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Good nutrition is one of the main tenants for happy, healthy living, which means falling short on certain nutrients can have a big impact. One of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to ensure you're getting all your necessary nutrients is to take daily dietary supplements that bridge any gaps between your nutrition needs and your diet.
Fish oil pills are some of the most popular nutrition supplements taken today because they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. But fish oil supplements also come with their fair share of downsides. They aren't sustainable, and they certainly aren't suitable for vegans who can't eat fish to begin with.
But there's another option. Algae oil supplements have been gaining popularity as the best alternative to fish oil pills and for a good reason. With a comparable omega-3 fatty acid nutrition profile and a more eco-conscious production method, more and more people are finding that taking algae oil makes more sense for their needs.
Here’s everything you need to know about algae oil supplements and why they may be even better than fish oil.
What Is Algae Oil?
Algae oil is a type of oil that is extracted from organisms that we call “microalgae.”
When you think about algae, you might think of the “macroalgae” seaweed. But you might also think of the green pond scum that you sometimes find floating on the top of a body of water. These algal blooms are actually a huge collection of microalgae, which are tiny, single-celled organisms. The naked eye can't see them, but when they "bloom" and congregate, they result in that greenish scum you see on lakes and ponds.
Microalgae are photosynthetic, meaning that they’re capable of converting the energy from sunlight into their own cellular energy, similar to plants. But unlike earth-rooted plants, they don’t have any roots or stems, and they take in their nutrients from water rather than soil.
Some of the nutrients that microalgae produce via photosynthesis are omega-3 fatty acids -- and this is where algae oil really starts to shine as a nutrition supplement!
Nutritional Benefits of Algae Oil
Algae are the primary producers of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA.) These are the same omega-3 fatty acids that make fatty, oily fish and fish oil pills so valuable. In fact, because microalgae are some of the most important food sources for these fatty fish, microalgae are the reason that fish are so rich in omega-3s!
Microalgae are also the only plant-based sources of DHA and EPA. While other plant-based foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseeds provide a different kind of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), these are generally considered an inferior source of omega-3s compared to fish oil and algae oil. This is because your body can't use omega-3s in their ALA form. Instead, it needs to convert it to DHA and EPA in order for them to have any potential health benefits. Because the conversion process from ALA to DHA and EPA is relatively inefficient, it's usually a better idea to get DHA and EPA directly from foods and supplements that contain it.
Because of its structural importance to your cells and its potential anti-inflammatory effects, increasing your omega-3 intake via DHA and EPA sources like algae oil is thought to be good for supporting things like:
Uses Of Algae Oil
Because it is such a good source of both DHA and EPA, algae oil is perhaps most popularly found in capsule form to be used as an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. It’s especially useful as a vegan-friendly alternative to fish oil pills since they contain the same kind of omega-3s, minus the animal products.
You might also find algae oil in its liquid form. You can ingest this oil straight as a supplement, or you can use it for cooking and baking since it has a relatively neutral flavor profile.
But the promise of algae oil goes even further than diet supplements. Algae oil is becoming a popular ingredient in beauty and skincare staples like cleansers and face masks. There’s even evidence that algae oil could have a promising future as an alternative biofuel in the future!
Algae Oil Vs. Fish Oil
Until the advent of algae oil, fish oil supplements were thought to be the best supplements for people looking to boost their omega-3 intake. Plenty of research showed that people who ate more cold-water, oily fish were less likely to suffer from chronic heart conditions due to the high levels of EPA and DHA in their diet. This resulted in the widespread production and usage of fish oil supplements as a supplement for heart health and other health-boosting properties.
So why should you choose algae omega 3 oil versus the more well-known fish oil option? The answer boils down to the problematic production of fish oil supplements and how they affect the final products.
The production of fish oil supplements has a huge impact on the health of the oceans (and the planet as a whole). Issues like overfishing and fish farming can destroy marine habitats, disrupt food chains, and contaminate wild seafood populations. Unfortunately, the increasing demand for fish and fish oil products has not helped matters.
Algae oil pills are the most sustainable alternative to fish oil pills that don’t require sacrificing omega-3 quality on behalf of the consumer. Microalgae pills are plant-based, so they use fewer resources than fish and other animal products, plus they are easy to isolate and grow indoors. This means that these omega-3 capsules are easier to produce, without running the risks of environmental damage that come with making fish oil pills!
From a consumer standpoint, one of the biggest concerns that come with eating seafood and seafood products is the potential for contamination, especially by heavy metals like mercury. Bigger fish like tuna and mackerel are more at risk of carrying accumulations of mercury from pollution and other human industrial pursuits. Unfortunately, mercury can become toxic, which has led to recommendations for limiting the amounts of fish you eat to protect against this heavy metal accumulation.
Luckily, algae oil pills allow you to take advantage of the rich omega-3 fatty acids in marine life without exposing yourself to mercury and other toxins.
Nutrition and bioavailability
Another major perk that comes from isolating and growing microalgae oil is that you can easily manipulate their nutrition profile. The amount of omega-3s available can change depending on the species of microalgae you use and the conditions you use to grow them, including pH levels, carbon and nitrogen concentrations, and temperature.
In well-controlled facilities, this can lead to the production of omega-3 supplements with a more consistent nutrition profile and omega-3 fatty acid content per serving!
Suitability for different diets
Even though fish oil pills are hugely popular and many doctors recommend them as a dietary aid, they’re not a good fit for everyone needing an extra daily serving of omega-3s. Because fish oil pills are made from catching and processing cold-water fish, they aren’t suitable for vegans, vegetarians, people with seafood allergies, or for anyone who simply doesn’t like the taste of fish.
This is where algae oil really starts to shine for consumers. Because it’s made from a photosynthetic organism, it’s a much more suitable option for vegans, vegetarians, and other plant-based eaters. It also tends to be more palatable - no more fish burps or fishy aftertaste!
Taking algae oil as a supplement is thought to be relatively safe when the EPA and DHA provided are in moderate doses of no more than 3 grams daily. Some reported side effects of algae oil pills are minor and might include mild gastrointestinal distress or slightly elevated cholesterol levels.
How Much Omega 3 To Take
The amount of algae oil to take per day can vary depending on factors like your sex and health needs. For most healthy adults, the current recommendation for an Adequate Intake (AI) of daily omega-3s, according to the National Academy of Medicine is:
- 1.6 grams for males
- 1.1 grams for females (more for anyone who is currently pregnant or breastfeeding).
If you don't meet these minimum requirements, you might be at risk of developing an insufficiency or even deficiency. Some signs of an omega-3 deficiency include issues like dry skin, hair, dry eyes, poor eyesight, joint pain, brain fog, and even depression.
However, your omega-3 dosage needs can also change if you’re looking for a specific level of support against certain conditions. For example, research by the American Heart Association suggests that getting anywhere from 0.5-1.8 grams of EPA+DHA can significantly reduce the mortality risk associated with heart disease.
But note the specific types of omega-3s listed here. It’s especially important to pay attention to the kind of omega-3 you’re taking (aka DHA, EPA, or ALA). Be sure to read the nutrition labels on your supplements carefully to ensure that it provides DHA and EPA.
Remember, the meal that you pair your Omega 3 supplement with should have a decent amount of healthy dietary fat so that you can more easily absorb the capsule and all of the health benefits that come along with it.
Before starting an omega-3 supplement regimen, consult with your doctor or physician to determine your omega-3 needs.
How To Select An Algae Oil
Because the future of algae-based omega-3 supplements is so bright, there are now plenty of algae omega-3 oils that you can find in health stores, pharmacies, and online. However, not all algae oil supplements are created equal, and you’ll want to make sure that you’re choosing the right pills for you based on your needs.
Some things to look for when choosing an algae oil supplement include:
The first thing to check is how much omega-3 fatty acids come in each serving of the algae oil capsule. More specifically, you should be paying attention to the amount of DHA and EPA each capsule provides. Some supplements may claim that they have "x" grams per serving, but this could be in reference to other ingredients and nutrients unless it specifies that those grams are of EPA and DHA.
You’ll also want to ensure that your body can actually use those omega-3 fatty acids once they've been ingested. A nutrient's "bioavailability" refers to the amount that your body can use effectively, which can change depending on how the algae oil capsule is produced.
3. Manufacturing practices
Finally, you should look at how the supplement company produces its algae oil pills, especially in reference to how that production process affects the oceans. It's an essential criterion for anyone to consider, especially if you're concerned about your foods and supplements' impacts on the earth's nonrenewable sources.
Harnessing the power of microalgae has led to advancements in both nutrition and environmental sciences. In short, using algae oil supplements for omega-3s is one of the best things you can do for your health and the future of this planet!