The chlorophyll myth
Chlorophyll is one of those buzzwords going around in natural health circles, with promises like “it cleans your blood” “it clears your skin” “you’ll be more resilient to heart disease” “it helps hunger cravings” and more.
But according to naturopath Anthia Koullouros, you’re better off eating your greens than taking a chlorophyll supplement.
The first time I heard about chlorophyll was in primary school. We were learning about photosynthesis in plants. Chlorophyll is the pigment that gives plants and algae their green color.
It’s been touted over the years to be an important detoxifying supplement, “if you’re green inside, you’re clean inside” but in fact very little research has been performed on the health benefits of pure chlorophyll, primarily due to its expense and the difficulty involved in purifying it.
Some studies have shown that chlorophyll has anti-mutagenic properties that may prevent early inflammatory changes in the development of cancer.
Chlorophyll and chlorophyllin were able to form tight molecular complexes with certain chemicals known or suspected to cause cancer. These include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in tobacco smoke, some heterocyclic amines found in cooked meat and aflatoxin-B1. Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals that are produced by certain moulds, which can grow in soil or hay or improperly stored grains and seeds. It is proposed that the binding of chlorophyll or chlorophyllin to these potential carcinogens may interfere with gastrointestinal absorption of potential carcinogens, reducing the amount that reaches susceptible tissues.
Is a supplement worth it?
Most of the chlorophyll liquid supplements in the health food stores may only contain up to 2% chlorophyllin (not natural chlorophyll), a whole bunch of preservatives such as potassium sorbate as well as peppermint oil to impart that fresh clean taste. The majority is made up of water. Some may contain a small amount of alfalfa extract (made from the leaves not the sprouts), which do offer vital nutrients, but not enough to make it a rich source of chlorophyll.
You’re better off consuming a whole food source such as green vegetables. Parsley and dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach are rich sources of natural chlorophylls. 1 cup of parsley contains 38 mg and 1 cup of spinach contains 23.7mg. These greens also offer a whole bunch of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and an excellent source of carbohydrate. After all, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
If you think you still need a supplement, then go for a green algae like chlorella, the most marketed supplemental source of chlorophyll. Chlorella is a single-celled, micro-algae that is about two to ten microns in size. Its small molecular structure allows it to bond to heavy metals, chemicals and toxins such as pesticides. It binds to these in your digestive tract preventing absorption into your bloodstream. Much like other whole green plant sources, chlorella also offers beta-carotene and other vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamins B and C.
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