There is a lot of talk about detoxing, especially at this time of year, either because your New Year’s Resolutions include leading a healthier life, or because you wish to bring balance back to your body after the excesses of the holiday season just gone past. You may have read about how your lethargy, lack of energy and various small health ailments are possibly due to an accumulation of toxins in your body. Did you know that one of the leading sources of heavy metal accumulation in your body (and ensuing health problems) comes from dental amalgams? How about that tuna and other supposedly healthy fish are full of mercury? You might also be experiencing problems with too much sugar in your body – had too many sweets for Christmas? - or may be suffering from metabolic imbalances such as insulin resistance and diabetes.
Whatever your reasons for detoxing, asides from eating a healthy diet full of green vegetables, there are two powerful superfoods that have become increasingly popular in recent years. I am referring to Chlorella and Spirulina. Do you know what they are? Why are they classified as some of the most powerful superfoods around? And what, if any, are the differences between them?
What are Chlorella and Spirulina?
Chlorella and Spirulina are blue-green micro-algae, similar to seaweed, the main difference being their size. These plants are so small they are measured in microns (i.e. millionths of a metre). They are also the most chlorophyll-rich food sources to be found in nature, and they are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibres. To give you an idea of how much, Spirulina itself is said to match mothers’ milk in nutritional value. Not bad for a micro-algae!
It is interesting to note that even though the health food community seems to have “discovered” them recently, both Chlorella and Spirulina have been around and have been consumed for centuries. Spirulina, for example, was a staple of the Aztecs in what is now modern day Mexico. There are texts which talk about cakes made with spirulina dating as far back as the 16th Century and Lake Texcoco remains an abundant source of this micro-algae to this day.
Chlorella itself was identified by Dr Beijerinck, a Dutch microbiologist, in 1890, and has been the subject of scientific research for decades. In the 1940s a lot of research began on using chlorella as a potential food source when it was discovered how nutritionally dense it was. At that time, large numbers of people across the world were suffering from undernourishment and malnutrition, in part due to the results of the Second World War, whilst a worldwide food shortage was being forecast for the growing population. Micro-algae seemed to be the best answer to these growing concerns.
Over the years, the World Health Organisation has used Chlorella in feeding programs for malnourished children in underdeveloped countries. However, supplementing and replacing other foods with mico-algae never did become a worldwide trend for most of us, that is, until recently.
These days both chlorella and spirulina are ingested as food supplements, for the most part in tablet or powdered form. But why? What is so special about these two micro-algae?
The properties and uses of Chlorella
Chlorella is a single cell micro-algae naturally grown in freshwater and originating from Taiwan and Japan, although it is now grown in large quantities in many countries such as Germany.
In its dried form it is approximately 45% protein, 20% fat, 20% carbohydrate, 5% fibre and 10% minerals. It is rich in antioxidants, including chlorophyll, lutein and carotenoids, as well as vitamins, especially vitamin B12 and beta-carotene, and it contains 20 amino acids, glycoproteins, large quantities of nucleic acid and CGF, among other things. This CGF, or Chlorella Growth Factor, which was isolated in the 1950s, is related to the special nature of chlorella’s nucleic acid.
Nucleic acid (RNA/ DNA) is responsible for the renewal, growth and repair at cellular level. Levels of nucleic acid naturally decrease with age, and can also be depleted by lack of exercise, pollution and a poor diet. Insufficient nucleic acid in the body causes premature ageing and weakened immunity. Spirulina also contains nucleic acid, but half of that contained in Chlorella. So, to varying degrees, both Chlorella and Spirulina are used as anti-ageing supplements.
More importantly, though, the high chlorophyll content (which is twice as abundant in chlorella as in spirulina) protects the body against ultra violet radiation treatments as well as removing radioactive particles from the body. It is therefore used to detoxify against radiation and chemotherapy in cancer sufferers, to help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy. (On a side note, the chlorophyll content of matcha tea - which comes in powdered form because the whole tea leaves are used rather than just parts- is one of the reasons it is considered so beneficial, although it is nowhere near as high as that of Chlorella).
In fact, Chlorella absorbs toxins in the body, it binds to heavy metals and helps their elimination, preventing their absorption during the intake of food. In turn this reduces intestinal bloating and gas (usually caused by an accumulation of toxins), helps to treat constipation, diarrhoea and halitosis.
Sources of Heavy Metal Exposure
One of the main sources of heavy metal exposure in the body is the result of dental amalgams that were regularly used in the not so distant past and were made up of 55% mercury.
Other sources of heavy metals (which can be found in our bodies) are from:
-Food: mercury from tuna, arsenic in some types of rice and from green tea,
- Air: exhaust fumes, airborne particles and even rain,
- Water: chemical and drug residues can be transported and ingested through the water supply,
As you can see from above Chlorella can be used for many different reasons:
1. For heavy metal detoxing (mercury, aluminium, arsenic, lead, cadmium).
2. To detoxify from other toxins including herbicides, dioxins, PCBs (Polychlorobiphenyls – organic chlorine compounds used in such things as coolant fluids in electrical apparatus, and linked to intestinal, liver and skin cancers) and EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – mostly man-made and found in pesticides, metals, additives, contaminants in food and personal care products).
3. To boost the immune system.
4. To reduce inflammation (which recent research has shown to be the precursor of serious autoimmune diseases such as Alzheimer’s, AIDS, Multiple Sclerosis and other nerve disorders).
5. To help prevent recurrent infections such as UTIs and Candida - it is naturally alkalising, and also promotes healthy microbial flora.
6. It is the richest source of Chlorophyll known to man. Chlorophyll (which can be found in many vegetables and even citrus fruit) is a powerful antioxidant which is used to treat anaemia, reduce high blood pressure, strengthen the intestines, relieve nervousness and as a mild diuretic.
7. To boost energy – in Asian healing practices such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is said to provide vitality and life force to people who are run down.
8. To help balance sugar levels in the blood, and hence helps with insulin resistance, diabetes and metabolic function.
9. To detoxify the liver - It is one of the most powerful liver detoxifiers that nature has made available to us.
10. It is full of fatty acids and is used to naturally reduce cholesterol and in the prevention of artheroscleoris.
Quite a punch for such a small algae!
But how does it compare to its cousin Spirulina? (read about that in part 2)