Why Chlorella/Spirulina May Make You Ill and Cause Poor Digestion

Why Chlorella/Spirulina May Make You Ill and Cause Poor Digestion

In the past, I recommended chlorella as a toxin binder to help relieve herx reactions in people who are using my protocols or are taking antimicrobial agents. Most people found that the algae helped improve the herx reaction symptoms, but some people had negative reactions to chlorella, and for awhile I could not figure out why. So I started to do more research into chlorella to try to discover why some of my clients were having negative reactions to chlorella. Was it from detox? Was it an allergy to chlorella? Or was it something more sinister?

What Is Chlorella/Spirulina and Why Is It Recommended to Improve Your Health?

Chlorella is a genus of single-cell algae that grow in fresh water and was originally grown in mass quantities in the 50’s and 60’s as a potential food source. It was later discovered that chlorella’s cell walls were not broken down and assimilated by the human digestive system very well, so the nutrient content was considered to be worthless. Later, methods were developed so that our digestive system absorbs the nutrients better by breaking the cell wall (pressure, steam, and mechanical.)1 2

Here are the ways chlorella might be able to improve your health:3 4 5 6 7 8 9

  • Chlorella is high in protein, omega 3 fatty acid (ALA), a source of saturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and contains all of the essential amino acids.
  • Chlorella weakly binds to some metals (mostly mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic, lead, and cadmium) in the gut eliminating some amounts of them and redistributing others.
  • Chlorella also reduces the neurotoxin dioxin load (binds to it in the gastrointestinal tract to eliminate it) and seems to be one of the only available nutritional routes of doing so.
  • Chlorella may help increase SIgA (secretory immunoglobulin a) and help improve gut immune function in people with leaky gut.
  • Chlorella may also reduce Bisphenol-A accumulation in the body and support healthy estrogen metabolism (in vitro studies).
  • Chlorella ingestion has been studied in pregnant women to help boost their and their fetuses immunity, prevent anemia, reduce dioxin exposure through breast milk for the infant, and reduce edema.
  • Chlorella decreases Th2 dominance.

Spirulina is a cyanobacterium that grows in fresh water.

Here are the ways spirulina might be able to improve your health:10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

  • Spirulina may chelate arsenic out of the body.
  • Spirulina, like chlorella, is high in protein, a source of saturated fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and contains all of the essential amino acids.
  • Spirulina ingestion may protect the brain, prevent cognitive decline, and facilitate neurogenesis.
  • Spirulina binds with bile, which may reduce toxin reabsorption and bile acid malabsorption issues. In doing so, this will reduce cholesterol (not always a good thing) and triglycerides.
  • Reduce insulin resistance and improve diabetes.
  • Might naturally inhibit COX-2 which may reduce pain and inflammation (might cause vascular issues, may only occur with COX-2 inhibitory drugs).
  • Spirulina decreases Th2.

So What Is the Issue With Chlorella/Spirulina and the Gut?

Chlorella contains endotoxins within their cell wall just like Gram-negative bacteria. Yes, you read that right, the algae contain endotoxins. We have written a lot about endotoxins and how too much of them can negatively affect our health. I believe that they are one cause of elevated Th1 inflammation and many health conditions stemming from it (heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, rosacea, multiple sclerosis, and alkalizing spondylosis, to name a few). The cyanobacteria spirulina also contains endotoxins.19 20 21 22

Ingestion of chlorella and spirulina should be fine in people with balanced immune systems, people with histamine intolerance (Th2 dominance), or if you have a good gut barrier and microbiome. The Gram-negative bacteria in our body produce endotoxins constantly; your detox and immune system can keep it in check if it is not overwhelmed. Gram-negative bacteria are natural flora in your gut, the endotoxins they produce are eliminated through stool and proper immune reactions unless you have leaky gut. They should not be absorbed into the bloodstream if you have a healthy gut, causing inflammatory issues.23

Now the big question is, are all endotoxins similar and do they provoke similar responses in the human body? If they are all the same and elicit the same response, the endotoxins in chlorella and spirulina should cause increased Th1 inflammation in people with leaky gut. It appears in what limited studies that we have their endotoxins seem to be weaker in the stress they may cause to our cells, and the increase of the total inflammation in the body compared to most Gram-negative produced endotoxins. Their negative immune effects may be less than Gram-negative bacterial overgrowth, but it is unknown in studies their actions in one that has a Th1 elevated immune system, and what part of the body has issues with their exposure. For example, immune reactions from endotoxins produced by Campylobacter in the gut seem to damage the MMC causing motility issues where immune responses from endotoxins by Klebsiella seem to attack the formation of collagen and harm the spine and joints.24 25 26 27

Nevertheless, there are studies that cast doubt that chlorella and spirulina increase Th1 reactions and may decrease them, even though they contain endotoxins. A few studies also show that chlorella and spirulina may protect the body from Gram-negative endotoxins. That being said, I believe people with Th1 dominance should still avoid the ingestion of chlorella and spirulina until we have more studies. In an overwhelmed immune system, the bodies reaction to the endotoxins in chlorella and spirulina may be upregulated, and if you have leaky gut, the endotoxins could get into the bloodstream and trigger systemic inflammation from the immune imbalance. There are different supplements that one can take to modulate their immune system or get the benefits that each performs; there is no strong need to take either to improve one’s health if you have Th1 dominance issues.28 29 30

Both supplements may improve one’s health, but I believe they should be avoided if you are suffering from strong Gram-negative overgrowth or extreme Th1 dominance.

  1. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3106856?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contentshttps://www.jstor.org/stable/3106856?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032114002342
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032114002342
  4. https://www.nihadc.com/library/detox-for-life-class-2-addit-resources/54-4-dosing-with-chlorella/file.html?accept_license=1
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23567737
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21550705
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16152959
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17472477
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20013055
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20046167
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16056210
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21697639
  13. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0010496
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16177207
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22738038
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22738038
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11062000
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15857205
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15857205
  20. http://robbwolf.com/2012/01/19/trojan-horses-of-chlorella-superfood/
  21. http://ini.sagepub.com/content/3/6/437.abstract
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12414578
  23. http://www.jlr.org/content/50/1/1.full
  24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15857205
  25. http://robbwolf.com/2012/01/19/trojan-horses-of-chlorella-superfood/
  26. http://ini.sagepub.com/content/3/6/437.abstract
  27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12414578
  28. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20943052
  29. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0010496
  30. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19589628
3 Comments
  1. You have provided me with the scientific answers to my experiences with chlorella!… Leaky gut definitely causes chlorella intolerance…the 1/4 level tsp I took was enough to give me an inflammed sore throat & cause me to vomit…after eliminating gluten, GMOs & nuts from my diet for 1 month…I found I could tolerate it beautifully …my black pepper, nutmeg, and clove intolerances disappeared also…no more inflammed throat or sensation that l have food stuck at the back of my throat….
    To verify my results, I decided to experiment again…I ate wheat pasta and had chlorella the following day…& guess what? Although I didn’t vomit, I was nauseated, bloated and experienced ringing in the ears…I believe this was due to the lining of my stomach being destroyed enough to allow the natural toxins contained in chlorella to enter my bloodstream…so I firmly believe one of the prime reasons people cannot tolerate chlorella is due to a leaky gut….BTW..I’d like to share how l helped to heal my gut…eat fresh apple (remove peel and core) after every meal…it makes me feel instantly healed….

    • Thank you so much about your comments. My life has been hell before I understand FODMAP and leaky gut and I never new how chlorella could help or not. What u described is exactly how I feel.

  2. What do you think about the thiol groups which can mobilize Heavy metals from deeper tissues which then cause symptoms??

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