggested benefits of chlorophyll rich algae chlorella as a supplement have been negated in certain studies, as GP Dr Rob Hicks outlines:

“In a 2003 study a chlorella supplement was given to 124 healthy adults to determine if it increased immune response to an influenza jab. The results showed there was no significant difference in antibodies between the control group that was not given supplements and the group that received them.”

Chlorophyll supplements can also interact with certain medications such as blood thinners, antidepressants, roaccutane, antibiotics and antihistamines, often owing to the large amounts of vitamin K often present in algae derived chlorophyll supplements. All the more reason to check with a medical professional as Shabir advises before embarking on any kind of supplement programme.

It’s also understood that chlorophyll supplements can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, increasing the chance of skin damage when exposed to UV light. Great for plants, not so helpful for people in this case.

Finally, chlorophyll supplements tend not to be cheap, and you need to check exactly what you’re buying- some are full of additives and sugar. Kale is starting to look even more saintly.

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