Is liquid chlorophyll good for you? Experts debunk this TikTok trend
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By Cara Rosenbloom
If you have a TikTok account - or a teenager - you've may have heard about the latest wellness trend: chlorophyll. A few drops added to water is supposed to treat acne, prevent cancer, detoxify the body and boost energy levels.
That's a lot of power for a dropperful of green liquid.
Stephanie Grasso, a registered dietitian in Oakton, Virginia, is a TikTok influencer who recently racked up more than 5.3 million views for a savvy and truthful video on liquid chlorophyll. She explained that there's little science behind the trend, and it's probably healthier to just eat leafy greens instead.
"I had to create this video to not only educate, but to show my followers that they do not need to buy expensive supplements to reach their health goals," Grasso says. She worries that TikTok influences impressionable young people seeking quick fixes. Search for TikTok videos with the #chlorophyll hashtag and you'll find they've racked up more than 200 million views.
What kind of research has been done to spur these health claims, I wondered. Is there any harm from trying this trend? Here's what I discovered.
What, exactly, are we talking about?
Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants. It's what gives spinach, kale, wheatgrass, spirulina and parsley their green hue.
If you took high school chemistry, you may remember learning about chlorophyll as part of photosynthesis: The chlorophyll in plant cells uses sunlight to make food from carbon dioxide and water, and generates oxygen as a byproduct. Plants need it, but it's not a necessary nutrient or compound for humans, which is partly why chlorophyll supplements haven't been extensively studied.
And the kind of chlorophyll supplement we're discussing hasn't been squeezed from plant leaves. Chrolophyll does not dissolve in water, so supplements are actually made from chlorophyllin, a semi-synthetic chemical mixture of sodium copper salts that are extracted from chlorophyll. Chlorophyllin is available topically, and as ingestible tablets, soft gels and liquid.
It is the last format that has found fame on social media. The tincture bottles come with a medicine dropper, which allows the green liquid to aesthetically swirl into water - perfect for magical TikTok visuals.
Roderick Dashwood, director of the Center for Epigenetics and Disease Prevention at Texas A&M College of Medicine in Houston, says anyone interested in health products should be aware of what they're actually ingesting. "They should check the ingredients, which almost certainly should list synthetic sodium-copper chlorophyllin, and ask themselves if this is their preferred 'natural health' remedy," Dashwood says.
Are there any proven health benefits?
Before-and-after posts on social media often claim that using chlorophyll for seven days can reduce acne and eradicate wrinkles. However, "I do not currently recommend chlorophyll supplements for treating wrinkles or acne," said Zain Syed, a dermatologist in Lutherville, Maryland, and the president of the Maryland Dermatologic Society.
While there have been a few small studies using chlorophyllin for treating acne, he said, nearly all of them used a topical formula. "The studies showed a very mild effect on acne, nothing to the effect of what is being portrayed in these videos," Syed said. "None of them were studying oral supplementation of chlorophyll, and they were very, very small pilot studies that were not tested against a placebo, so even this small amount of evidence is very weak."
So how do TikTok influencers come by that healthy, glowing skin? Syed notes that the increase in water consumption could be enough to make a difference. "Another, much simpler, explanation is that they could be covering up the acne with makeup," Syed said. "Social media isn't exactly known for realistic portrayals of what people actually look like." My 14-year-old daughter concurs. Her TikTok friends are big proponents of makeup, heavy-duty concealer and built-in app filters that create a healthy glow.
As for cancer, there have been studies using both chlorophyll and chlorophyllin in mice, rats and trout, which showed some efficacy. But Chelsey McIntyre, a pharmacist and the managing editor of the Natural Medicines Research Collaboration at TRC Healthcare, says there's not enough clear research yet. "Some early-stage animal research only confuses things, as it shows that chlorophyll may both increase and decrease cancer risk in mice," McIntyre said. "So, the effects of chlorophyll on cancer remain unclear."
Studies in humans by Dashwood and others have found that both chlorophyll and chlorophyllin may help protect the body from carcinogens, including heterocyclic amines (produced while cooking meat at high temperatures) and aflatoxins (from improperly stored peanuts or corn). But, again, there's not enough data to widely recommend these supplements for cancer prevention or treatment.
"If chlorophyllins were co-administered with certain anti-cancer agents, or if somebody 'self-medicated' during cancer treatment with large amounts of chlorophyllin obtained from a health-food store, the effective dose of chemotherapy could be diminished inadvertently - not what you want!" Dashwood said.
What about the claims that chlorophyll can detoxify blood, provide energy and reduce body odor? "Unfortunately, there is a lack of research to support these claims," says McIntyre. "Although there has been quite a bit of interest in the use of chlorophyll, we don't have enough evidence to say whether or not it is beneficial for any specific use."
Chlorophyll does have verified antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, similar to green leafy vegetables. But Dashwood says that after 30 years of research, he has never personally taken chlorophyllin as a health supplement.
Are there any risks?
McIntyre said it is not yet clear whether chlorophyll supplements are safe but that there is some evidence to support the safe use of the water-soluble chlorophyllin supplements.
"Our database rates chlorophyllin as 'Possibly Safe' for most people when used by mouth," McIntyre said. She added that the average person should limit daily chlorophyllin dosing to 300 milligrams or less and consider restricting use to three months. Supplement dosages range from 2 milligrams per droplet to 100 milligrams per tablet.
And remember that information about photosynthesis? Turns out that what's good for plants isn't necessarily good for humans. "Chlorophyll is a photosensitizer; it helps plants absorb sunlight (including UV light) in order to store energy," Syed said. That means that some people taking chlorophyll supplements may develop severe photosensitivity (becoming much more likely to get a sunburn) or pseudoporphyria, which causes extreme skin fragility and blisters to form on the hands and feet.
I asked McIntyre if there is anyone who should not try this trend, and learned that there's a lack of evidence to support safe use of chlorophyllin supplements during pregnancy, breastfeeding and in children under 18. That's right: The supplements have not been tested in the age group that's gone gaga over chlorophyll.
Grasso, seen above, preaches food before supplements to her almost 2 million TikTok followers. She says a cup of spinach provides about 24 milligrams of chlorophyll, which is equivalent to a little less than 1 dropper (or ½ tsp.) of liquid chlorophyll.
"If you want to save yourself from buying bottle of liquid chlorophyll, just buy a bag of spinach, because you are not only getting the benefits of chlorophyll, but fibre, vitamins, minerals and a ton of antioxidants," Grasso said.