This story originally appeared on November 15, 2019 in Styles. It has been updated to reflect the latest developments.
On TikTok, young people with glowing skin can be seen sipping magical green potions. After adding a few drops of liquid chlorophyll to glasses of water, they drink, poof! Their complexion clears up, their stomachs become less swollen, their body odor improves, usually all within a week.
Claims about chlorophyll’s seemingly endless powers aren’t new, only the social media platforms to manufacture them are. Yet the message is still as powerful as ever.
In the past year, U.S. consumers spent $ 6.7 million on supplements of chlorophyll and chlorella (a type of seaweed), an increase of 17% from the previous year, according to the company. SPINS market research. Sales of water containing chlorophyll also jumped 356% during the same period.
Tina Clabbers, spokesperson for Whole Foods Market, said sales of chlorophyll supplements in their stores have also increased, with some selling. “We noticed it in waves related to the first viral TikTok in January,” Ms. Clabbers wrote in an email, “and again in March.”
Chlorophyll is everywhere around us: in lush green trees, in salad bar spinach, in philodendrons by our window sills. It is the main molecule essential for photosynthesis, absorbing sunlight and turning it into energy for plants and blue-green algae (a type of bacteria). A phytochemical, chlorophyll turns green into dark leafy greens.
The therapeutic potential of chlorophyll has puzzled scientists for much of the last century. The ingredient in most over-the-counter chlorophyll products, however, is not a natural compound. When chlorophyll is removed from plants, it breaks down quickly. So, to make a more stable compound, companies typically replace one of its elements, magnesium, with another, usually copper, to make a semi-synthetic chemical called chlorophyllin.
Products containing chlorophyllin – like capsules, gummies, tablets, tinctures, teas, and scrubs – are sold in supermarkets, health food stores, and vitamin stores, promising fresher breath , better digestion, more energy and radiant skin.
But amid all the hashtags and hype, does it work?
Does Chlorophyll Do Something?
Some lab studies suggest that chlorophyllin may have antioxidant properties, which help fight damage to our cells from an excess of harmful molecules called free radicals. However, most of the scientific research available on chlorophyll and chlorophyllin comes from cell and animal studies; there haven’t been a lot of human trials.
“There is actually not enough scientific evidence to determine whether chlorophyll is beneficial for medicinal purposes at this time,” said Chelsey McIntyre, pharmacist and editor of Natural Medicines, a database that provides information on supplements, herbal remedies and other alternative treatments. . The same goes for chlorophyllin, which is often used in supplements or in food coloring. But their reputation as a versatile cure has blossomed.
Reports of the odor-fighting powers of chlorophyll came out of a military hospital in 1947, where the stench of injured patients filled the hallways. That was, apparently, until a chlorophyll derivative arrived on the scene. “This smell was immediately gone,” Lt. Col. Warner F. Bowers wrote in The American Journal of Surgery.
Fueled by mass advertising, the tradition of chlorophyll developed, especially in the 1950s when many Americans sought it out in the form of toothpaste, mouthwash, dog food and, yes, of cigarettes. Clorets, a gum made with the ingredient, boasted a breath that became “sweet kiss” in seconds.
Timothy Jay, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, wrote about the popularity of chlorophyll in a surprising social manners book called “We Did What ?! He attributed his current craze to a “generational variable”. âYounger consumers are generally unaware of the history of personal care / nutritional claims from the 1950s,â he wrote in an email, âso they can be fooled like our grandparents were. years ago “.
In a 1980 study that tested whether chlorophyllin could help control body and fecal odor as well as chronic constipation and gas, researchers gave 62 nursing home patients chlorophyllin tablets every day for six months. . Half of the patients were incontinent (and gave off a foul odor), the other half suffered from constipation and gas. The researchers reported improvements in symptoms for both groups of 85% and 50%, respectively.
“It is difficult to objectively measure this effect,” said Dr Timothy Gardner, gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine in Dartmouth. Not only did this study lack a control group, he said, but it was not replicated for the next 41 years. He believes a strong placebo effect could have explained the results, and said there was not enough evidence for the use of chlorophyll or chlorophyllin for constipation, gas or body odor. The same goes for decreased bloating, he said, which was not tested in the 1980 study but is a popular claim on TikTok.
Another area where there is little research is cancer prevention. Chlorophyllin can reduce the body’s absorption of aflatoxin, a toxin produced by fungi that can contaminate food. At the time of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in Qidong, China, it was a big deal there. Dietary exposure to aflatoxins increases the likelihood of developing hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer.
During the trial, 180 Qidong residents were ordered to take three tablets a day, one before each meal. They received three doses of 100 milligrams of chlorophyllin or three placebo pills. Urine samples showed that those who took chlorophyllin for four months had a 55% reduction in DNA damage biomarkers from aflatoxins compared to those who took the placebo.
âEfficacy has been demonstrated by reducing DNA damage,â said John D. Groopman, professor of preventive medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and study author. He added that there were no side effects. But the trial did not last long nor did it examine whether cancer rates had declined, he said.
While the work on aflatoxin was exciting when it first emerged, Timothy R. Rebbeck, professor of cancer prevention at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said that without more data there was not enough link to justify the widespread use of chlorophyllin by consumers. . “I’m not sure we can expect this to impact any other population, or maybe even any other cancer,” Dr Rebbeck said in an email interview.