Originally published June 25, 2002. Updated December 2, 2014.
Chlorella is a microscopic, green freshwater plant (an alga) that is aggressively promoted on the Internet as an energy booster, but I'm not aware of any studies showing that it helps people overcome the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome. If you're tired all the time, the most important thing you can do is find out why. Are you getting adequate, restful sleep? Have you had a medical checkup to rule out any health problem that might be to blame for the fatigue? For a clinical diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome you must have debilitating fatigue for six months or longer, in addition to experiencing four or more of the following symptoms:
- Impaired memory or concentration
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
- Multi-joint pain
- Tender lymph nodes in the armpit and neck
- Headaches of a new type, pattern or severity
- Malaise that follows exertion and continues for more than 24 hours
- Problems sleeping or unrefreshing sleep
If you have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, the best thing you can do for yourself is to perform 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week. You should be careful not to over-exercise, and to maintain a moderate-to-low pace. Although expending energy to have more energy may seem counterintuitive, the exercise effect and its benefits have been investigated in a number of studies. One of the latest, published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2011, found that a combination of cognitive behavior therapy and gradually increased exercise therapy can safely be added to the medical treatment of chronic fatigue and moderately improves the outcomes for patients.
Rather than considering chlorella for chronic fatigue syndrome, I would recommend the following combination: eleuthero and a CoQ10 supplement, plus two cloves of raw garlic a day for its antiviral and antibiotic effects (if eating raw garlic doesn't appeal to you, chop it fine and add to foods or cut up the cloves and swallow as you would take pills). You can also try astragalus for its antiviral properties. As far as nutrition is concerned, I suggest a low-protein diet. The other tonics I would recommend for increasing energy are ashwagandha (an Ayurvedic herbal remedy and adaptogen) and cordyceps (a Chinese mushroom used traditionally to increase physical stamina).
Andrew Weil, M.D.
P.D. White et al "Comparison of adaptive pacing therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, graded exercise therapy, and specialist medical care for chronic fatigue syndrome (PACE): a randomised trial." The Lancet, March 5, 2011