What Is Chlorophyll?

Green pigment in plants may offer health benefits

Foods containing chlorophyll

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Chlorophyll is the substance that gives plants their green color. It helps plants absorb energy and get their nutrients from sunlight during a biological process known as photosynthesis.

Chlorophyll is found in many green vegetables, particularly green leafy ones. Some people also take chlorophyll as a dietary supplement or apply it to the skin for health reasons. Doing so is thought to boost energy, heal wounds, and fight certain illnesses.

This article describes how chlorophyll is used and whether it affords the health benefits that some people claim. It also outlines the possible side effects of chlorophyll and ways to choose the safest supplement brands.

Benefits

Chlorophyll has many reported health benefits in humans. Among them, it is considered a powerful antioxidant and may help prevent damage to cells that cause them to age prematurely.

Some experts have also suggested that chlorophyll may help treat skin conditions, reduce body odors, and even prevent certain types of cancers.

Chlorophyll is also sometimes used for the treatment or prevention of:

  • Arthritis
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Liver toxicity
  • Obesity
  • Oral thrush (a yeast infection in the mouth)
  • Vaginal yeast infection

To date, there is little evidence supporting these and other health claims.

Topical Use

The use of chlorophyll for wound-healing dates back to the 1950s. Some healthcare providers still prescribe a medication known as chlorophyllin to promote wound healing and reduce odors associated with open wounds.

There is some evidence that chlorophyll, when applied topically (to the skin), can help heal wounds.

Chlorophyll may also haver other skin benefits, though more research is needed.

For example, a 2018 study in the Journal of Clinical Aesthetics and Dermatology concluded that topical chlorophyll was beneficial in people with acne. Despite the positive findings, the results were limited by the small size of the study (24 participants) and the lack of a control group (meaning a group of participants given an inactive placebo, or sham treatment).

A 2016 study published in Clinical Cosmetics and Investigational Dermatology inferred that topical chlorophyll has anti-aging properties that may reduce the signs of aging from sun exposure. However, these findings were also limited by the small study size (four women) and the lack of a control group.

Internal Use

Some researchers have dubbed liquid chlorophyll a “blood builder,” suggesting that it can increase the number of red blood cells and/or improve their quality. This is based on the fact that chlorophyll is chemically similar to hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body.

A 2016 study involving 72 people on hemodialysis concluded that participants given liquid chlorophyll two to three times daily for three weeks had better red blood cell counts than those given a placebo. It is thought that chlorophyll may help reduce the risk of anemia—a lack of healthy red blood cells—common among people on dialysis.

It has also been suggested that chlorophyll can enhance the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the body, although the findings thus far have been limited to animal studies.

Chlorophyll’s cancer-fighting effects have really only been studied in animals or test tubes. One study published in Food Chemistry and Toxicology reported that rainbow trout bred in tanks with liquid chlorophyll had a lower incidence of liver cancer. Whether the same would occur with human use of chlorophyll has yet to be established.

Recap

Chlorophyll is thought by some to offer numerous health benefits when applied to the skin or taken by mouth. To date, there is no evidence that chlorophyll in any form can prevent or treat any health condition.

Uses

Whether or not you decide to take a chlorophyll supplement, nutritional experts agree that it's not a bad idea to incorporate vegetables containing chlorophyll into your diet.

Food Sources

Dark-green leafy vegetables are typically rich in chlorophyll, but there are other foods that contain healthy amounts of chlorophyll as well. These include:

  • Alfalfa
  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Barley grass
  • Basil
  • Broccoli
  • Cilantro
  • Collard greens
  • Green apples
  • Green grapes
  • Hemp seeds
  • Kiwi
  • Matcha tea
  • Parsley
  • Pistachios
  • Seaweed
  • Spinach
  • Spirulina
  • Wheatgrass

Supplements

Another way to add chlorophyll to your diet is with supplements, either in tablet, capsule, or liquid form. Nutritional supplements containing chlorophyll are often sourced from wheatgrass, spirulina, barley grass, chlorella, and blue-green algae. 

There is no recommended dose for chlorophyll supplements. As a general rule, do not exceed the dose printed on the product label.

Recap

Dark-green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll can also be found in other green fruits, herbs, and vegetables or taken as a supplement in tablet, capsule, or liquid form.

Risks

Though chlorophyll is generally considered to be safe in supplement form, some people may experience mild side effects, particularly when using liquid chlorophyll. These include: 

Chlorophyll supplements can potentially interfere with certain drugs, especially those that cause increased sensitivity to the sun.

Nutritional supplements are not strictly related by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because of this, the quality of supplements from one manufacturer to the next can vary.

To better ensure safety, opt for brands that have been voluntarily submitted for certification by a third-party authority like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab, or NSF International. Certification doesn't mean that the supplement works, but it does confirm that the ingredients are pure and present in the amounts listed on the label.

Recap

Chlorophyll supplements may cause nausea and other gastrointestinal side effects in some people. To ensure purity, opt for brands that have been independently certified by third-party authorities like U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

Summary

Chlorophyll is a pigment that gives plants their green color. Chlorophyll has nutritional value when consumed in food but is also thought by some to offer significant health benefits. This includes the treatment of acne, anemia, and constipation, as well as the prevention of liver toxicity, yeast infections, and even cancer. To date, there is little evidence to support any of these claims.

Dark-green leafy vegetables are an excellent source of chlorophyll, but chlorophyll can also be found in other green fruits, herbs, and vegetables. When taken a supplement, chlorophyll may cause green stools, nausea, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal side effects.

A Word From Verywell

Chlorophyll should neither be regarded as a substitute for a prescribed medication nor considered inherently safe just because it is "natural." Even consuming large amounts of chlorophyll in juice form can lead to an upset stomach and diarrhea.

Speak with your doctor before using any nutritional supplement or making drastic changes to your diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you cause harm to your body by consuming chlorophyll?

    Like most foods and supplements, chlorophyll should not cause harm unless taken in excessive amounts. If you choose to take a supplement, be sure to follow the recommended dosage on the label and remember that supplements are not regulated by the FDA.

  • What types of cancer might benefit from chlorophyll supplementation?

    Though research is ongoing, some studies have shown a benefit from chlorophyll supplements for certain types of cancer, including liver, bladder, and pancreatic.

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11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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