Chlorella and spirulina are both freshwater algae found in ponds, lakes, and other water sources. They are both full of nutrient-rich chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is an antioxidant that has been found to help fight cancer, improve liver function and detoxification, increase healing from injuries, repair lung damage from smoking, improve digestion, help with weight loss or maintenance, and protect skin health.
With all of these health benefits, it’s no question both chlorella and spirulina are superfoods. While they have many similarities, they are also entirely different. To help you sort out which is which, we’ll give you a little breakdown of both the algae, where they come from, what they do, and why chlorella and spirulina are beneficial either on their own or used in combination.
Spiral-shaped spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows naturally in warm freshwater lakes, natural springs, and saltwater. Spirulina is grown all over the world, from Mexico to Africa and even parts of Hawaii, and more often near a volcanic source.
Classified as a a cyanobacterium, spirulina has a complex and storied history and is believed to be one of the oldest food sources on the planet. Cyanobacteria are some of the oldest known multi-celled organisms, dating back to the early days of the Earth’s formation as oxygen was initially being created through photosynthesis.
Spirulina is considered the most nutritionally complete food. It is rich in beta-carotene (with 10 times the amount of a carrot per serving), as well as many other impressive vitamins and amino acids (which we’ll talk about in a bit).
A not-so-distant cousin of spirulina, chlorella is a green algae believed to be over two billion years old. It’s a single-celled microorganism that was the first form of a plant that had a distinct nucleus. Chlorella is spherical in shape and grows in freshwater. It’s tiny. A single chlorella cell is about 8 microns wide. To put that into perspective, one single hair on your head is about 70 microns in width.
Chlorella is often referred to as the Jewel of the East, as it originated and continues to be harvested in Japan and Taiwan. It has been used as a popular supplement in Asian food and culture for centuries.
Unlike spirulina, which can be consumed and digested upon harvest, chlorella has a hard, indigestible cell wall. Not to worry: chlorella supplements, such as chlorella powder which we use in our VeggieShake blends, has a broken cell wall to ensure digestibility and nutritional benefit.
How Spirulina and Chlorella Are the Same
Both spirulina and chlorella are dense in protein and many amino acids. Spirulina is a complete protein consisting of about 55-65% protein. This potent superfood contains high levels of iron, thiamine and other B vitamins, and all the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein and necessary to our metabolic function. Spirulina also contains many fatty acids, including the rare gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). GLA is hard to find in food. In fact, most humans must produce it within their own bodies. When combined with omega-3s, these fatty acids can promote an increase in memory and brain function, even helping to prevent Alzheimer’s in some cases.
Chlorella is also super loaded with beneficial nutrients including vitamin A and vitamin B12 and iron. It’s rich in protein (both algae contain more protein per ounce than a serving of steak), with a single ounce providing at least 50% protein. And it contains the highest amount of chlorophyll found in any plant. Chlorella is also rich in beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, and many healthy fats including oleic acid.
Spirulina and chlorella have demonstrated excellence at riding the body of toxic heavy metals, particularly as a result of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, although chlorella has specific detoxing properties that are slightly more beneficial. Please be advised that any detox of heavy metals must be done under the supervision of a trained professional, as detoxing can be hazardous and cause several other potential side effects.
Both of these green superfoods have been shown to help your body fight infections, prevent cancer, lower bad cholesterol, and aid in weight loss or weight management. In fact, their high protein content is a natural appetite suppressant.
Spirulina and chlorella are great anti-aging supplements as well. Chlorella’s natural cell reproduction ability is believed to contribute to the regrowth and revitalization of skin cells, thereby improving overall skin health and appearance.
Chlorella has even been shown to support healthy hormonal function and promote cardiovascular health.
How Spirulina and Chlorella Are Different
When it comes down to their biological composition, chlorella and spirulina couldn’t be more different.
Chlorella is an alga and a eukaryote, which means that it is a complex plant with a nuclear membrane, chromosomes, and a detailed cellular structure.
Spirulina, on the other hand, is classified as a prokaryote. Prokaryotes are unlike all other living cells. They lack a nucleus and the complex structure of cellular organisms. Prokaryotes, however, can live anywhere in the world, even where no other life can thrive. Spirulina can be found in the water of hot springs or in frozen wastelands.
Another significant difference is in their coloring. Chlorella is mostly pure green due to its higher chlorophyll quantity, while spirulina is more of a blue-green. Chlorella can self-reproduce at an astounding rate, quadrupling in 20-24 hours, making it an entirely self-sustaining food source.
While they are both ancient sources of food and life on this planet, spirulina is thousands of years older than chlorella and can be 100 times more massive. It’s also more abundant in protein and healthy fats. While they both provide many health benefits, spirulina is slightly better at boosting the immune system and helping to combat allergies, while chlorella excels at detoxing from heavy metals.
Spirulina is also one of the most studied superfoods on the planet, with over 1200 peer-reviewed studies.
Can You Take Both Spirulina and Chlorella at the Same Time?
Yes! You can combine both spirulina and chlorella into your routine (our VeggieShake blend includes them both). While they are similar with overlapping benefits, they are also complementary supplements.
Because they are both very high in protein, in combination, they provide more protein than some of the most protein-full food sources (such as red meat, steak, soybeans, and eggs.) This also makes chlorella and spirulina powders excellent supplement choices for vegans and vegetarians. There are even some capsules that include a combination of both microalgae. Spirulina and chlorella are great additions to your favorite green smoothie or added to your cereal, yogurt, or morning VeggieShake.
Some Caution for Chlorella and Spirulina
While both chlorella and spirulina are considered safe supplements, chlorella does contain moderate levels of iodine. If you have an iodine-sensitive thyroid condition or allergies to iodine, you should avoid chlorella altogether.
Those with an autoimmune disorder should also consult with a health care provider before consuming chlorella, as it may provide complications and an undesirable effect.
It is essential that you choose an organic, quality-controlled supplement. There are many side effects associated with the consumption of contaminated spirulina, including stomach distress, nausea, vomiting, weakness, thirst, rapid heartbeat, shock, liver damage, and even death.
It is not recommended for pregnant women or children to consume algae of any kind. Please consult with a natural health care physician regarding any other risks.