You wouldn't exactly call chlorella an overnight success. The health benefits of the green algae that grows in freshwater ponds in the Far East have so far been limited to those in the know, and its progress to British medicine cabinets has been slow. Since it became available in tablet form in the UK three years ago, it has achieved an almost cultish appreciation as a superfood, but now scientific research could catapult it into the mainstream.
New research from Japan suggests that this green algae could be effective in fighting major lifestyle diseases. It has been shown to reduce body-fat percentage and blood-glucose levels and help those suffering from Type 2 diabetes, obesity or heart disease. Its benefits include boosting energy, aiding digestion and fighting depression.
What excited the scientists, including the notable Carnegie Institute in Washington DC, was that this green algae proved to be almost a dream food. It is packed with protein – twice as much as spinach – and about 38 times the quantity of soybeans, and 55 times that of rice. It also contains nine essential amino acids, as well as vitamins and minerals.
These are the latest in a long line of health claims – ranging from boosting the immune system in cancer patients to improving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Chlorella is a tiny, unicellular green algae, three to eight micrometres in diameter, which when grown in large quantities in South East Asia and Australia gives lakes and rivers a green tint. Before being used as a supplement, it must be gathered, dried to a paste, crushed to a fine emerald green powder, and converted to tiny, soft, crumbly tablets, which smell vaguely of the sea.