Everything You Need to Know About Algae Oil

WHILE THE IDEA of algae oil sounds pretty gross to us, the substance has been popping up left and right online recently. Could something as repulsive sounding as oil made from algae really have enough health benefits to blow up on the internet?

Avery Zenker, R.D., with Everflex Fitness in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, says algae oil has increased in popularity as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, as it may be an alternative to fish oil that’s suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

“It’s derived from algae, the primary producers of omega-3 fatty acids in the marine food chain,” says Zenker. This oil not only addresses the growing demand for vegetarian omega-3 supplements but also presents a solution to the environmental concerns associated with overfishing and fish farming.

Plus, “it tends to come with less of a fishy aftertaste than fish oil supplements,” Zenker says. Fair enough. Keep reading to learn more about algae oil, its health benefits, and risks of using it.

What is algae oil?

As Paul T. Jaeckel, R.D.N., says, algae oil is as simple as it sounds: It’s oil extracted from algae. “Algae themselves are part of a mostly aquatic photosynthetic group of organisms called Protista. These algae can be found everywhere there is water and are the food for many other [forms of] marine life,” he says.

Algae is neither a plant nor an animal, but is part of the protista kingdom, can photosynthesize like plants, and is specifically engineered to produce high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, mainly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and sometimes EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), Zenker says. “It’s cultivated in a controlled environment, ensuring consistency and purity, making it an attractive alternative for those seeking omega-3s without consuming fish or fish oil supplements.”

What is algae oil used for?

Algae oil has several potential uses.

“Algae oil is used as an omega-3 supplement, providing EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids,” says Zenker. It can be supplemented as a capsule or used in cooking.

What are some health benefits of algae oil?

Many supplement algae oil to reduce inflammation, support brain health, cardiovascular health, eye health, joint pain, gut health, or help manage blood lipids. That said, the scientific jury is still out on the actual benefit of algae oil.

For many, the primary function of algae oil is using it to boost intake of omega-3s, thanks to its high content of the fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, according to the American Heart Association, can be linked to “a stronger immune system, reduced inflammation and lower blood pressure and triglycerides, reducing the risk for heart disease and cognitive decline.”

Consuming more omega-3s could contribute to a “lowering of triglyceride levels which normally increase the risk for atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke,” says Jaeckel. Omega-3s are important for the formation and structure of cell membranes, as they help make up that phospholipid bilayer layer. Algae oil is less studied than fish sources of omega-3, but evidence suggests similar benefits. Algae oil has been shown to significantly raise serum levels of DHA.

DHA, you ask? There are three main omega-3 fatty acids, explains Jaeckel: alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA; docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA; and eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA.

“Algae oil provides a direct source of DHA and sometimes EPA, the two types of omega-3 fatty acids that are most beneficial for health,” says Zenker.

It’s worth repeating: there’s plenty of research done on the health benefits of the different types of omega-3s, but not a ton done on algae oil itself. Many of these benefits attribute to the benefits of having more omega-3s in your diet, which you can get from foods like salmon, tuna, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, and might be cheaper than supplementing algae oil.

avocado toast with salmon and poached egg served for breakfast at a cafe

Alexander Spatari//Getty Images

Help Cardiovascular Health

“Algae oil can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases,” says Zenker. It’s known to lower levels of triglycerides, reduce arterial plaque, and potentially lower blood pressure. “DHA in algae oil is particularly noted for its ability to improve heart health by reducing inflammation and improving [HDL] cholesterol levels,” she says. But, it may also contribute to elevations in LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), so keep that in mind if you struggle with cholesterol issues.

Better Brain Function

“Omega-3 found in algae oil is beneficial for cognitive health,” says Zenker. “DHA is essential for maintaining the integrity of brain cells, supporting memory, focus, and overall cognitive function.”

In fact, algae oil has been used in treatment for mood disorders like depression. As mentioned above, the AHA has stated there’s an association between proper omega-3 intake and lowering the risk of cognitive decline.

Improve Sperm Quality

“There is also a focus on men’s health benefits [and algae oil], such as improving erectile dysfunction and fertility,” says Jaeckel. Infertility might be improved by omega-3 as there may be a correlation between semen quality and higher intake of omega-3s, but more research still needs to be done.

Increase Joint Health

Creaky joints? You likely know omega-3s are your friends. “Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial for those dealing with joint pain or arthritis, potentially reducing inflammation and easing discomfort,” says Zenker.

Protect Vision

Omega-3s play a role in protecting your vision, too.

DHA is a major structural component of the retina, and consuming algae oil can support eye health and potentially reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration,” says Zenker.

Clear Skin

For healthier skin, or even to help with various dermatological conditions, algae oil may be a boon.

“Algae oil can also have benefits for the skin,” says Zenker, citing this research. “Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain the skin’s integrity, reduce the effects of aging, and may improve conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and even skin aging due to their anti-inflammatory properties.”

Improve Gut Health

Per Zenker, omega-3s have been shown to support gut health, one reason being due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

One study indicated that adding algal oil to the diet may help reduce inflammation and aid in the repair of the mucous membrane,” says Zenker, adding that there is evidence that algae oil has been associated with improved gut health by supporting the gut microbiome, and supporting the intestinal barrier by reducing inflammation. Additionally, there are some indications that the DHA in algae oil may have benefits in reducing the progression of colitis.

Are there risks to using algae oil?

All supplements have risks. Talk to a trusted healthcare professional before adding any supplement to your routine.

Jaeckel cautions that there is one thing of particular interest for men to consider when consuming a lot of algae oil or any omega-3 supplement: “There may be an increased risk for things like prostate cancer, which has been shown in multiple studies,” he says.

In general, it’s always important to read the ingredient label for any ingredients you may be avoiding for any reason, such as allergy or intolerance, says Zenker.

“As with any supplement, more is not always better, and it’s possible to have too much,” she says. “Also be aware of storing algae oil properly and keeping an eye on the best before date, as oils can go rancid.”

Related Articles

Back to top button