Flim-Flam Friday: Chlorella

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Chlorella

Last week I glimpsed a Facebook ad for “nature’s perfect superfood”, Chlorella, a freshwater green algae that grows naturally in certain parts of Asia.
Every single time I hear the term “superfood”, this happens:

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There are two reasons for that.
1. Sure, certain foods are nutrient-dense, but foods slapped with the prefix “super” usually turn out to be plain old food, neither  more nor less healthful than other foods in the same category. For instance, acai berries were hailed as a superfood and an anti-aging aid due to their high levels of antioxidants, but researchers have pointed out the berries contain about the same amount of antioxidants as other (far less expensive) fruits like blueberries and grapes. (1) Thanks to the trendiness of acai products, rural Brazilians who rely upon the berries as a staple food find their stomachs grumbling. (2)
2. You probably don’t need dietary supplements if you are healthy and have a varied, nutrient-rich diet. Certain foods or supplements might be beneficial when you have a deficiency, but if you don’t have a deficiency, you will get little to no benefit from them. (3)

Superfood

Looks even sillier than it sounds.


What does Chlorella supposedly do?

An incredibly broad range of claims has been made about the health benefits of Chlorella. In addition to being hailed as a nutrient-dense superfood (example), a detoxifying agent, and an energy booster, one Japanese study suggests it can:

– reduce body-fat percentage
– alleviate Type 2 diabetes by reducing blood-glucose levels
– help reduce cholesterol (4)

Many, many scientifically unsupported claims are being made about Chlorella. It can supposedly aid digestion by stimulating the growth of probiotic bacteria, treat ulcers, alleviate depression, increase “liver energy”, prevent or even cure cancer, and “boost immunity” (which would be a bad thing, if your immunity is normal).

Does it work?

As a food source? Yes (see “The Bottom Line” at the end of this post). As a cure-all pill, diet aid, or detoxifying agent? Probably not.
The problem with the bulk of the recent research involving Chlorella is that the results have not yet been replicated. When the Telegraph breathlessly tells you Chlorella can “reduce body-fat percentage”, they’re not telling you that this was found in just one study. (4)

At one time, Dr. Joseph Mercola claimed Chlorella could “fight cancer”. As absolutely zero evidence supports this, and federal law prohibits supplement suppliers from making health-related claims for their products, the FDA ordered Mercola to stop making that claim (and several others) on his website. So then he switched to saying Chlorella could eliminate your risk of getting cancer. The FDA ordered him to stop saying that, as well. Has this prevented Mercola from making extravagant claims about the curative properties of Chlorella? Nope. These days, he declares it can “prevent or ease” everything from stress to liver cancer. (5)

A lot of woo has attached itself to Chlorella over the years. Erich Von Däniken of “ancient astronauts” fame proposed in his 1980 book Signs of the Gods that maybe the Ark of the Covenant was a miniature nuclear reactor and manna machine. According to this theory, the “ark machine” absorbed and stored dew, to which green algae (Chlorella) was added, and poof! Delicious manna came out of the machine. It would have been radioactive as hell, but meh. Logic is for the unimaginative.
Not that Von Däniken was being particularly imaginative; he borrowed the entire “alien manna machine” concept from an April Fool’s article in New Scientist, which later became a book.

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“We have reached the Promised Land!
Sadly, you all have cancer.”

One health blogger says she’s taking Chlorella to “detox heavy metals” that supposedly remain in her body from chemotherapy she received some time ago. This is not a sound decision. First of all, heavy metals can be eliminated from the body only if treatment is administered immediately after exposure. Secondly, nothing in Chlorella has been shown to remove metals from the body. Thirdly, there is only one heavy metal involved with chemo (platinum, found in the chemo drugs Carboplatin and cisplatin). The platinum from both drugs generally remains in cells for up to 180 days. (6) Even if Chlorella could bind heavy metals, it would be incapable of removing them from the tissues and bloodstream without  the aid of chelation. (5)

The Bottom Line

So, Chlorella manna and Chlorella “metal detox” are bunk. But is Chlorella a superfood? In the ’50s and ’60s, scientists thought it could be. After WWII, the Baby Boom led governments around the world to study Chlorella in the hope it could be used to feed the masses cheaply and efficiently in the event of food shortages. NASA studied it with a view to feeding it to astronauts, and perhaps growing it on space stations. But processing Chlorella for consumption turned out to be too costly and time-consuming for either purpose, and it was relegated to the dietary supplement shelves of health food stores. It is an excellent food source. In its dried form, Chlorella is 45% protein, 20% carbohydrate, 20% fat, 5% fibre, and 10% vitamins and minerals. It contains nine essential amino acids. (7)
But according to an article on Chlorella at WebMD, the quality of the Chlorella found in supplements can vary wildly. The Chlorella in some products may contain only 7% protein, for instance.
To become a supplement, Chlorella is dried , crushed to a powder, and converted to small emerald tablets, which are vaguely reminiscent of Soylent Green. If the cell walls remain intact – and there are indications that this is the case with some Chlorella supplements – the Chlorella will be of no benefit to humans.
The recommended daily dosage for one of the most popular brands of Chlorella tablet is 15 tablets per day, at about $34US per 300 tablets. Perhaps this makes sense if you don’t have access to fresh, inexpensive greens like kale, but for the average consumer this is a pretty penny to spend on what are essentially veggie pills. A diet with sufficient carbs, protein, and vitamins will not require Chlorella.


Sources:

1. – Kuskoski EM, Asuero AG, Morales MT, Fett R, et al. “Wild fruits and pulps of frozen fruits: antioxidant activity, polyphenols and anthocyanins”. Cienc Rural 36 (July/August 2006)
– Seeram NP, Aviram M, Zhang Y, et al. “Comparison of antioxidant potency of commonly consumed polyphenol-rich beverages in the United States”. Journal of Agriculutral Food Chemicals 56 (February 2008). (abstract)
2.‘Superfood’ Promoted on Oprah’s Site Robs Amazon Poor of Staple” by Adriana Brasileiro, Bloomberg, May 14/09
3. Brown University’s page on nutrition supplements
4. T Mizoguchi, I Takehara, T Masuzawa. “Nutrigenomic studies of effects of Chlorella on subjects with high-risk factors for lifestyle-related disease“. Journal of Medicinal Food 11:3 (Sept. 2008)
5.Dr. Oz Revisited” by David Gorski, Science Based Medicine blog, Feb. 7/12.
6. Elke EM Brouwers, Alwin DR Huitema, Jos H Beijnen, Jan HM Schellens. “Long-term platinum retention after treatment with cisplatin and oxaliplatin“. Clinical Pharmacology 2008, 8:7.
7. Belasco, Warren. “Algae Burgers for a Hungry World? The Rise and Fall of Chlorella Cuisine”. Technology and Culture 38:3 (July 1997). Available from Jstor.

How Do Ion Foot Baths and Foot Detox Pads Work?

“Ion foot baths” (also known as ionic foot baths, ionizing foot baths, or aqua detox) are showing up at countless naturopathic clinics, salons, and spas these days. You’ve probably heard at least one person you know raving about them, urging you to try one as soon as possible. They can supposedly draw toxins out of the body that can’t be expelled in any other way, using nothing more than ionized water. The idea is that the postive and negative ions in the water act like magnets on the large pores of the feet, extracting toxins (and/or heavy metals, excess fat, and pathogens) by osmosis. The way a friend described it to me (with a mixture of awe and disgust), you’ll know it’s working because the water becomes cloudy or mucky. According to her naturopath, the treatment leaches essential minerals out of your body, too, so you have to take supplements before and after your foot bath.
Some foot bath vendors claim their products can improve liver or kidney function and/or your overall health, “amplify your energy field”, relax you, and do all the cool stuff that other detox products (teas, diets, etc.) supposedly do. Online reviews hint at miraculous cures of everything from Chronic Fatique Syndrome to Lyme disease. A few people have suggested aqua detox could cure autism.

When you get one of these foot baths, you’ll be asked to place your feet in a small basin of electrolyzed water. Then your homeopath or spa attendant will sprinkle some sea salt into the water to increase its electrical conductivity (it’s actually essential). Within 30 minutes, the water will turn into a disgusting brown swamp of “toxins”, probably including clots of grayish stuff and nasty little chunks of… well, whatever. The point is that the bad stuff is gone and you can be healthier and happier (after you pay your $35-$75 bill). You can also purchase ion foot bath kits, or achieve similar results with foot pads like these. You simply apply it to your foot like a bandage, and voila! It’ll look like a dead hobo’s sock in no time at all.

You can see many astounding demonstrations of ion footbaths and foot pads at work on YouTube. They’re all pretty gross.

The most amazing thing you won’t hear about ion foot baths is that they work on just about anything! For instance, if you drop a Mel Gibson DVD into a pool of electrolyzed water with some table salt sprinkled in it, you’ll cleanse it of its sins! The water will turn just as murky and retch-inducing as it does when you put your feet in it. Awesome.

Actually, that’s not the most amazing thing about ion foot baths. The most amazing thing is that even if you don’t put anything at all in the basin, the water will still turn to crud! Wow! So this means one of three things:

1. The foot cleanser is detoxing itself.
2. A ghost is sticking his feet in it.
3. This whole ion foot-cleansing thing is a freaking scam or a mass delusion.

Here’s the deal: In order to electrolyze the water, the basin must contain metal elements that serve as electrodes (prongs, rods, whatever). When you electrolyze metal, it sheds minute flakes of iron oxide (rust) into the water, turning it a brownish colour. Guaranteed. In fact, one good way to polish your silver is to electrolyze it.
The truth is, the pores of your feet aren’t anything special. Sure, there are a lot of them, but the waste products that collect in the feet (mainly urea and creatinine) can’t pass through the skin with or without the help of ions; they are eventually absorbed into other tissues without causing any damage to the body. Not to mention most of the body’s waste is colourless, so you wouldn’t be able to see it even if it could be drawn out in the foot bath. What you’re seeing in the ion bathwater is essentially rust, and maybe some iron precipitate flotsam.

The detox foot pads are a different story. They contain dehydrated pyroligneous acid, commonly known as wood vinegar or bamboo vinegar, which turns brownish (and smelly) when exposed to moisture. Contrary to the ad claims made about its detoxifying and curative benefits, wood vinegar has no known health benefits at all.
Pittsburgh’s WTAE has tested the pads and found that they turn brown when exposed to any liquid. 20/20 tested two popular brands on a group of volunteers, eliciting a few good anecdotal reports of increased energy. But analysis of the pads by MNS Labs revealed that not one of them contained heavy metals, parasites, fats, or toxins.

In the world of ion foot detox, you’ll find scams-within-scams. The website for Dr. Mary Stagg’s product line declares that Stagg is the “ORIGINAL” developer of the ionic detox footbath, but on the very same website she explains that she only did “further development” on an ion foot spa process that doctors in Colorado and Florida were already using. And the naturopath who told my friend she would have to buy certain supplements from him to replace the minerals that were leached from her body by foot detox? Pure crap. You won’t lose any more minerals in an ion bath than you will in a nice bubblebath.

The ion footbath has been thoroughly discredited as a health aid by Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column, by chemists, by physicians, even by some manufacturers and vendors (who admit the water will turn yucky with or without your feet). It’s a glorified footsoak with a bit of prestidigitation thrown in.

Wedneday Weirdness Roundup

  • Some 9/11 Truthers in the U.S. and Canada will soon be standing outside newspaper and media offices to hand out fliers that advertise a website devoted to Barry Jennings, in the hopes that the truth about his death or disappearance will finally come to light. Jennings was a New York Housing Authority emergency coordinator who, along with city corporate counsel Michael Hess and an unidentified custodian, was trapped in the Salomon Brothers building (WTC 7) on 9/11. Jennings made three startling claims: That he found the mayor’s Office of Emergency Management already vacated shortly after 9:00 AM (officially, it was vacated around 9:30); that an explosion ripped away a staircase before the towers collapsed, stranding himself and Hess on an 8th-floor landing; and that he stepped over several corpses strewn around the lobby as he was led outside by firefighters. Except he didn’t actually see any bodies, and video taken in the building before and after his rescue shows no bodies; the “explosion” was probably WTC debris crashing into the building; and Jennings’ timeline is totally whack if he was off by even 20 minutes. Jennings died in hospital a year ago. Because cause of death was not disclosed, murder theories cropped up instantly. There are also rumours that Jennings is in the federal witness protection program. The conspiracy theories about him leave out the fact that Michael Hess is alive and well. My guess about Jennings’ “mysterious” death? Jennings’ family just wants their privacy.
  • If there’s anything scarier than AIDS deniers, it’s germ theory deniers. YouTube user “writteninheaven”: “Regarding ‘swine flu’ or any other so-called contagious disease: First, the latest swine flu nonsense is just that – nonsense, and the bogus germ theory is the foundation for this nonsense. See Dr. Stefan Lanka for more info. Simply put: All vaccines, past, present, and future are satanic! They don’t work, never have worked, and never will work. Well, by work I mean healing or maintaining good health. They DO work by killing and maiming.” I’m thinking this is the same guy who sneezed on me in an elevator the other day and didn’t even say “excuse me”.
  • Montreal 9/11 Truth has posted a video exposing “Lucifer’s New World Religion Capitol”: Astana, Kazakhstan. The main problem seems to be that the city’s Pyramid of Peace is a “temple of solar worship”. The vid doesn’t mention that every major world religion is represented in the palace. IMO, it’s a gorgeous building and we should lay off Kazakhstan. Didn’t it suffer enough from Borat?

Hocus Pocus, All of It’s Bogus…

A must-read article on the myth of homeopathy, by the Guardian‘s Ben Goldacre: “A Kind of Magic?”

Nexus Schmexus

I don’t think Nexus magazine is intended to be entertaining, but that’s just what it is. Only Mad makes me laugh harder. It’s a breathtakingly dumb repository of debunked hoaxes, quacky cures, “alternative energy solutions”, and completely crackpot conspiracy theories. It still promotes Erich von Daniken’s Gold of the Gods (though von Daniken himself admitted he made up nearly everything in the book), the alien autopsy footage (another admitted hoax), and the “canola oil is poisonous” info that circulated in a scare email back in 2001. The articles’ titles crack me up, but reading the articles in their entirety is tedious; the only Nexus I’ll be reading is Henry Miller’s, thanks.

Just a few of the Nexus articles available online here:

Urine Therapy: Your Own Perfect Medicine!

The Miracle Man from Brazil: Totally amazingly incredible!!! This is about psychic healer/surgeon Joao de Deus (“John of God”). He’s not a doctor, but he can channel dead doctors to perform surgery through him. He boasts of healing 15 million people in 35 years, yet as James Randi points out “Working 8 hours a day, taking no lunch hour, 6 full days a week for 35 years, taking no holidays at all, he would have to “heal” ONE PERSON EVERY 21 SECONDS of every minute of every hour of every day he worked, with no time off, and no failures!”
Busy guy.

Toxic Secrets: Flouride and the Manhattan Project

Shaken Babies or Vaccine Damage? Since they only gave me two options, I’ll have to go with #1.

Swimming Through the Ether: Homeopathy and Radionics

Hidden Dangers of Canola Oil (it is hazardous – if you spill it on the floor)

The Alien Autopsy Film: Facts vs. Armchair Research

INDUCED REMISSION THERAPY: Dr Chachoua Is Curing AIDS and Cancer!

Martin Bryant: Was He Framed? This article points out that police were the first people to ID Martin Bryant, the Port Arthur mass murderer, when he staggered – clothing ablaze – out of the inn where he was holding his dead hostages. So apparently the cops just can’t be trusted, but some crazy dude with his shirt on fire is clearly innocent. Of course! What were we all thinking?

Does HIV Cause AIDS?

As Pete Seeger said, “You’ve got a right to be wrong”. But if folks are making health-related, judicial, and dietary decisions based on anything in Nexus… I’m worried.