Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in all plants, algae and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). Vital for photosynthesis, chlorophyll allows plants to obtain energy from light by converting the sun’s rays into chemical energy. Since all life on earth?—?with the exception of some bacteria?—?is supported by the sun, photosynthesis is a fundamental and essential process.
In addition to its critical role in photosynthesis, chlorophyll is also a great indicator of the health attributes of foods. The deeper the green color of a plant food, the richer the food is in chlorophyll?—?and the more abundant the food is in health-building qualities. Foods rich in chlorophyll can play a role in blood production1 and protection from cancer(2) and radiation.(6,?7) Chlorophyll also has many therapeutic uses. Among these are wound healing,(3) intestinal regularity,(4) reducing cholesterol,(5) detoxification and deodorization. Chlorophyll is an especially unique way to address these issues because, through hundreds of experiments and trials on humans and test animals, chlorophyll therapy has always been shown to have no toxicity (absolutely zero toxic side effects)?—?whether ingested, injected or rubbed onto your skin.(3)
Chlorophyll is built around a structure known as a porphyrin ring, which is common to a variety of natural organic molecules. Chief among these is hemoglobin, the substance in human and animal blood which carries oxygen from the lungs to the other tissues and cells of the body. When looking at the structures of heme (the oxygen carrying portion of hemoglobin) and chlorophyll (see diagrams below), it’s easy to see their similarities. The main difference between them is the porphyrin ring of hemoglobin is built around iron (Fe) and the porphyrin ring of chlorophyll is built around magnesium (Mg). Verdel first suggested the chemical similarity between hemoglobin and chlorophyll in 1855.(1) The similarity was specifically demonstrated in the early 1920s.
Over the following twenty years, much research was done on interconvertibility of the two substances in the body. While the process isn’t quite as simple as substituting the magnesium molecule in chlorophyll with an iron molecule to turn it into hemoglobin, there is evidence of the blood-building characteristics of chlorophyll-rich foods. Studies supporting this correlation date as far back as the 1920s.
1926: Research suggested a relationship between the chlorophyll component pheophytin and hemoglobin generation.(2)
1933: Studies indicated that feeding chlorophyll-rich foods to rats triggered the regeneration of red blood cells.(3) Researchers demonstrated that this effect was not due to the iron or copper in the green foods.
1934: Dr. Rothemund discovered that porphyrins from chlorophyll stimulated the synthesis of red blood cells in a variety of animals when fed in small doses.(9)
1936: Drs. Hughes and Latner performed a study involving anemic rabbits. They fed the rabbits several doses and forms of chlorophyll. The doctors found that extremely small doses of purified chlorophyll or large doses of “a crude chlorophyll extract” produced “a very favorable effect on hemoglobin regeneration.” The researchers went on to suggest, “the chlorophyll is acting as a physiological stimulant of the bone marrow and is not really concerned with the actual chemistry of regeneration of the porphyrin.”(10) This study shows that chlorophyll found in food or very small purified amounts of chlorophyll may stimulate the synthesis of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
1936: Dr. Arthur Patek conducted a study in which fifteen patients with iron-deficiency anemia were fed different amounts of chlorophyll along with iron. Iron alone had already been shown to reverse this condition, but Patek demonstrated that when chlorophyll and iron were given together, the number of red blood cells and the level of blood hemoglobin increased faster than with iron alone. As stated by Dr. Patek, “This study may serve to encourage the use of a diet ample in greenstuffs and protein foods, for it must be that over a long space of time favorably nutritious elements are absorbed which aid the blood reserve and which furnish building stones for the heme pigments necessary to the formation of hemoglobin.”(11)
1970: Research indicates that some porphyrins (ringed structures in heme and chlorophyll) stimulate the synthesis of globin (the protein portion of the hemoglobin molecule). This could partially explain the effect of chlorophyll on hemoglobin synthesis.(12) While the complex physiological processes involved in generating blood aren’t completely understood, the parts of the process relating to nutrition are well defined. Essential nutrients for the maintenance of healthy blood include iron, copper, calcium, and vitamins C, B-12, K, A, folic acid, and pyridoxine, among others. Many of these blood-building components are found in chlorophyll-rich foods such as cereal grasses (wheat, oats, barley, etc.) and dark green vegetables. Young cereal plants absorb and synthesize vitamin K, vitamin C, folic acid, pyridoxine, iron, calcium and protein for their growth and development. These very same nutrients are essential to the generation and utilization of hemoglobin in humans and animals.
Protection from Cancer
Scientific evidence has shown that chlorophyll and the nutrients found in green foods offer protection against toxic chemicals and radiation. In 1980, Dr. Chiu Nan Lai at the University of Texas Medical Center reported that extracts of wheatgrass and other green vegetables inhibit the cancer-causing effects of two mutagens (benzopyrene and methylcholanthrene).(2) The more chlorophyll in the vegetable, the greater the protection from the carcinogen.
Chlorophyll can reduce the ability of carcinogens to cause gene mutations, as shown in several laboratory studies. Chlorophyll-rich plant extracts, as well as water solutions of a chlorophyll derivative (chlorophyllin), dramatically inhibit the carcinogenic effects of common dietary and environmental chemicals.(14,?15)
Protection from RadiationGreen vegetables provide protection from radiation damage in test animals. This information has been reported in scientific literature dating back to the early 1950s. Early reports showed that certain vegetables significantly reduced mortality in rats exposed to lethal doses of X-rays.(6) Dark green broccoli offered more protection than the lighter green cabbage. In a later study, the same vegetables were shown to reduce the damage caused by radiation.(7) These protective effects were more pronounced when even darker green vegetables such as mustard greens and alfalfa leaves were used. When two or more of the green vegetables were fed together, the positive resistance to radiation was greatest.
Chlorophyll vs. Chlorophyllin
Chlorophyllin is a semi-synthetic sodium/copper derivative of chlorophyll. It has been used for over 50 years as a food additive and alternative medicine because it has a longer shelf life than natural chlorophyll and it costs less than some forms of natural chlorophyll. A 2005 study was conducted in the Netherlands to compare the effects of chlorophyll and chlorophyllin. Human diets high in red meat and low in green vegetables are associated with colon cancer. Such a diet was simulated in rats using dietary heme. The heme, simulating the red meat rich?—?and green vegetable lacking?—?diet of many people, caused a staggering increase in cytotoxicity (>50-fold increase, measured in fecal water), a nearly 100% increase in proliferation of colonocytes and almost complete inhibition of exfoliation of the colonocytes. The study found that chlorophyll, but not water-soluble chlorophyllins, completely prevented these heme-induced effects. While chlorophyllin has exhibited some of the same benefits as natural chlorophyll, this study shows that the natural option has an overwhelming advantage in at least one application. The best way to incorporate more natural chlorophyll in your diet and reap all its wonderful health benefits is through green foods. The table on this page lists some foods especially high in chlorophyll. When you eat fresh, organic, chlorophyll-rich foods and drink their juices, you are getting the best of the best. Growing your own cereal grasses and juicing them costs pennies, and these foods are the richest in chlorophyll.
Foods High in Chlorophyll:
• Green and Blue-Green Algae
• Cereal Grasses (wheat, oats, barley, etc.)
• Sea Vegetables
• Green Leafy Sprouts
• Bell Peppers
• Brussels Sprouts
• Green Cabbage
• Collard Greens
• Green Beans
• Green Peas
• Green Olives
• Romaine Lettuce
• Sea Vegetables
• Swiss Chard
• Turnip Greens
1. Carpenter, E. 1949. Clinical experiences with chlorophyll preparations with a particular reference to chronic osteomyelitis and chronic ulcers. American Journal of Surgery. Feb.1949.
2. Saunders, C. 1926. The nutritional value of chlorophyll as related to hemoglobin formation. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (3172)p.788-789.
3. Smith, L. 1944. Chlorophyll: an experimental study of its water-soluble derivatives. Remarks on the history, chemistry, toxicity and anti-bacterial properties of water soluble chlorophyll derivatives as therapeutic agents. American Journal of the Medical Sciences 207:647-654.
4. Offenkrantz, W. 1950. Water-soluble chlorophyll in the treatment of peptic ulcers of long duration. Review of Gastroenterology 17:359-367.
5. Ohtake, H., Nonaka, S., Sawada,Y., Hagiwara, Y., Hagiwara, H.,and Kubota, K. 1985. Studies on the constituents of green juice from young barley leaves. Effect on dietarily induced hypercholesterolemia in rats. Journal of the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan 105:1052-71.
6. Spector, H. and Calloway, D. 1959. Reduction of x-radiation mortality by cabbage and broccoli. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine 100:405-407.
7. Calloway, D., Newell, G., Calhoun, W. and Munson, A. 1962. Further studies of the influence of diet on radiosensitivity of guinea pigs, with special reference to broccoli and alfalfa. Journal of Nutrition 79:340-348.
8. Scott, E. and Delor, C. 1933. Nutritional anemia. Ohio State Medical Journal 29:165-169.
9. Rothemund, P., McNary, R., and Inman, O. 1934. Occurrence of decomposition products of chlorophyll.II. Decomposition products of chlorophyll in the stomach walls of herbivorous animals. Journal of the American Chemical Society 56:2400-2403.
10. Hughes, J. and Latner, A. 1936. Chlorophyll and haemoglobin regeneration after haemorrhage. Journal of Physiology 86:388-395.
11. Patek, A. 1936. Chlorophyll and regeneration of the blood. Archives of Internal Medicine 57:73-84.
12. Hammel-Dupont, C. and Bessman, S. 1970. The stimulation of hemoglobin synthesis by porphyrins. Biochemical Medicine 4:55-60.
13. Lai, C., Butler, M., and Matney, T. 1980. Antimutagenic activities of common vegetables and their chlorophyll content. Mutation Research 77:245-250.
14. Kimm, S., Tschai, B., and Park, S. 1982. Antimutagenic activity of chlorophyll to direct and indirect-acting mutagens and its contents in the vegetables.
Korean Journal of Biochemistry 14:1-7. 15. Ong, T., Whong, W., Stewart, J. and Brockman, H. 1986. Chlorophyllin: a potent antimutagen against environmental and dietary complex mixtures. Mutation Research 173:111-15. 16. Ong, T., Whong, W. Stewart, J., and Brockman, H. 1989. Comparative antimutagenicity of 5 compounds against 5 mutagenic complex mixtures in Salmonella typhimurium strain TA98. Mutation Research 222:19-25.
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