Chlorophyll is a molecule that gives green plants their pigment. It is also responsible for facilitating photosynthesis in plants, which involves using light energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into glucose. For years, nutritionists have recommended eating green vegetables, but some researchers claim chlorophyll, in itself, has several health benefits including preventing cancer. Although chlorophyll is clearly essential for plant life, the role it plays in humans is not as definitive.
What Is Chlorophyll?
Chlorophyll is an essential component, which is found naturally in green vegetables. From a molecular standpoint, chlorophyll is very similar to human blood. The difference is in the center atom. In human blood, the center atom is iron, and in chlorophyll, it is magnesium. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, there are a few different types of chlorophyll. The primary difference between them is how they allow sunlight to be absorbed at different wavelengths.
Natural Food Sources
For individuals who want to increase their intake of chlorophyll, it is as simple as eating green vegetables. All leafy green vegetables, such as romaine lettuce, spinach and leeks, contain chlorophyll. Other vegetables that are also high in chlorophyll include green olives, sugar peas, broccoli and green peppers.
The preparation method and length of time a vegetable is cooked may affect the concentration of chlorophyll. For instance, it appears as the vegetable is cooked longer, chlorophyll levels are reduced. One easy way to know the chlorophyll concentration has decreased in the vegetable is the color change. Dark green vegetables will change to an olive green color as they cook, which indicates a loss of chlorophyll.
In order to get the highest concentration of chlorophyll, green vegetables should be eaten raw. If vegetables must be cooked, lightly steaming the vegetables may be another option. In addition to eating foods which contain chlorophyll, supplements are also available.
(To find out more about raw vegetables, read Are There Benefits To Eating Raw Foods?)
Possible Health Benefits
When the magnesium is removed from chlorophyll it becomes chlorophyllin. Both chlorophyll and its derivative, chlorophyllin, may possibly treat or prevent certain types of cancers, such as colon, skin and liver cancer. Although additional human studies are needed, preliminary research indicated chlorophyllin may prevent damage to DNA caused by certain carcinogens.
Another possible health benefit of chlorophyll is its ability to aid in wound healing. The theory is chlorophyll helps the body release carbon dioxide and it also increases oxygen levels in the body. This process speeds up the development of new tissue and promotes faster healing from wounds and burns.
Chlorophyll may also reduce inflammation in some cases. For instance, it may be given intravenously to treat inflammation associated with pancreatitis. In cases of IV administration of chlorophyll, it must be ordered by a physician.
Does It Help With Weight Loss?
Although research is not conclusive, companies that produce chlorophyll supplements state that it may help with weight loss. The specific enzymes that are needed to break down fatty acids may be increased in people who eat a diet high in foods containing chlorophyll or take chlorophyll supplements. As fatty acids in the cells are broken down they are used for energy, which promotes weight loss. This process may also increase energy levels, which may be why some professional athletes choose to take chlorophyll prior to competition.
Some researchers believe chlorophyll may also aid in weight loss by decreasing a person’s appetite. The compound thylakoid, which is found in chlorophyll, is believed to increase a feeling of fullness. This helps reduce overall food intake and lead to weight loss.
Whether taking chlorophyll can aid in weight loss is yet to be proven, but eating vegetables that contain chlorophyll is still beneficial. Green vegetables are generally low in calories and high in fiber. These two factors combined also help with weight loss.
Although, there have not been any studies which show chlorophyll supplements or taking the derivative chlorophyllin is harmful or toxic to humans, there may be some minor side effects. When taken in the form of supplements, chlorophyll may cause the urine to turn green. It may also lead to a discoloration of the tongue, which is harmless.
(To read more about urine color, see Important Things Your Urine Color Can Tell You.)
People who take chlorophyll supplements may also develop mild stomach cramping and diarrhea. Individuals who are already sensitive to the sun may experience an increase in photosensitivity when taking supplements. Since research on the effects of chlorophyll supplements is limited, pregnant women should first speak with their doctor before taking supplements.
The nutritional value of including green vegetables as part of a healthy diet is clear. Green vegetables contain fiber, foliate and vitamins A and C. The health benefits of chlorophyll are not as clear. Currently there is not conclusive scientific evidence regarding the health and weight loss claims. More research is needed to definitively understand any health effects chlorophyll may have on humans.