Is it possible that eating a chlorophyll-rich diet can give us energy when we are exposed to the sun? Jelena Vidic, ANutr, takes a look at current research.
Working in food innovation requires endless searches for current trends and scientific findings. During my recent CPD lockdown session I have encountered an interesting paper about the benefit of consuming a chlorophyll-rich food that activates when we are exposed to the sun. Very intriguing! Since the summer is approaching and we all can’t wait to go out and enjoy the sunshine, let’s explore if we can find another excuse for lazing around in the sun other than for vitamin D synthesis…
Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants, involved in absorbing sunlight and transferring it into energy storing molecules in a process called photosynthesis1. Current research shows many health benefits of chlorophyll and its derivatives for humans. They can form complexes with cancer, causing chemicals such as heterocyclic amines (found in cooked meat), aflatoxin-B1 (found in spice and herb powders and extracts) or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (tobacco smoke)4. By forming these complexes, gastrointestinal absorption of possible carcinogens is interfered showing chlorophyll derivatives as being effective in the prevention of cancer4. Furthermore, they participate in tissue repair and growth. Due to their structural similarity to haemoglobin, they can assist in carrying oxygen to all tissues and cells and transport magnesium. Along with vitamins A, C and D, chlorophyll is a powerful antioxidant (when not exposed to light) able to neutralize free radicals that damage healthy human cells. This pigment may be used for treating kidney stones by inhibiting the growth of calcium oxalate dihydrate5. It is also used in preventing mal odours. Despite the above, it could appear there may be even more benefits to the pigment.
Research conducted at Columbia University Medical Centre published that mammals consuming chlorophyll-rich diets can capture light and use it for ATP synthesis2 . They found that animal-derived tissues and isolated mammalian mitochondria when incubated with light capturing metabolites of chlorophyll, compared with animal tissue without metabolites, have higher values of ATP and median life span after exposing to light. Authors suggested that chlorophyll type molecules catalyse the reduction of coenzyme Q, normally a slow step in ATP synthesis within mitochondria, therefore increasing ATP production. These findings would suggest that the photonic energy captured through the chlorophyll dietary-derived metabolites may be a significant process for energy regulation in animals. However, a better understanding of chlorophyll metabolite pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics is required to elucidate this mechanism. If the animal’s metabolic channels for obtaining energy directly from the light is transferable to humans, it would suggest that we could improve our ATP status that is often compromised by environmental exposures, non-adaptive stress, suboptimal nutrition, disease and aging, through eating chlorophyll-rich diet and sun exposure3. However, additional studies are needed to confirm those findings.
In summary, chlorophyll shouldn’t be our only reason for a regular consumption of green vegetables (source of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) and for it to reach its maximum effect it is likely that much higher doses (due to bioavailability yet to be clarified) in the form of supplements would be required. Considering the current research, there is not enough evidence to recommend supplementation with chlorophyll and its derivatives for the purpose of improving ATP status whilst exposed to the sun. Therefore, further research is recommended before we can follow a plant-like lifestyle. 😊
Jelena Vidic, ANutr, MSc
Jelena is an MSc Clinical Nutrition and BSc Nutrition currently
working in Food Innovation within the Food Service sector. Her general
interests are in the introduction of nutritious and healthy ingredients,
creating new and innovative products.
1. National Geographic (2020).Chlorophyll. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/chlorophyll/
2. Xu C, Zhang J,Mihai D and Washington I (2014). Light-harvesting chlorophyll pigments enable mammalian mitochondria to capture photonic energy and produce ATP. Journal of Cell Science 127: 388-399. Available at: https://jcs.biologists.org/content/joces/127/2/388.full.pdf
3. Ji S (2015) Groundbreaking Discovery: Animal Cells Powered by Sunlight/Chlorophyll. GreenMedInfo LLC. Available at https://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/dietary-chlorophyll-helps-us-captureuse-sunlight-energy-groundbreaking-study-1
4. Levent İnanç A (2011) Chlorophyll: Structural Properties, Health Benefits and Its Occurrence in Virgin Olive Oils. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/6724/b1a7d3ac2b4e975935db2a7cdc0b9b66cfa4.pdf?_ga=2.146187572.1824181660.1590503435-1886510496.1590503435
5. Kizhedath A (2011) Estimation of chlorophyll content in common household medicinal leaves and their utilization to avail health benefits of chlorophyll. Journal of Pharmacy Research. Available at: