…yesterday, my wife Jessa walked into my office as I was riding like a bat out of hell on my stationary bike, completing a full hypoxic/hyperoxic, red light infrared infused, biohacked workout very similar to the workout you can watch on my Facebook page here.
I pulled down my oxygen delivery mask to ask her what she needed and she frowned.
“You're making a lot of noise and your lips are blue. You OK?”
I nodded, panting for breath.
“You on some kind of drug?”
I shook my head.
Obviously aware of my frequent forays into the world of fringe microdosing and wacky supplements, she kept pressing, “Microdosing LSD? Methylene blue? Psilocybin?”
I finally caught my breath. “Just spirulina for breakfast babe!”
It was indeed true. I'd just chomped down on about forty tiny bits of spirulina prior to launching into my pain cave cycling experience. She wandered out of the office, mumbling something about washing my face. Then I pulled my oxygen mask on and kept hammering.
So why am I such a big fan of algae sources such as spirulina (and it's close cousin chlorella)?
I'm glad you asked. Last month, I published the podcast “The Single Missing Mystery Nutrient That (When Missing) Contributes To The 10 Leading Causes Of Aging & Disease Worldwide (And How Get 100-1,000 Times More Of It Than Most People Ever Eat).“.
In that episode, my guest Catharine Arnston and I had a fascinating discussion about algae – most notably a component of algae called “chlorophyll”. It turns out that algae is not only one of the most nutrient dense foods in the world, but it contains the highest concentration of chlorophyll. As you're about to discover, chlorophyll is quite possibly near the top of the totem pole as a crucial nutrient for enhancing health, preventing aging, reversing disease and much more.
Then, in my article How To Eat Algae (The Ultimate Guide To Fueling With Spirulina And Chlorella) and the podcast Is This The Most Dense Source Of Nutrition On The Face Of The Planet? I introduced chlorella's impressive nutrient profile (I recommend you click and read those resources to familiarize yourself with the nitty-gritty of chlorella algae).
But in today's article, I'm going to take you on a deep dive into chlorophyll's actual effect on the human machine, and how chlorophyll intake from sources such as chlorella and spirulina can manage everything from excess acidity to inflammation to longevity and beyond. You'll learn exactly why my mouth is often green, and why it's going to contribute to me living longer.
Finally, a big thanks and shout-out to Catharine Arnston, the algae expert who helped compile much of the research below from the four corners of the planet and find the information relevant to the link between algae, aging, disease and the other fascinating concepts you're about to discover!
What Is Chlorophyll?
So what is chlorophyll, exactly?
In a nutshell, chlorophyll is a fat-based pigment that makes plants green. It is the substance that is responsible for photosynthesis – the conversion of light energy from the sun to turn water and carbon dioxide into nutrition (glucose) for plants. This is why plants are very high in chlorophyll, especially dark green plants. In most cases, the darker the green, the more the chlorophyll. In fact, algae has the highest concentration of chlorophyll in the world, containing 100-1000 times more chlorophyll than any other plant or vegetable (fifty times more than wheat grass!).
Chlorophyll can act as a phytonutrient to oxygenate and detoxify the blood. It is also rich in enzymes and high in amino acids. It alkalizes the body, is anti-inflammatory, is an antioxidant, it chelates heavy metals, it has been shown to repair damaged DNA and speed up the healing process of wounds, and it even provides mitochondria with a fuel source that is cleaner than glucose (with the addition of sunshine, as you can see in this fascinating study).
As you can see below, the structure of chlorophyll is nearly identical to that of hemoglobin in our blood. The center atom of chlorophyll is magnesium (green) while the center atom of hemoglobin is iron (red). In the same way that iron is a crucial component of hemoglobin, magnesium is the component of chlorophyll that helps to alkalize the body and deliver oxygen to cells and tissues. Chlorophyll also helps to promote the formation of hemoglobin and red blood cells.
The Effect Of Algae On Ten Leading Causes Of Aging & Disease
OK, so now let's dive into what exactly the chlorophyll found in extremely dense sources in spirulina and chlorella can do for you.
Below, I'm providing you with a list of ten big causes of aging and disease, how chlorophyll can affect each one of them and handy-dandy scientific references should you care to take a deep dive.
1. Excessive Inflammation
Problem: Leads to aging, cardiovascular & other diseases. Acute inflammation is a healthy body's response to injury or infection – however chronic, systemic inflammation is an unhealthy response to long-term acidic destruction and dismantling of health. Chronic inflammation can lead to arthritis (osteo and rheumatoid), cardiovascular disease, type 2diabetes, hypothyroidism, auto-immune diseases, depression, anxiety, Chron’s, IBS, ulcerative colitis, obesity, high cholesterol, cancer, eczema, and multiple sclerosis. Chronic inflammation essentially puts your body in a constant state of injury response, which weakens your immune system.
Solution: Algae contains very high amounts of essential fatty acids and antioxidants that reduce inflammation and help prevent aging and disease. Algae can reduce cellular inflammation due to its high concentration of essential fatty acids, alkaline composition and high concentration of antioxidants, including the three primary precursors to the body’s most important antioxidant – glutathione (cysteine, glycine and glutamine).
Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – General Subjects Edible blue-green algae reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines by inhibiting NF-κB pathway in macrophages and splenocytes April 2013
2. Damaged Or Low Mitochondria
Problem: Leads to aging and cancer.
Solution: Algae reduces cellular oxidation and restores mitochondrial health. It has the highest concentration of Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), which is one of the few antioxidants that can penetrate the mitochondria cell wall to protect it.
Most antioxidants cannot penetrate the mitochondrial membrane to protect the mitochondria and slow aging, but this can be done by SOD, which neutralizes superoxide and turns it back into oxygen. Adequate levels of SOD may slow aging, protect the mitochondria, act as a tumor suppressor and act as a neuroprotector in the brain to prevent Alzheimers and dementia. A plant-rich diet increases the body’s ability to create more SOD endogenously, but an ideal source of SOD is the spirulina form of algae, which has the highest concentration of exogenous SOD of any food.
In addition to the SOD found in spirulina, both chlorella and spirulina algae restore mitochondria health, increase ATP, reduce oxidation, improve cellular communication and respiration and trigger apoptosis in carcinogenic cells, which reduces cancer risk and aging.
3. Reduced Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) production
Problem: Leads to suppressed immune function and aging.
Solution: Algae not only improves ATP production by improving mitochondria health, but recent studies have shown that chlorophyll produces its own source of ATP that is not only a cleaner source of energy than glucose, but also produces fewer Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) which improves longevity. Algae has the highest concentration of chlorophyll in the world (fifty times that of wheat grass) and consuming it contributes to this ATP production (with the aid of sunshine).
When ATP production is reduced, the cells cannot function properly. This causes all metabolic processes including the immune system, to become suppressed – and can lead to toxicity, disease, aging and other metabolic issues. Chlorophyll has been found to generate ATP with fewer ROS formation. This not only provides cells with a cleaner energy source than glucose, but also improves health outcomes and extends longevity.
For example, one study found that animal life (including us humans) are capable of borrowing the light-harvesting capabilities of “plant blood” (chlorophyll and it's metabolites), and utilizing it to photoenergize mitochondrial ATP production. This not only helps to improve energy output, but the research found that despite the increased output, the expected increase in ROS that normally attends increased mitochondrial function was not observed – in fact, a slight decrease was observed. This is a highly significant finding, because simply increasing mitochondrial activity and ATP output, while good from the perspective of energy, may accelerate aging and other oxidative stress related cellular and physiological effects. In support of this finding, worms administered an optimal range of chlorophyll were found to have significant extended life span. This is in accordance with well-known mechanisms linked to improved mitochondria function (in the absence of increased ROS) that increases cell longevity.
4. Rapidly Growing Cancer Cells
Problem: Reduced cellular communication and faulty apoptosis which leads to uncontrolled growth of cancer cells.
Solution: Spirulina and chlorella algae have been shown to reduce or reverse the growth of cancer cells due to their high levels of chlorophyll, antioxidants and alkaline pH effect. Additionally, the blue pigment in spirulina called phycocyanin has “anti-angiogenesis” properties, meaning it can help to stop the growth of blood vessels to cancer or tumor cells. The high amount of chlorophyll in chlorella can also bind with carcinogens in the gastrointestinal tract and eliminate them from the body.
5. Insufficient Antioxidants
Problem: Results in excessive free radicals that can contribute to aging and disease. Free radicals cause cellular damage, inflammation and reduced cellular health. Antioxidants are agents that neutralize them.
Solution: Algae has some of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of all plants. Algae is considered in Asia to be the “fountain of youth”. “The amount of antioxidants that you maintain in your body is directly proportional to how long you will live.” is a quote from Dr. Richard Cutler, National Institutes of Health, Washington, DC.
6. Excessive Toxins
Problem: Causes cellular damage, depressed immune response, accelerated aging, and speeds growth of cancer cells and leads to other chronic diseases.
Solution: Chlorophyll is a cleansing substance for the gut and liver and algae has the highest concentration of chlorophyll in the world. Additionally, chlorella algae has been used for over fifty years to remove toxins and metals, including mercury, aluminum and lead.
7. Weakened Immune System
Problem: Leads to infections and growth of viruses, bacteria, and diseased cells (including cancer).
Solution: Both spirulina and chlorella have been shown to stimulate the production of T-cells and anti-inflammatory cytokines, both of which have been shown to be active against viruses and cancer. A strong immune system also slows aging. T-cells are a type of white blood cell that circulate around our bodies, scanning for cellular abnormalities and infections. T-cells are essential for human immunity. The devastating effects of a lower than normal number of just one type of T-cell are all too evident in HIV/AIDS. There are several different kinds of T-cells, but broadly speaking they can be divided into two different types: killer T-cells and helper T-cells. Killer T-cells are able to “glimpse” inside your body's own cells simply by scanning their surface. This mechanism allows killer T-cells to hunt down and destroy cells that are infected with germs or that have become cancerous. The other main type of T-cells are called helper T-cells. Helper T-cells orchestrate an immune response and play important roles in all arms of immunity.
Chlorella Source: Nutrition Journal July 31, 2012 Beneficial immunostimulatory effect of short-term Chlorella supplementation: enhancement of Natural Killer cell activity and early inflammatory response
8. Damaged Cellular Walls Due To Lack Of Adequate Or Healthy Fatty Acids
Problem: Reduced ability of cell to allow nutrients in and toxins out. Reduction in cellular metabolism.
Solution: Spirulina and chlorella both contain high amounts of fatty acids. Additionally, spirulina has the second highest amount of Gamma-Linolenic Acid GLA – an Omega-6 fatty acid that behaves like an Omega-3 when it comes to reducing inflammation. Spirulina is second only to mother’s milk for the highest concentration of GLA, which is also a precursor for prostaglandin E1, an important biologically active compound necessary for reducing inflammation and blood pressure. In addition, spirulina and chlorella may be a safer or more convenient choice for Omega-3 fatty acids since 80% of fish oils are rancid and toxic/acidic to the body and increase the risk of atherosclerosis and thrombosis (hardening of the arteries and increased blood clotting).
Cell Membrane References:
9. Over Stimulation of IGF-1 And mTOR Pathways
Problem: Excessive heme forms of iron (iron from red meat) and leucine (found in dairy and animal protein) both can increase the risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome. Iron is an important mineral, but when sourced from excessive doses of animal protein, can lead to toxicity in men and post-menopausal women and over stimulate these two pathways which cause disease.
Solution: Spirulina and chlorella contain plant-based non-heme iron and leucine (found in plants and algae) which do not significantly stimulate either the IGF-1 or mTOR pathway in the same way as iron and leucine from animal protein. Since algae is an adaptogen, if your body does not need the iron, you will not absorb as much of it and will have lower risk of excessive iron intake.
IFG-1 & mTor References:
Journal of Health, Population and Nutrition December 31, 2013 Influence of Protein Intake from Haem and Non-haem Animals and Plant Origin on Inflammatory Biomarkers among Apparently-healthy Adults in Greece
10. Excessive Acidity
Problem: Excessive acidity in the body can cause the immune system to be suppressed and allow bacteria, viruses or carcinogenic processes to manifest, which contributes to aging and disease. In 1931, German cell biologist Dr. Otto Warburg received the Nobel Prize for discovering that cancer cells thrive in a high-acid, low-oxygen biological terrain. Metabolic functions (breathing, digesting, etc.) produce acidic byproducts that can create excessive acidity. If your diet is also acidic (high amounts of dairy, animal protein, coffee, alcohol, etc.) this can potentially place an additional acidic load on the body, depressing your immune system and interfering with normal cellular metabolism.
Acidity and alkalinity are measurements of pH [potential hydrogen] in the body fluids, and the pH scale slides from zero to 14. Neutral is 7, higher than 7 is alkaline (or basic) and lower than 7 is acidic. For optimal health our bodies need a pH between 7.365 and 7.45, which is just slightly alkaline. Even a tenth of a variation outside this range can result in death (acidosis).
The blood never becomes acidic during life. An alkaline blood and lymph is necessary to life and health, and for the blood to reach even the point of neutrality (pH 7) would cause death. The body will pull alkalizing minerals such as calcium from the bones in order to prevent this, ultimately causing osteoporosis (bone density loss) or osteomalacia (bone softening) in the process.
We are comprised of approximately 70% water. Water is comprised of hydrogen and oxygen [H2O]. When there is an equal proportion of oxygen (O-) and hydrogen (H+), then the pH is said to be neutral and the pH is 7.0 as measured on the pH scale that ranges from 1 to 14. If there is more oxygen than hydrogen, the water is alkaline and will measure between 7.1 and 14. If there is more hydrogen than oxygen, the water is acidic and can range from 1.0 to 6.9 on the pH scale. Most importantly, the pH scale is logarithmic, which means that each step is ten times the previous one. Therefore, a pH of 7.0 means that there is ten times more oxygen available to the cells than a pH of 6.0 and 100 times more available oxygen than a pH of 5.0. So a small variation in pH measures a rather large difference in the balance between oxygen and hydrogen.
Everyone knows we need to provide our lungs with adequate amounts of oxygen to sustain life. Our bodies also need adequate amounts of oxygen to resist disease and maintain health. The only way to increase the amount of oxygen in our body “water” is to raise the pH level and provide the system with the optimum amount of oxygen.
But how do you raise the lymph pH? At birth, most infants have a full supply of alkaline reserves. This is reflected in a lymph pH of 7.4. As the years go by, these reserves dwindle. And the lymph system slowly becomes more and more acid. If the lymph becomes too acidic, fungi and bacteria spontaneously develop and grow. When these reach the lymph nodes, they can clog the nodes, preventing proper function. As the accumulation of waste piles up in the lymph, a semi-opaque web of matter begins to form and at this point, not only is the lymph acidic, oxygen depleted and growing microorganisms, but it also flows poorly. Unlike the heart, the lymph does not have a pumping mechanism that can force it to flow. It instead relies on body movements and gravity fluctuations to advance the lymph in the lymphatic system. As waste accumulates, the lymph becomes stagnant and the growing microorganisms are dumped into the blood stream, thus compromising our immune system. We become susceptible to external microbes and viruses and find ourselves “catching” every “bug” that floats by. With an acidic system and a compromised immune system, we are also at risk of accelerated aging and developing degenerative diseases.
Solution: Algae is one of the most alkaline foods in the world and restores the blood and body to a healthy neutral or alkaline state. An alkaline body environment is one that is oxygen-rich – and since inflammation, germs, and disease cannot exist in an oxygen-rich environment, consumption of algae may prevent aging and disease from a pH standpoint as well.
Finally, with all the benefits you've just read about, there has to be some downside to algae, right? And indeed, I’ve been asked before if any of this gooey green stuff can be toxic.
Fact is, toxicological studies of the effects of algae (primarily spirulina) consumption on humans and animals, including feeding as much as 800mg/kg, and replacing up to 60% of protein intake with algae sources, have shown zero toxic effects, and in contrast, algae intake has actually been found to prevent damage caused by toxins that affect the heart, liver, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, DNA, and testicles. Dozens of human clinical studies have shown no harmful effects of algae supplementation.
But a word of warning: no matter which source of algae you choose, if you get chewable spirulina or chlorella tablets, they will turn your mouth temporarily green. But you can easily rinse with water if you want to get your adorable, kissable face back.
It’s pretty amazing what a tiny handful of little green tablets can do (and remember, the 100% organic algae tablets I use from EnergyBits are just one calorie per serving).
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback about chlorella, spirulina or algae? Leave your comments below and I will reply! You can also click here and use code BEN to save 10% on any of the algae products I personally use, including spirulina ENERGYbits and chlorella RECOVERYbits.
Additional References on Spirulina & Chlorella:
1. Ayehunie S., Belay A., Hu Y., Baba T., Ruprecht R., 7th IAAA Conference, Knysna, South Africa April 17, 1996. Inhibition of HIV-1 replication by an aqueous extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis).
2. Baojiang G., et al, Second Asia-Pacific Conference on Algal Biotechnology, April 25-27, 1994, p. 24. Study on Effect and Mechanism of Polysaccharides of Spirulina platensis on Body Immune Functions Improvement.
3. Babu.,M., et al, Nutrition and Cancer 1995, V. 24, No. 2, p.197-202. Evaluation of Chemoprevention of Oral Cancer with Spirulina fusiformis.
4. Belay A., Ota Y., Miyakawa K., Shimamatsu H., Journal of Applied Phycology 5:235-241, 1993. Current Knowledge on Potential Health Benefits of Spirulina.
5. Carmichael, et al Scientific American January 1995. “The Toxins of Cyanobacteria.”
6. Evets L.B. et al Grodenski State Medical University, January 15, 1994 Russian Federation Committee of Patents and Trade, Patent Number: (19) RU (11) 2005486 C1 (51) 5 A 61K35/80. Means to Normalize the levels of Immunoglobulin E Using the Food Supplement Spirulina.
7. Fukino H., Takagi Y., Yamane Y., Eisei Kagaku 36: 5.,1990. Effect of Spirulina Platensis on the renal toxicity induced by inorganic mercury and cisplatin.
8. Hayashi T. & Hayashi K., et al, Journal of Natural Products 1996, Vol. 59, No. 1, 83-87, American Chemical Society and American Society of Pharmacognosy. Calcium Spirulan, an Inhibitor of Enveloped Virus Replication, from a Blue-Green Alga Spirulina platensis.
9. Hayashi K., et al, Phytotherapy Research, Vol. 7, 76-80 (1993). An Extract from Spirulina platensis is a Selective Inhibitor of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Penetration into HeLa Cells.
10. Hayashi O., et al, Journal of Nutritional Sciences and Vitaminology, 40, 431-441, 1994. Enhancement of Antibody Production in Mice by Dietary Spirulina platensis.
11. Kolman A., et al Toxicology Letters, 48 (1989) 165-169 Elsevier. Radioprotective effect of extract from Spirulina platensis in mouse bone marrow cells studied by using the micronucleus test.
12. Lisheng L., et al, Marine Sciences, Qindao China, N. 5, 1991, p. 33-38. Inhibitive Effective and Mechanism of Polysaccharide of Spirulina platensis on Transplanted Tumor Cells in Mice.
13. Pang Qishen et al, Acta Genetica Sinica (Chinese Journal of Genetics), V.15(5) p. 374-381, 1988. Enhancement of Endonuclease Activity and repair DNA Synthesis by Polysaccharide of Spirulina platensis.
14. Qureshi M.A., Kidd M.T., and Ali R.A., Journal of Nutritional Immunology V.3(4) 1995, pages 35-45. Spirulina platensis Extract Enhances Chicken Macrophage Functions After in vitro Exposure.
15. Qureshi M.A., Ali R.A., Immunopharmacology, Jan. 1996. Phagocytic potential of Feline macrophages after exposure to a water soluble extract of spirulina in vitro.
16. Qureshi M.A., Garlich J.D., Kidd M.T., Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, 1996 (submitted), “Dietary Spirulina platensis Enhances Humoral and Cell-mediated Immune Functions In Chickens“.
17. Zhang C., et al, 1994 Second Asia-Pacific Conference on Alga Biotechnology, April 25-27, p.58. The Effects of Polysaccharide and Phycocyanin from Spirulina platensis variety on Peripheral blood and Hematopoietic system of Bone Marrow in Mice.