March 2010
Chlorophyll's "Green Magic": 50 years of research reveals startling power and potential
By David J. Wirth, MA
Fifty years ago, a pioneering medical doctor named H.E. Kirschner published a book called Nature's Healing Grasses in which he wrote of the medicinal uses of chlorophyll. Scientists had recently discovered that this brilliant green plant-pigment had fierce antibacterial action on wounds while gently protecting the surrounding tissue. "Exactly how it works is still Nature's secret," wrote Kirschner. "The phenomenon seems like green magic."

Indeed, the medicinal power of chlorophyll did seem somewhat magical. Besides its wound-healing properties, Kirschner and other researchers of his day come upon an astounding fact: the molecular structure of chlorophyll is remarkably similar to the heme found in human hemoglobin, or red blood cells. This similarity led to a theory that chlorophyll, the "green blood" of the plant kingdom, might help to "build the blood" in humans, particularly those suffering anemia. The theory turned out to be correct, and led to much more study on the subject.

In the decades since, a growing volume of research suggests that chlorophyll has great potential in human health and disease prevention. In particular, by protecting us from everyday toxins that damage DNA and mutate cells, chlorophyll may offer protection from serious and often life-shortening diseases.

The colours of chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is the green pigment in plants that allows them to capture sunlight and transform it into energy in the process known as photosynthesis. Some of the richest food sources of
chlorophyll include parsley, spinach and kale, as well as grasses such as wheatgrass, barley and alfalfa. While a diet with plenty of green foods ensures more beneficial chlorophyll for the body, it is difficult to obtain the therapeutic doses used in research studies from food alone. In fact, it takes about 400 pounds of raw alfalfa to make just one pound of supplemental chlorophyll!

Most dry or liquid chlorophyll supplements are actually a water-soluble derivative known as chlorophyllin. Unlike actual chlorophyll, chlorophyllin is stable and relatively inexpensive. It is this form of chlorophyll that most research studies are based upon. Both animal and human research studies show it can be used at high doses without toxicity.

Nature's deodorant and detoxifier

One of the oldest and most common uses of chlorophyll is to help deodorize the human body. As early as 1947, doctors reported that chlorophyllin improved both the state and smell of infected tissue on wounds. The finding led to further uses, including the control of fecal odor in colostomy patients, as well as the reduction of urinary odor in those with incontinence. Chlorophyllin is still used today in hospitals and nursing homes for these purposes.

Even outside of medical institutions, many people use chlorophyllin supplements regularly to help control bad breath and body odour, and to detoxify the blood and liver. Chlorophyllin binds to toxins and aids in their excretion from the body. It is also valued for its strong antimicrobial action in a host of ailments, including gum disease, tonsillitis and acne.

DNA damage control

Research from the last decade reveals that chlorophyll's power to cleanse and detoxify also works on a much deeper and potentially life-altering level - the level of our DNA. Genetic mutations that harm our DNA are responsible for thousands of diseases including cancers. It's estimated that if such mutations could be avoided, humans would regularly live much longer lives. Most harmful genetic mutations are not inherited, but rather occur within a lifetime of exposure to environmental agents, or mutagens.

One of the most common exposures to DNA-damaging mutagens is through simple cooking methods. Well-done meats which have been grilled, fried or barbecued contain a powerful carcinogen called benzopyrene. In sufficient quantities, this carcinogen binds to DNA, causing genetic mutations in affected cells. Once these mutated cells divide, they can become precancerous or cancerous. Researchers have found, however, that chlorophyllin counters benzopyrene's carcinogenic effects in the body, mostly through positive interactions with phase I and II liver enzymes.

Similar processes allow chlorophyllin to neutralize other dietary carcinogens, including aflatoxin. This substance, more common in developing nations, is known to cause liver cancer and can worsen pre-existing health concerns. Early research on aflatoxin in China found that in one region, one out of every 10 adults died from liver cancer! Human research studies indicate that damage to DNA by aflatoxin can be decreased as much as 55% through supplementation with chlorophyllin. By binding with it, chlorophyllin inhibits aflatoxin absorption into the bloodstream and speeds its transit through the gastrointestinal tract to be safely excreted.

Lab and animal studies looking at the effects of other dietary carcinogens, and even hydrocarbons from tobacco smoke, show that chlorophyllin can inhibit the growth of a variety of cancers, including colon, breast and pancreatic cancer in vulnerable cells.

Cancer treatment in tandem?

In September of 2009, researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University reported that in addition to helping prevent cancer, chlorophyllin may also help treat the disease, alongside conventional drugs now used in chemotherapy. Remarkably, they found that, on a dose-by-dose basis, chlorophyllin was 10 times more potent at causing death of colon cancer cells than hydroxyurea, a common chemotherapeutic drug.

The researchers discovered that high levels of chlorophyllin caused a major reduction in the level of an enzyme critical to DNA synthesis and replication of cancer cells. This is the same mechanism of action of the drug hydroxyurea. But while chlorophyllin blocks the same phase of cell division as hydroxyurea, it works through a different mechanism. This difference may be a good thing. The researchers suggest that "cocktails" containing natural substances could be developed that would have a synergistic effect with conventional cancer drugs, helping them to work better or require less toxic dosages.

Evidence also suggests that chlorophyllin may protect against some of the damaging effects of radiation exposure, both from low-level sources such as sunlight and X-rays, and from the high levels used for cancer treatment. Excess radiation can produce DNA mutations, immune suppression and radiation sickness. Research indicates that chlorophyllin increases crucial immune system cells (T cells, B cells and macrophages) during recovery from radiation as well as phagocyte (white blood cell) activity after radiation. The findings suggest chlorophyllin may allow for more effective doses of radiation in cancer therapy, while helping to protect surrounding healthy tissue from damage.

The future is green!

While many natural compounds are known to block or dull the toxic effects of carcinogenic mutagens, chlorophyllin is among the most promising. And unlike some nutrients or herbs that have therapeutic protection only at high doses, chlorophyllin works at much lower levels. In fact, just 40 to 100 mg, preferably in liquid form three times per day, is needed to duplicate the dosages in many of these studies showing excellent results.

In the last 50 years, much of the "green magic" of chlorophyll has been explored and explained by modern researchers, who have discovered new and remarkable properties of this natural substance. Kirschner would have been astounded to learn how chlorophyll can help rid the body of cancer-causing toxins, and may even extend our lifespan by protecting our fragile DNA. Yet ongoing research from scientists around the world seems to indicate that "Nature's secret" health benefits of chlorophyll are more numerous than Kirschner could have imagined, and that they are still being revealed.

Sources: Dr Jensen's Juicing Therapy by B. Jensen, Keats:2000; Review of Gastroenterology 17:359-367; Environ Mol Mutagen. 2009 Mar;50(2):134-44; Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Dec 4;98(25):14601-6; International Journal of Cancer 125(9): 2086-2094; Biochim Biophys Acta. 2004 May 3;1672(2):100-11;, Life Extension Magazine, Dec 2009.
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