Chlorophyll Waters & Supplements Are Trending, But Are They Worth The Hype?
You probably first heard of chlorophyll way back in high school biology class. But lately, you may have noticed this plant pigment popping up at juice bars, in bottled waters, and in supplements that tout all sorts of benefits from detoxification to increased energy to cancer prevention. But is it legit or just another overblown fad?
We looked into the research and chatted with a couple of experts to get their take. Spoiler: Much of the research on chlorophyll is preliminary and needs corroboration (i.e., a lot of it has been done on animals or cell cultures), but some of the purported perks are promising—plus, it's generally pretty safe.
What is chlorophyll, anyway?
Here's a little refresher in case you're fuzzy: Chlorophyll is a pigment that's naturally produced by plants and algae and gives them their characteristic green color. It's critical for photosynthesis, the process by which sunlight is converted into energy.
You can ingest chlorophyll directly from plants, algae, and sea vegetables (chlorella, parsley, and spinach all contain significant amounts) or via supplements. Most supplements contain a chlorophyll derivative called chlorophyllin—often listed as sodium copper chlorophyllin on the ingredient list—that's water-soluble and better absorbed by the body. Most research on the potential health benefits of chlorophyll has been performed with chlorophyllin.
So, what are the potential health benefits of chlorophyll?
As mentioned above, research on the health benefits of consuming chlorophyll supplements isn't as robust as we'd like, but there are practitioners who have used it successfully with their patients, and there have been some promising studies that are worth considering.
1. It may help bind and eliminate heavy metals from the body.
"I've seen adding in chlorophyll work wonders for detoxing," says Will Cole, D.C., IFMCP, functional medicine practitioner and mbg Collective member. "Many of my patients have high heavy-metal toxicity, and chlorophyll can really help with this through its ability to bind to heavy metals and flush them out of the body."
An older mouse study found that simultaneous administration of chlorophyllin and certain heavy metals helped decrease the negative effects of those heavy metals on the body. Additionally, more recent research on chlorella—a microalgae containing high quantities of chlorophyll—has demonstrated its ability to rid the body of toxic metals and chemicals such as mercury and support healthy metabolism, explains Abby Cannon, R.D., a registered dietitian and sustainability expert. It's not clear whether chlorella's chelating (i.e., heavy-metal-binding) properties come solely from chlorophyll or from a combination of compounds.
2. It has liver-protecting and cancer-fighting properties.
Research suggests chlorophyll has promising benefits for liver health, says Cannon. Studies on animals have found that chlorophyll supplementation reduces the incidence of liver tumors by up to 64%. While the exact cancer-fighting mechanisms are unclear, early research shows that chlorophyll may reduce the risk of liver damage caused by aflatoxins (dangerous cancer-causing compounds produced by fungi that may be present on a variety of foods, including peanuts) by activating certain enzymes. In lab studies, chlorophyll has also shown some promise in fighting colon cancer cells.
3. It has antioxidant properties.
Chlorophyll also has significant antioxidant effects, and studies show that supplementation may help decrease oxidative damage caused by certain cancer-causing chemicals and radiation. How significant these effects are is not yet clear, but it's the reason some people choose to supplement with chlorophyll after flights, as we are exposed to increased levels of radiation during air travel.
4. It may help reduce body odor from the inside out.
Chlorophyll has long been used in medical settings to act as a sort of "internal deodorant" and reduce fecal odor in patients with colostomy bags, and some believe it can reduce overall body odor when taken internally as well. Research on this is mixed, but one study found that chlorophyll supplementation reduced the number of trimethylamines in people with a condition called trimethylaminuria—a condition that causes a fishy odor due to an inability to break down trimethylamines.
While there have been a number of other claims made regarding the health benefits of chlorophyll, there's just not enough evidence at this time to back them up.
So, are chlorophyll waters and supplements worth it?
While research is mixed and many of the above claims should be verified in human studies, research is promising enough for both Cannon and Cole to support the use of chlorophyll supplements.
Currently, there are a few bottled chlorophyll waters on the market, as well as a variety of chlorophyll supplements that come as powders, capsules, or tinctures. Both may be somewhat beneficial for your health, but going for bottled chlorophyll waters may be a waste of money (since you're getting a lower concentration than you'd get in a supplement)—not to mention a waste of plastic. So if you want to get in on the trend, a DIY approach probably makes the most sense.
"Making your own chlorophyll water is definitely preferable. Liquid chlorophyll comes in a tincture, and you can add a few drops to some water in the morning. Plus, most chlorophyll water comes in plastic bottles, which we want to avoid for our health and the health of the environment," says Cannon.
Both Cannon and Cole emphasize the importance of quality when selecting a chlorophyll supplement (or any supplement for that matter, as they're not regulated by the FDA). Look for chlorophyll supplement brands without binders or fillers. As for liquid chlorophyll supplements—which are the most convenient for adding to your water—Philosophie's Liquid Sunshine Chlorophyll Drops ($21) and Genestra's Liquid Chlorophyll ($19.50) are two good options.
Oral doses of 100 to 300 mg of chlorophyllin per day in three divided doses have been used safely, but you should always start slowly and work your way up, advises Cannon. You can also take a chlorella powder supplement, which naturally contains chlorophyll and a variety of other nutrients.
As for side effects? Chlorophyll is generally safe, with no toxic effects being reported in over 50 years of clinical use, although it may cause your poop or urine to be a bit darker in color. If you choose to get your chlorophyll from a chlorella powder, however, keep in mind that this microalgae also contains vitamin K and iodine, so it shouldn't be taken with blood-thinning medications, warns Cannon.
How to increase your intake of chlorophyll from whole foods.
Supplements and trendy waters aren't the only way to boost your chlorophyll intake, though. As a general rule, green vegetables, especially those that are green all the way through (as opposed to green veggies with a whitish or lighter center like broccoli) have the highest chlorophyll content. The following foods are good sources of chlorophyll:
- Green beans
- Sea vegetables (e.g., nori, kelp)
- Sugar snap peas
Bottom line on chlorophyll.
The research on chlorophyll is promising, but much of it has yet to be proved in humans. The good news: Practitioners have had success using chlorophyll with their patients, and the side effects of chlorophyll are minimal. If you're curious, give it a try and see how you feel, and consider consulting with your doctor, especially if you're currently taking another medication.
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