The new, old superfood chlorophyll has reemerged after decades of dormancy and is making the rounds on TikTok.
To take it, these enthusiasts add a dropper full of the emerald green liquid to their water, mix and drink it. They claim that after a period of days or weeks, it clears up their skin, helps them lose weight and maybe even prevents cancer. While the known side effects of chlorophyll are limited to minor stomach upset, there’s very little evidence to support its purported benefits. Since it’s a supplement, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate it.
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“It [chlorophyll] has been shown to possess antioxidant properties and disease-fighting potential much like other phytonutrients in the rainbow of plant pigments,” says Charlotte Martin, RD, author of The Plant-Forward Solution. “But claims of chlorophyll being the cure-all for a slew of conditions, like acne, weight struggles, inflammation and more are largely unsubstantiated.”
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What is Chlorophyll?
Chlorophyll is a chemical found in green plants and algae. Its job is to help the plants absorb energy from light through photosynthesis. In your diet, it comes from broccoli, spinach and any other green fruits or vegetables.
Chlorophyll itself is unstable in the form of a supplement, so the bottles of liquid chlorophyll you see at the store are actually chlorophyllin, which is chlorophyll processed so that it is soluble in water and easier for your body to absorb.
This isn’t the first time the supplement has captured the attention and the wallets of consumers. In the 1950s, scientists believed that the supplement could treat bad breath and body odor.
What are the chlorophyll’s possible side effects and benefits?
A small amount of research exists, suggesting that chlorophyll supplements can be healthy. A few, very small studies suggested that it can help clear up your skin and reduce signs of aging, but these studies looked at chlorophyll as a topical treatment applied directly to the skin, not ingested in water.
One study of 22 endurance athletes in 2018 maintained that over the course of four months, those who took chlorophyll had more platelets – red blood cells that deliver oxygen and other nutrients to your organs – than those who didn’t. The researchers said this change indicated that chlorophyll might reduce their pain and fatigue, but the study did not actually measure how the athletes felt or whether they performed better.
Lastly, a study using rats suggested that chlorophyll, but not chlorophyllin, might inhibit signs of colon cancer.
“One of the issues is [that] the FDA treats supplements like chlorophyll like foods, not medicine, so supplement makers don’t have to show that their products work or even that they are safe, before putting them on the market,” says Noreen Galaria, MD, a dermatologist. She adds that the supplement doesn’t have to meet strict purity standards. Many supplements have been found to not even contain the ingredient they advertise. Some have been found with contaminants. Others can interact poorly with medicines you take.
Another downside, explains Martin, is that chlorophyllin is absorbed more readily than chlorophyll found in vegetables, and we really don’t know much about how the body processes it at different doses. “We have limited info on appropriate dosing and these concentrated, well-absorbed supplements may cause mild digestive side effects and may interact with certain medications, making your skin more sensitive to light.”
Galaria adds, “Taking too much can definitely give people stomach issues like nausea and vomiting and green poop. Also, there is a rare rash called pseudoporphyria, [which can look like sunburns or blisters,] that some people may get when going in the sun after drinking large amounts of chlorophyll. Both of these are not common”
Some TikTokers did describe gastrointestinal side effects or green stools after using the supplements.
If You Try Chlorophyll
Check to see if the brand you’re purchasing has been inspected by a third party such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the United States Pharmacopeia (USP). This increases the likelihood that your bottle actually contains chlorophyllin and is free of dangerous levels of other contaminants. An NSF certification, says Alison Acerra, MS, RDN, founder of the food-industry consultancy Strategic Nutrition Design, “is a good indication that it’s a high-quality product.” These certifications, however, do not prove that the supplements work. For example, the certification confirms that the chlorophyllin supplement contains chlorophyllin, not that it will clear acne.
@zzhilton warned to read the recommended dose on the bottle, because each brand is different.
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Galaria emphasizes that you can also take in chlorophyll just by eating vegetables. “My preference as a physician is that people get their greens through salads or even green juices that they make at home.”
And @stephgrassodietician agrees that eating greens is the best way to get the benefits without having to worry about the side effects of chlorophyll.
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