Chlorophyll Benefits and Claims—Is it Overhyped?
What Are the Health Benefits of Chlorophyll?
You may have heard stories about chlorophyll and its many health benefits.
Some of the benefits associated with chlorophyll include:
- Increasing oxygen in the blood
- Cleansing the liver and bowels
- Removing toxins from blood tissues, bones, and the intestines
- Deodorizing the body
- Treating health conditions such as gastric ulcers, sinusitis, anemia, arteriosclerosis and even depression
But does chlorophyll really have all these benefits?
Let’s dig deeper.
The Main Health Benefits of Chlorophyll
In fact, chlorophyll has two main health benefits.
1. It blocks dietary heme-induced (iron-induced) metabolites from creating havoc in our system. In other words, it can help balance an iron-heavy diet.
2. It is a dietary source of magnesium which can also be found in green leafy vegetables, young cereal grasses, and chlorella. These are all alkaline-forming foods which promote healthy pH levels in the body, and particularly in the gut, which in turn helps good bacteria to thrive.
Liquid chlorophyll does not give you the above benefits, though it does have other health benefits and healing properties.
Does Chlorophyll Turn Your Blood Green or Have Other Effects on the Blood?
Chlorophyll does have an affinity with heme (a subunit of hemoglobin) in our red blood cells. Like heme, it has a ring-shaped chemical structure that has a magnesium ion in the center instead an iron ion like heme.
In a way, the function of blood and chlorophyll is also similar. The chlorophyll in plant cells absorbs sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce energy, with oxygen coming off as a by-product. Hemoglobin, however, carries oxygen needed for energy production in the human body and releases carbon dioxide as a result.
Because of these similarities, some rumors got started which include things like:
- Chlorophyll can be instantly converted into fresh blood because its molecular structure is almost identical to that of human blood.
- Chlorophyll can be used instead of blood for transfusions.
- Chlorophyll can be changed into hemoglobin by swapping its magnesium ion to iron.
- Chlorophyll can help carry oxygen around the body and to the brain.
- Chlorophyll carries oxygen which rapidly improves blood oxygenation and helps cleanse the body.
However, these are not true.
You cannot change chlorophyll into heme by swapping ions.
Swapping the ions between chlorophyll and heme would actually render the activities of both molecules inactive. In addition, chlorphyll's phytol ‘tail’ structure, which is not present in heme, would prevent it from being taken up by the hemoglobin proteins to form a functional enzyme.
A healthy body has a slightly alkaline pH level.
If you want your cells to be healthy, you should eat food that produces "alkaline ash" after the process of digestion (in contrast to acidic-forming food which produce "acidic ash").
A well-balanced diet should be 20% acidic and 80% alkaline, allowing you to keep your body's pH at a slightly alkaline level. In a slightly alkaline state, all systems can work more efficiently. This includes your colon. Since healthy body systems promote the growth of healthy cells, this is the best way to get your blood cleansed!
Unfortunately, our modern day diets consist mainly of foods that cause high acidity, like unhealthy fats, high sugar, and dairy. We lack alkaline foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which often results in an over-acidic body.
But isn’t the magnesium in chlorophyll alkaline, and won't that help me achieve a better pH balance?
This is true. Magnesium is released when chlorophyll is digested. Foods that are naturally rich in chlorophyll include dark green, leafy vegetables, tofu, seeds, nuts and whole grains.
But it's not just chlorophyll that we benefit from, but all alkaline-forming foods.
Chlorophyll does not change into fresh blood in the body
Very little or no chlorophyll is absorbed through our digestive wall and into the bloodstream. Chlorophyll is broken down into different end products during the digestion process, which starts in the mouth. Simply put, there is not a chance for it to be converted into fresh blood.
As chlorophyll breaks down, its phytol tail—part of chlorophyll's structure— is freed, but only about 1% of the ingested chlorophyll phytol is absorbed by humans. Furthermore, studies show that only a very small portion of the non-phytol portion of the chlorophyll molecule is absorbed. You can see the two studies at these links: "Absorption of chlorophyll phytol in normal man and in patients with Refsum's disease" and "Absorption of phytol from dietary chlorophyll in the rat."
It is also thought that the fact chlorophyll is a fat-soluble pigment accounts for its poor absorbency in the body.
Does Liquid Chlorophyll Have Different Benefits?
The chlorophyll in liquid products is not natural chlorophyll but a semi-synthetic chlorophyll derivative, called chlorophyllin, which does not have the same health benefits as chlorophyll.
This chlorophyll derivative does not have this 'tail', thus making it water-soluble. Tail-less, it has no ability to "trap" dietary heme in our gut. Here's a link to the study, Natural Chlorophyll but Not Chlorophyllin Prevents Heme-Induced Cytotoxic and Hyperproliferative Effects in Rat Colon.
Does Chlorophyll Detoxify the Body?
This is actually one of the serious benefits of chlorophyll.
Diets high in red meat and low in green vegetables have always been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. So what is it in the greens that could lower this risk?
Chlorophyll, of course! Interestingly, the main reason chlorophyll benefits us here is because it is poorly absorbed by our body! (Remember the phytol tail mentioned above?)
In a nine-year Netherlands Cohort Study on 120,852 subjects ages 55 to 69 years, researchers concluded that the risk of colon cancer in men increases with a greater intake of heme iron (found in red meat), and a lower intake of chlorophyll.
Why Are Only Men Affected by Diets High in Iron and Low in Chlorophyll?
Researchers hypothesized that "as women need more iron due to menstrual losses and as heme iron is more easily absorbed compared with non-heme iron, relatively more iron from heme is absorbed in women, so that less heme is available during lifetime up to menopause to form the cytotoxic factor in the bowel."
In short, women need a greater iron intake in make up for the blood losses. Since men don't have the blood losses from menstruation, the iron builds up in the colon and can cause cancer.
When the dietary heme iron is metabolized, toxic carcinogenic substances are formed. They can cause oxidative reactions which can damage lipids, proteins, DNA and other nucleic acids and various components of biological systems.
By adding chlorophyll to a heme diet, this reactive formation can be blocked.
Chlorophyll’s phytol tail is able to "sandwich" heme, putting the brakes on the activity of heme in the production of damaging free radicals and toxic carcinogens. You can take a look at the study: Heme and Chlorophyll Intake and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in the Netherlands Cohort Study.
Is Chlorophyll an Antioxidant?
While chlorophyll benefits our health by blocking heme-induced free radicals, its promotion to the rank of an antioxidant is still not official.
In July 2009, another small study has shown that both chlorophyll (and chlorophyllin) may inhibit the bio-availability of ingested aflatoxin B1 in humans, as they do in animal models.
Aflatoxins are naturally-occurring mycotoxins that are produced by many species of Aspergillus, a fungus. They are toxic and among the most carcinogenic substances known to man.
Does Chlorophyll Alleviate Anemia?
Some people claim that chlorophyll is effective against anemia and that it stimulates the production of red blood cells in the body.
In a recent study published in the Plant Foods for Human Nutrition Vol.65 (1), chlorella supplementation has shown to reduce the risk of anemia, proteinuria, and leg edema. The subjects were recruited from pregnant women who visited Saiseikai Nara Hospital, Japan.
At Koriyama Womens College, Japan, another study has shown that anemic rats fed with 5% and 10% chlorella recovered rapidly, while the recovery of the rats fed with less iron content diet (1% chlorella) was delayed. Rats fed with iron deficient diet showed no recovery.
Though chlorella does have chlorophyll in it, it is not the same thing. Some people have claimed, however, that chlorophyll is the active ingredient in chlorella causing positive health benefits.
However, chlorella contains large quantities of vitamins and minerals, namely folate, vitamin B-12 and iron that are important during pregnancy.
In another in-vitro study, a 3 to 5 fold increase in the production of fetal hemoglobin (HbF) was shown using by administering wheatgrass extract.
HbF is a hemoglobin common in the fetus and newborn, but normally present only in small amounts in adults. It has been found that stimulation or induction of this type of fetal hemoglobin in thalassemia (a form hereditary form of anemia) of can improve the patient’s clinical condition.
However, it was certainly not the chlorophyll in the wheatgrass extract that was having the positive health benefits because chlorophyll is virtually eliminated during the production of the wheatgrass extract.
Despite that, this "chlorophyll-free" grass extract has shown tremendous wound-healing and immune-boosting results in human subjects as well.
Thanks to a scientist named Kohler, the grass juice factor (GJF) was brought to the forefront in the early 20th century.
Based on his experiments on supplements fed to guinea pigs, they are indications that cereal grasses are excellent sources of the GJF. The unique grass extract "promotes excellent growth in guinea pigs".
There are certainly some biologically active substances in cereal grasses (including wheatgrass) and chlorella, but yet to be discovered by scientists―hence the terms "grass juice factor" (GJF) and "chlorella growth factor" (CGF) respectively.
Does Chlorophyll Have Healing Properties?
Some people claim that chlorophyll can heal damaged tissue and is nature’s most powerful healer.
By supplementing proper nutrients to our body, we help our body heal itself by stimulating various growth factors in the body, of which there are many.
In 2009, a chlorella extract (CGF) supplementation study was conducted on 84 dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) patients. Dr. Adi Teruna Effendi, an internist who headed the research team said, the "study found that giving a chlorella extract to dengue fever patients increases the blood platelets and improves the hemoglobin, allowing patients to recuperate faster."
"Those who were given the chlorella extract stayed in hospital only 2.76 days on average, while those who didn’t stayed 4.4 days," he said. Here is a link to the study, Algae Extract Fights Dengue: Study.
A six-year study conducted with Japanese children who took one capsule of CGF daily showed that no tooth decay in these children while developing near-perfect maxillary arches (no overbite, dental misalignment etc.).
The children also benefited in other ways. They suffered less illnesses, grew earlier to a larger size, had a higher I.Q., and were socially better skilled.
What Are the Benefits of CGF or Chlorophyll?
CGF, a substance from a hot-water extract of chlorella, was first extracted in the early 1950s by Dr. Fujimaki of the People’s Scientific Research Center in Tokyo.
The chlorella extract is not green but brownish and has the taste and consistency of stock. This means is there is no more chlorophyll left in CGF, but a pure and concentrated chlorella extract high in nucleic factors like RNA, DNA and amino acids that promotes growth and tissue repair.
In a culture, Dr. Fujimaki also found that CGF caused lactobacillus bacteria to grow at 400% normal rate!
Does Chlorophyll Have Deodorizing Properties?
In the early 1950s, "odor-eating" products containing chlorophyll flooded the market. These included mouthwashes, cough drops, cigarettes, dog food–even toilet paper! It was said that chlorophyll can overcome bad breath and all sort of body odors and that chlorophyllin can really help to alleviate everyday body odors from multiple sources, like bad breath (halitosis), underarm odor, perspiration odor and foot odor!
Chlorophyllin, not chlorophyll, has shown some positive results in deodorizing odor associated with infection and wounds and is used extensively in large hospitals as well as for treating wounds and burns.
Chlorophyllin, by the way, has no chlorophyll. It is the water soluble derivative of chlorophyll. Unlike chlorophyll, it’s missing the phytol tail with a copper ion replacing the magnesium in the "sweet spot" to retain the "green".
This is the ‘liquid chlorophyll’ that you see in the market.
Although this stable chlorophyll "substitute" does not contain chlorophyll, some important bioactives could still be retained which account for its healing ability. The chlorophyll source will determine the strength of the "factor".
Prolonged nutrient deficiency, unhealthy diets, insufficient sleep, stress, indigestion, over-acidity―all of this can cause the build-up of toxins in our body which starts in the colon.
One of the body’s way of telling you they’re ‘losing’ a battle inside is through your breath, sweat, urine, faeces and other excretion methods which includes your skin.
Your body is trying hard to get rid of the horrible toxins, and here you are still assuming you are perfectly healthy! While your armpit is excreting toxins through sweat, you on the other hand try to stop it from doing so by applying chemical-laden anti-deodorant!
Pretty ironic, don’t you think?
Remember, what comes out of your body reflects how you treat it, and what you put in. Body odor can be eliminated through a change in diet and lifestyle. Putting in chlorophyllin is not going to help eliminate bad odor, but putting in more nutritious greens will. Top it off with a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
This probably seems like a no-brainer, but good hygiene is one of the main odor-eliminating weapons you have.