Chlorella: Sublime Green Slime
How to sum up our species? We are dreamers, planners, pioneers—headed for the cosmos, destined for the vast reaches between the galaxies, fated to seed humankind’s manifest dominion out there among the far-flung stars. In our spare time we’re wandering the shallows of freshwater ponds in bargain galoshes, delicately plucking at moss-covered rocks. Let’s hope we don’t arouse the suspicions of the neighbors! Yeah, we’re...a complicated species. We dream big, but we understand the importance of keeping our inner machinery well-oiled; and our almost annoyingly complex cardiovascular plumbing needs its algae. Reaching for the stars is cool and everything, but a heart attack halfway to Alpha Centauri would seriously spoil the trip. This is where Chlorella comes in.
Despite that nagging little voice in your head, Chlorella is not the maniacally laughing villainess from Disney’s “101 Dalmations”. Quite the contrary. This heart-healing little chum is a good guy, and has been around for a guesstimated two billion years, making it one of the older living things on our life-swaddled home planet. Which may also begin to explain why this life form is so embarrassingly vibrant with life-stuff. This single-celled microalgae has a startling nutritional profile. Proteins, vitamins and minerals, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, polysaccharides, phytonutrients, carotenoids, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and a partridge in a pear tree (nearly); Chlorella is a single-cell suitcase packed for a lifelong vacay.
Very broadly speaking, tiny Chlorella ’s (increasingly open) secret is its macro and micronutrient profile—a full complement of B-complex vitamins (more B12 by mass than raw cow’s liver—an unnerving-but-important factoid for the B12-starved vegetarian), loads of B3 and the free-radical Ass-kicker Vitamin A, zinc, selenium and iodine for immune system armor, amino acids, complex carbs, a wee bit of protein—oh, you heard that?
Pond-Based Power-Punching Pipsqueak
What do we mean by a “wee bit”? Yeah, that’s understating the facts, and not very helpfully. Here’s how 100g of Chlorella stacks up against 100g of some other protein show-offs in the natural world. So, yeah.
Clinical trials also show that Chlorella has positive effects on oxidative stress, cholesterol, certain cancers, and even on obstructive pulmonary disease. A 2010 6-week clinical study of Korean smokers showed that, as hoped, Chlorella as a dietary supplement attacked so-called super-oxide radicals, helpfully cleaving these cell-stressing free radicals in half and rendering them harmless. Meaning Chlorella is a mighty antioxidant. Chlorella has also been shown in controlled trials to increase oxygen uptake, effectively increasing aerobic endurance. Chlorella has been shown to have a measurable suppressive effect on Hepatitis C, lowering the introduction of damaging liver enzymes into the bloodstream and piquing the interest of a medical establishment hoping Chlorella might one day prove to be a helpful addition to interferon and other virus-killing treatments for Hep C. A clinical study listed with the National Institutes of Health describes Chlorella vulgaris being found, in controlled laboratory conditions, to compel a useful apoptosis in cancerous liver and lung cells.
Apoptosis is the natural process by which cells die in the normal stages of growth and development—you and I cycle out about 60 billion cells a day through this natural and necessary cell death. Cancer is in part a derangement of apoptosis, such that we get these wildfire-like cellular proliferations that won’t quit. To put all this more plainy, Chlorella vulgaris has been shown to flip the cell death switch back on in cancer cells. Not in human trials, mind you. But hope springs eternal—and this heroic variety of ancient, armed-to-the-teeth green pond scum may be the cavalry coming over the hill to help us out.
Now consider the nutritive firecracker this single cell comprises, its randy “4 x a day” replication pattern, and the ease with which huge quantities of the stuff may be cultivated in controlled photobioreactors, and you’ll see that Chlorella is a “feed the world” foodstuff whose larger Malthusian ramifications are being studied in earnest.
We could go on, but waxing rhapsodic about algae seems a bit tiresome.
If ever there was an alga (singular noun, not a typo) that merited operatic warbling, it is surely Chlorella. Hey, the stars can wait. Life down here on the teeming, living surface of our favorite rock gets more heartening with every passing minute. So grab your galoshes, pal. It’s a lovely sunstruck afternoon and we’ve got some living to do.