When you think of algae, you make picture the greenish film that sometimes develops on ponds and lakes.
But you may not know that this marine organism is also cultivated in laboratories for its unique oil, which is packed with omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are linked to many health benefits.
While fish oil also supplies omega-3s, algae oil may provide a great plant-based alternative if you don’t eat seafood or can’t tolerate fish oil.
Algae itself includes 40,000 species that range from single-celled microscopic organisms known as microalgae to kelp and seaweed. All types rely on energy from sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) light and carbon dioxide (1Trusted Source).
This article explains everything you need to know about algae oil, including its nutrients, benefits, dosage, and side effects.
Certain species of microalgae are especially rich in two of the main types of omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). As such, these species are grown for their oil.
One study found that the percentage of omega-3s in microalgae is comparable to that of various fish (1Trusted Source).
Yet, it’s easy to increase the amount of omega-3s in algae by manipulating their exposure to UV light, oxygen, sodium, glucose, and temperature (1Trusted Source).
Their oil is extracted, purified, and used in a variety of ways, including to enrich animal, poultry, and fish feed. When you eat eggs, chicken, or farmed salmon that’s enhanced with omega-3s, it’s likely t these fats come from algae oil (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source).
Plus, this oil serves as a source of omega-3s in infant formula and other foods, as well as plant-based vitamins and omega-3 supplements (1Trusted Source).
Levels of omega-3s in algae oil
|Nordic Naturals Algae Omega|
(2 soft gels)
|Source Vegan Omega-3s|
(2 soft gels)
(1 soft gel)
|Nature’s Science Vegan Omega-3|
(2 soft gels)
|Nature’s Way NutraVege Omega-3 Liquid|
(1 teaspoon — 5 ml)
Like fish oil supplements, those made from algae oil vary in their amounts and types of omega-3 fats, as well as their serving sizes. Thus, it’s best to compare labels when shopping.
You can also buy algae oil as a cooking oil. Its neutral flavor and very high smoke point make it ideal for sautéing or high-heat roasting.
However, while it’s an excellent source of healthy unsaturated fats, culinary algae oil doesn’t contain any omega-3s because these fats aren’t heat-stable.
Oil extracted from algae is rich in the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, though specific amounts vary between brands. It’s not only used as a dietary supplement but also to enrich infant formula and animal feed.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fats found in plants and fish. They supply essential fats that your body can’t make on its own, so you have to get from your diet.
Several types exist, but most research focuses on EPA, DHA, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) (8).
ALA is known as a parent fatty acid because your body can make EPA and DHA from this compound. However, the process isn’t very efficient, so it’s best to get all three from your diet (9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
Omega-3s are critical to the structure and function of cell membranes throughout your body. Your eyes and brain have especially high levels of DHA (8).
The best sources
Both EPA and DHA are found in fish and marine foods. Herring, salmon, anchovies, sardines, and other oily fish are the richest dietary sources of these fats (12).
Seaweed and algae also supply EPA and DHA. Because fish aren’t able to produce EPA and DHA, they get it by eating microalgae. Thus, algae are the sources of the omega-3 fats in fish (1, 13Trusted Source, 14).
Omega-3s are necessary for various processes in your body. You can get ALA from many plant foods, while EPA and DHA are found in fish and marine plants like seaweed and algae.
In one study, algae oil supplements were found to be nutritionally equivalent to cooked salmon and work the same way as fish oil in your body (15Trusted Source).
Furthermore, a 2-week study in 31 people revealed that taking 600 mg of DHA from algae oil per day raised blood levels the same percentage as taking an equal amount of DHA from fish oil — even in a vegetarian group with low DHA levels at the start of the study (16).
Just as the fatty acid composition of fish depends on their diet and fat stores, the fat in algae fluctuates based on the species, stage of growth, seasonal variations, and environmental factors (1Trusted Source).
All the same, scientists are able to select and grow certain strains that are higher in omega-3s. As algae grows very quickly and doesn’t contribute to overfishing, it may be more sustainable than fish oil supplements (1Trusted Source).
What’s more, because it’s grown under controlled conditions and purified, algae oil is free from toxins that may be present in fish and fish oils (2Trusted Source).
Algae oil is nutritionally similar to fish oil, and studies have confirmed that they exert the same effects in your body. Additionally, algae oil is plant-based, may be more sustainably sourced, and likely results in fewer taste complaints.
Research reveals that people with higher levels of omega-3 fats have a lower risk of certain health conditions.
This link appears strongest in people who eat fish rather than those who take supplements. Still, evidence suggests that supplements can be helpful.
Most studies examine fish oil rather than algae oil. However, studies using the latter reveal a significant increase in blood DHA levels, even in vegetarians or those who don’t eat fish — so it’s likely just as effective (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source).
May support heart health
Omega-3 supplements may reduce blood pressure and improve blood vessel function, which may lower your risk of heart attack or stroke (20Trusted Source).
Omega-3s have likewise been shown to reduce triglyceride levels.
In addition, a recent review of 13 clinical trials in over 127,000 people noted that taking omega-3 supplements from various marine sources reduced the risk of heart attack and all heart disease, as well as death from these conditions (22Trusted Source).
May reduce depression
People diagnosed with depression often have lower levels of EPA and DHA in their blood (23Trusted Source).
Correspondingly, an analysis of studies including more than 150,000 people found those who ate more fish had a lower risk of depression. The lower risk may be partly due to a higher intake of omega-3s (18Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
People with depression who receive EPA and DHA supplements often notice an improvement in their symptoms. Interestingly, an analysis of 35 studies in 6,665 people determined that EPA is more effective than DHA for treating this condition (25Trusted Source).
May benefit eye health
If you experience dry eyes or eye fatigue, taking an omega-3 supplement may minimize your symptoms by decreasing your tear evaporation rate (26Trusted Source).
In studies in people who experience eye irritation from wearing contacts or working on the computer for more than 3 hours per day, taking 600–1,200 mg of combined EPA and DHA eased symptoms in both groups (26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source).
Omega-3s may also have other eye benefits, such as fighting age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that can cause vision loss — though research is mixed.
A study in nearly 115,000 older adults noted that higher dietary intakes of EPA and DHA may prevent or delay intermediate — but not advanced — AMD (28Trusted Source).
May reduce inflammation
Omega-3s may inhibit compounds that trigger inflammation. Thus, they may help combat certain inflammatory conditions.
In a 12-week study in 60 women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), taking 5,000 mg of omega-3s from fish oil each day reduced the severity of symptoms. The women also had fewer reports of pain and tender joints, compared with those taking a placebo (30Trusted Source).
Algae oil supplements may aid heart, brain, and eye health, as well as fight inflammation. Studies show that both fish and algae oil increase omega-3 levels in your body.
view full article at: What is algae oil, and why do people take it?