When it comes to blue-green algae, not all are created equal. In fact, most blue-green algae (also called cyanobacteria) are poisonous to humans if ingested. Luckily, there are two blue-green algae that are perfectly safe – and incredibly beneficial – for people to eat: chlorella and spirulina.
Chlorella and spirulina each have excellent vitamin, mineral, and nutrient composition. They can also have profound impacts on how you feel. Let’s take a closer look at these two powerhouses, and see how they’re similar – and different.
Chlorella and Spirulina: A History
Both chlorella and spirulina grow all across the world, and unlike other cyanobacteria, they are safe to eat. Both have a high content of chlorophyll (found in all green plants), which is responsible for photosynthesis.
Chlorella is green in color and incredibly tiny (chloros is Greek for “green” and “ella” is Latin for “small”). It’s so small, in fact, that it is just a single cell.1 Chlorella is found in freshwater worldwide, and it’s been used by people around the globe as a food source and a nutritional supplement for hundreds of years.2
Chlorella’s abundance can be credited to its ability to multiply itself four times every 24 hours, which means it can spread across freshwater astonishingly quickly.3
It thrives on UV light and carbon dioxide. Think you’ve never seen chlorella? If you have a fish tank with a UV light, and your water is nutrient-rich, it may take on a slight greenish color. Guess what causes that? Yep, it’s usually chlorella.4
Like chlorella, spirulina is also found all over the world, especially in freshwater, but sometimes in salt water, as well. It also contains chlorophyll, and it has low levels of something called purine – which helps minimize the risk of uric acid building up in the body. Additionally, spirulina has been credited with having healing properties for centuries. In fact, the Aztecs harvested it to make edible, dried spirulina patties.5
While both spirulina and chlorella are edible and nutritional, they each have unique characteristics that make them high in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. And these vitamins, minerals, and nutrients are some of the key reasons why spirulina and chlorella are considered the superfood of the algae world.
Polyphenols are prevalent in many fruits and vegetables that are readily available at supermarkets. Blueberries, green tea, and dark chocolate (to name a few) are all great sources of polyphenols. In laboratory studies and experiments, polyphenols have been shown to counteract oxidative stress in the body. And oxidative stress is linked to the development of many health problems.6
Given the impact that antioxidants can have on your body, it’s no wonder that chlorella and spirulina make excellent superfood supplements. Both are high in polyphenols, and both are readily available as supplements, to ensure you’re getting the full benefits from these star microalgae.7,8
Cholesterol comes in two forms: good and bad. Good cholesterol (called HDL) takes some of the bad cholesterol (LDL) away from your arteries, returning it back to your liver. On the flip side, bad cholesterol is responsible for fatty buildups in your bloodstream that can clog your arteries. The result of this buildup can result in serious health issues or illness if not monitored carefully.9
So, it comes as no surprise that giving your body support to help reduce the amount of bad cholesterol can lead to a lot of health benefits. Spirulina has cholesterol-support properties, possibly due to its high concentration of chlorophyll.10,11
Spirulina is also well-known for its associations with improved cardiovascular and metabolic health properties. In fact, some studies have shown that patients treated with spirulina supplements have had favorable results on insulin sensitivity and plasma lipid levels. These studies are promising for patients who may be overweight and suffering from hypertension.12
Muscle Fatigue Fighters
Muscles take a lot of wear and tear. Whether you’re actively working out or not, your muscles are in constant use. And when they’re in use, they’re bound to get tired. Enter muscle fatigue.
Muscle fatigue is completely normal, but recovering from sore or tired muscles can take a lot out of you. Fortunately, blue-green algae, such as chlorella and spirulina, have been linked to improvement in recovery time and muscle damage in research subjects.
As far as spirulina is concerned, some studies have been conducted to test the effects of spirulina supplementation on preventing muscle damage on untrained people. In this study, participants were asked to work out on a treadmill. Blood was taken from the participants before and after their workouts. Spirulina supplements prior to exercise may not only help reduce overall muscle damage, but it may even speed up your muscles’ recovery time after a workout.13,14
Chlorella and spirulina are quite different from one another – and very different from the rest of their blue-green algae family. But they are similar in one key way: they both provide amazing health benefits when taken as a supplement. Before you take either one, be sure to consult your physician to make sure you won’t experience any adverse effects and to ensure proper portion control.
Adding these chlorophyll-laden goodies to your life may help boost your health in some substantial ways.