Ruminating on Rabbit Food

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.
Doug Larson

It’s been a while since I last posted anything here. The holidays kind of got in the way, and I’m trying my damnedest to get over some mysterious illness that’s plagued me for the last week. I’ve spent most of my downtime catching up on reading and preparing for the new semester but I’m back now and ready to roll.

Good health is important, right? That’s something with which we can all agree. Some of us are really good at eating right and exercising, and the rest of us really suck at it. Nobody’s perfect, but we all want to be. Unfortunately, maintaining a proper diet and exercise regimen takes tons of hard work. I eat well, but like a lot of people you can forget about convincing me to exercise. I’m lazy and I don’t like to sweat, so don’t bother. This laziness that so many of us share can lead to some weird rationalizations.

We try to convince ourselves that we can lose weight by taking a supplement and not burning excess calories. We can prevent cancer by avoiding Doritos while continuing to devour red meat. But my favorite of the new fads is the magical benefits of eating and drinking chlorophyll.

First off, what is chlorophyll? Chlorophyll is a green pigment in plants, algae, and some bacteria that captures sunlight. When photons are captured, their energy is used by plants to break down carbon dioxide and water to produce sugars and oxygen. Without chlorophyll, we wouldn’t exist.

As important as chlorphyll is though, it’s not something we can digest. That’s right. All those beautiful green juices aren’t at all what they’re cracked up to be. Nutritionists like to make a lot claims about this wonder food, and I like to shit on nutritionists. Lucky for me, they’ve prepared a nice little package of nonsense for me to play with.

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A fairly popular meme from a fairly popular woo site.

Chlorophyll is plant blood

Right off the bat, the claims are nonsensical. Blood is a connective tissue that transports oxygen throughout the bodies of animals. Chlorophyll, as has already been established, capture sunlight to provide the energy necessary to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar and oxygen. The oxygen is given off as a waste product; the sugar provides energy to the rest of the plant. Sugar travels through the vascular system (phloem) of a plant in the form of sap. If anything, sap is plant blood, but even that isn’t really that great of an analogy.

Almost identical to our own red blood cells

Only kinda sorta. Chlorophyll and heme are responsible for the green color of plants and red color of blood respectively. The central ion of chlorophyll is magnesium. The central ion of heme is iron. There’s also that whole business of hydrocarbon tails. Not that that matters. Chlorophyll isn’t blood. It’s doesn’t even serve a similar purpose as blood. Chemistry isn’t quite as forgiving as the woonatics would have us believe. That’s kind of why sodium and chloride are poisonous while sodium chloride is perfectly safe to eat.

Cleanses the blood

This doesn’t even make sense. Chlorophyll isn’t absorbed by the intestinal walls. It just collects in our guts until it’s removed with the rest of our waste. Our livers cleanse our blood by breaking down old heme molecules. Blood doesn’t pass through our intestines on its way to the liver. If chlorophyll is somehow getting in the middle of that filtration process, that means you’re bleeding internally. Call an ambulance immediately.

Binds with heavy metals and remove [sic] them from the body / Helps fight disease / Cancer protective

To an extent, this is actually true. Chlorophyll does appear to bind to some carcinogens, and since it accumulates in our guts, the carcinogens would be flushed out with the chlorophyll. There have been some studies that link reduced cancer risks from eating red meat with chlorophyll consumption. So if you’re a meat-eater, make sure you eat your leafy greens too. Well-balanced diets actually do serve a purpose.

Cleanses the bowel

This is probably a case of confusing correlation with causation. I can find literally nothing by way of explaining how chlorophyll would cleanse the bowel. While true that leafy greens can and do affect the frequency and size of bowel movements, that’s not because of the chlorophyll. Greens are chock full of fiber, and fiber helps immensely with constipation and irritable bowels. It’s important that fiber be properly balanced with fluids though, or it will cause diarrhea or constipation. Funny how that works isn’t it? This is why I take health advice from professionals instead of bloggers.

Increases the red blood cell count

No. Blood is produced by our bones. Unless chlorophyll is somehow getting into our skeletons… No. Just no. This is ridiculous, and I won’t address it.

Oxygenates the blood

The inside of the body is very dark. If chlorophyll is capturing light and producing oxygen from within your body, get to the hospital. You’ve got a hole in your person.

Alkalises the blood

The body’s ability to regulate its pH levels is one of its more amazing abilities. If the pH level of blood (optimal is around 7.4) gets too high, becoming alkali, a condition called alkalosis sets in. It’s not something anyone wants. Symptoms can range from tremors and spasms to nausea and dizziness, difficulty breathing and even coma. Don’t try to alkalise your blood. It’s fine how it is. Plus, you’d have to get around the pH level of your stomach (it sits around a 3) before anything you eat diffuses into your bloodstream. Clorox might work, but I don’t recommend it.

Strengthens immunity

I hate this phrase along with “boost immunity” and any other variation. If our immune systems are just a little too “strong,” we develop allergies. Allergies suck. They are the result of our bodies attacking harmless things like pollen, pet dander, peanuts, or, in my case, strawberries. Should your immune system become too “strong” for whatever reason, it will turn on you and attack your body. Examples of overactive immune systems aka autoimmune disease would include Crohn’s disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthitis, and even the crunchies’ favorite, Celiac disease. We don’t want strengthened or boosted immune systems. We just want them to work. No more, no less.

Anti-inflammatory

The only research I can find on anti-inflammatory properties is an in vitro study done on mice with paw edema. If that’s what this image bases its claim on, well, they’re really stretching the limits of that study’s findings. I’m not sure how that would work anyway since chlorophyll is supposed to be strengthening the immune system thus causing inflammation, but nobody ever said magic had to make sense.

Antioxidant

Oxygen is a tricky bitch. We need it to survive, but it’s very reactive. It’s so reactive that it can pull electrons and sometimes whole hydrogen atoms right out of a molecule. The oxidation reaction we’re all probably most familiar with is rusting. Imagine that going on in your body. Antioxidants help prevent these oxidation reactions.
For a long time, it’s been thought that a diet high in antioxidants helps prevent diseases. Now, while antioxidants are good for us, they’re no different than any other chemical that exists in this universe. The dose always makes the poison, and recent research has shown that antioxidants may, in fact, increase cancer risks. But that’s neither here nor there because humans don’t digest chlorophyll. It doesn’t matter if it’s an antioxidant or not.

Superfoods, supplements, fad diets… They’re all crap. Being healthy only requires you eat the proper combination of nutrients and burn any calories that you aren’t using. Eating weird things or making nasty combinations (butter in coffee, anyone?) don’t do anything for anyone. Dietary restrictions exist almost exclusively to help with specific health conditions that the majority of us never need to worry about. I’m looking at you, you “gluten-sensitive” non-Celiacs.

I don’t know if I say this enough, but I am not a scientist or a dietitian. I’m just a biology major who likes studying parasites and diseases. Most of what I write comes from actually paying attention to my teachers and remembering what I’ve learned over the years. That means I could be wrong. Often. If I’m wrong about anything here or elsewhere, please please please let me know about it. That’s kind of why I make the effort to go after woo, pseudoscience, and other bullshit. I hate the spread of misinformation and I don’t want to become the thing I hate.

Now get out there and get to sciencing!

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