When it comes to picking the best nutritional supplement available, many people tend to ask, “How does Spirulina differ from Chlorella and other blue-green algae?” Granted, both are incredibly powerful superfoods that can benefit anyone who takes them as part of their daily health regimen, but spirulina and chlorella are definitely two different varieties of a similar type of microalgae.
Physical Differences Between Spirulina and ChlorellaSpirulina and chlorella are very similar in the fact that they are both types of micro-algae, but whereas spirulina is a spiral-shaped, multi-celled algae with no true nucleus, chlorella is a spherical-shaped single-celled algae with a nucleus. Spirulina can sometimes be up to 100-times larger than chlorella. In addition, while spirulina is a blue-green form of algae, chlorella is a solid green-colored form of algae.
Cultivation Differences Between Spirulina and ChlorellaSpirulina tends to grow best in fresh water ponds, rivers, and lakes that have a relatively high alkaline content. Moderate temperatures and abundant sunshine are required in order to produce exemplary crops. In most natural environments, the waters where spirulina flourishes is usually home to very few other organisms, so harvesting the crop is easier. Meanwhile, chlorella, which is also grown in fresh water, tends to occupy water with other organisms due to its microscopic size, making it much more difficult to harvest and cultivate. Chlorella is also traditionally more difficult to process than spirulina, due to the fact that it has an indigestible cellulose wall. Therefore, chlorella requires processing before it can be made available for human consumption. It first has to undergo a complex process in order to mechanically break the cellulose wall. If the cellulose wall isn’t broken, then the body won’t be able to digest it. This process is not only complex, but it requires expensive equipment to perform. Therefore, the cost of the product is ultimately significantly higher. In comparison, spirulina has a perfectly digestible cellulose wall, therefore it is readily available for consumption, and immediately digested and absorbed when taken.
Nutritional Differences Between Spirulina and ChlorellaBoth spirulina and chlorella are classified as superfoods, so they are both among the richest nutrient sources on the planet. But, spirulina has a higher percentage of protein and iron, as well as all eight essential amino acids; potassium; zinc; calcium; vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B-12. Spirulina also has a higher percentage of beta-carotene, while chlorella has a greater level of chlorophyll (due to its dark green color).
Additional Differences Between Spirulina, Chlorella, and Other Blue-Green Algae
- Spirulina is easier on the digestive system than chlorella and other types of blue-green algae
- Spirulina offers the highest level of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a “good fat” that is vital for the health and function of the brain, heart, and other body organs and systems
Is Vitamin B12 bioavailable in edible algal species?
Vitamin B 12 belongs to the compound group of corrinoids. The distinguishing characteristic of corrinoids is the identifiable corrin nucleus and can only be synthesized in certain bacteria. Other than bioavailable vitamin B12 from animal food sources, there are still questions about if B12 is bioavailable from plant food. Some researchers indicate that edible algae contains large amounts of B12 that is only in the inactive corrinoid form. (1)
In a study by Watanbe, several different species of algae were analyzed to determine and identify bioavailable corrinoids and inactive corrinoids by use of reversed-phase HPLC, UV spectroscopy, and H-NMR Spect.
First, green and purple laver (nori) were analyzed. The samples were characterized and purified. The purple laver contained five types of biologically active B12. The green laver also had authentic B12, largely in the non-coenzyme form. (1)
Second, spirulina tablets were analyzed. The majority of the B12 compounds (83%) were inactive corrinoids and (17%) was authentic B12. (1) Edible cyanobacteria frequently contains large amounts of pseudovitamin B12.(2)
Third, Chlorella was tested from the supplement form of tablets. The B12 was bioavailable. (1)
Fourth, Pleurochrysis carterae, which is an edible algal species commonly consumed as a health food. After the sample was purified and characterized, authentic B12 was identified. (1)
Watanabe also refers to a study which was done on B12 deficient macrobiotic children. The use of dietary nori and chlorella raised their B12 levels by determination of hematological signs. Other species such as kombu, duce, and arame only had a trace of B12 or none bioavailable. Dried nori lavers also proved to be an exceptionally good source of B12 with the additional benefit of less dietary iodine than other edible algal species. (1)
Our digestion system has to have the correct bioavailable form of B12 in order for the human body to utilize it. “Humans have a complex process for gastrointestinal absorption of dietary vitamin B12. Vitamin B released from food protein is first bound to haptocorrin (salivary vitamin B 12 –binding protein) in the stomach. After proteolysis of haptocorrin–vitamin B 12 complex by pancreatic proteases in the duodenum, the released vitamin B 12 binds to intrinsic factor (IF, gastric vitamin B 12-binding protein) in the proximal ileum. The IF–vitamin B 12 complex can enter mucosal cells in the distal ileum by receptor-mediated endocytosis. Bioavailability of dietary vitamin B 12 is significantly dependent on this gastrointestinal absorption system.”(2)
The bottom line is this research clearly outlines, from a scientific point of view, that certain edible species of algae do have bioavailable B12 that is beneficial for humans.
1. WATANABE F, TAKENAKA S, KITTAKA-KATSURA H, EBARA S, MIYAMOTO E. Characterization and Bioavailability of Vitamin B12-Compounds from Edible Algae. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. [serial online]. 2002;48(5):325-331. Available from: J-STAGE, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 18, 2013.
2. Watanabe F. Vitamin B12 sources and bioavailability. Experimental Biology And Medicine [serial online]. 2007;232(10):1266-1274. Available from: CAB Abstracts, Ipswich, MA. Accessed December 18, 2013.