Chlorophyll, any member of the most important class of pigments involved in photosynthesis, the process by which light energy is converted to chemical energy through the synthesis of organic compounds. Chlorophyll is found in virtually all photosynthetic organisms, including green plants, prokaryotic blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), and eukaryotic algae. It absorbs energy from light; this energy is then used to convert carbon dioxide to carbohydrates.
Chlorophyll occurs in several distinct forms: chlorophylls a and b are the major types found in higher plants and green algae; chlorophylls c and d are found, often with a, in different algae; chlorophyll e is a rare type found in some golden algae; and bacterio-chlorophyll occurs in certain bacteria. In green plants chlorophyll occurs in membranous disklike units (thylakoids) in organelles called chloroplasts. The chlorophyll molecule consists of a central magnesium atom surrounded by a nitrogen-containing structure called a porphyrin ring; attached to the ring is a long carbon–hydrogen side chain, known as a phytol chain. Variations are due to minor modifications of certain side groups. Chlorophyll is remarkably similar in structure to hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying pigment found in the red blood cells of mammals and other vertebrates.
Since the world as we know it depends on oxygen, we depend on green plants and their chloropyll to keep producing that oxygen. It’s hard to say for sure, but without plants, the oxygen in the atmosphere right now might last thirty years or so. So plants are vital for our survival. A large part of the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from marine algae, not land plants, so the oceans are important too.
We eat chlorophyll every time we eat green, leafy plants, so we know for sure that it is not harmful, but does chlorophyll have any health benefits? A cup of raw spinach gives us about 25 mg of chlorophyll, but since it is not soluble in water, but fat, it is retained in the body. Natural chlorophyll is not stable when extracted from plants, so most dietary supplements use chlorophyllin, a manufactured, more stable form that seems to have similar properties. Doses as a supplement are usually 100 – 200 mg a day, an amount hard to get from food.
The Linus Pauling Institute has done research and conducted studies on the possible health benefits of chlorophyllin supplements. They found that it is effective as an internal deoderant, reducing odour, making it very helpful for people who have had intestinal surgery such as colostomies. It also helps in wound healing and is combined with papaya juice to treat slow-healing wounds, like skin ulcers, where it reduced inflammation and helps the natural healing process.
More importantly, there is evidence it may help the body avoid cancer-producing substances by binding with them and making them harmless. One area where this is well-studied is with aflatoxin, a carcinogen produced on mouldy grain and peanuts. A supplement may be useful where people cannot avoid exposure to aflatoxin. Chlorophyll and chlorophyllin bind with this nasty chemical and allow the body to remove it.
Foods rich in chlorophyll
Most naturally green vegetables contain chlorophyll. Foods that are particularly rich in chlorophyll include:
- collard greens
- mustard greens
- green cabbage
- green beans and peas
- matcha green tea
Besides chlorophyll, these vegetables also provide a variety of healthful vitamins and minerals.
There’s a reason that chlorophyll is absolutely essential to the survival and growth of plants. Besides being involved in the process of photosynthesis, it’s also jam-packed with tons of nutrients that can be beneficial to humans as well.
Rich in vitamins A, C, K, and E, chlorophyll supports everything from blood clotting to healthy skin and vision. It’s also full of essential fatty acids and important minerals like magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium.
Chlorophyll may also bind with other carcinogens and there is some evidence that it may slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. There is some evidence that supplements may reduce cancer, but in the presence of high carcinogen levels, they actually increased cancer rates when tested on rainbow trout. The effect on humans is not clear. Although many claims are made, hard evidence is not yet available.
One problem with supplements is that chlorophyllin is soluble in water, while natural chlorophyll is not. So it is quickly excreted by the kidneys and can turn pee green, while natural chlorophyll is not water-soluble and remains in the body.
So chlorophyll is not just a tongue-twister word, but a vital chemical in every green plant and one that has made, and continues to make, the planet that we know and depend on for our survival. We can never forget that plants are not just pretty things to look at and anything we can do, from planting trees to protecting natural forests, in the end helps us survive and makes our earth a better place to be.