Algal Oil: Are There Health Benefits?

What makes essential fatty acids so important? While the human body makes most of the fats it needs, it can’t make omega-3 fats. We have to get them from food.

Omega-3s are necessary for everyone from infants to adults. They’re important for cell membranes and receptors throughout the body. They also play a major role in preventing and managing many different health conditions. 

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids — ALA, DHA, and EPA. Your body needs all three to function well. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is in foods such as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.

The body can convert some ALA into DHA and EPA, but not a significant amount. For this reason, you need to get the rest of your essential fatty acids from other sources. 

Most people get DHA and EPA from fish and fish oil. For vegetarians, vegans, and those with fish allergies, however, these sources aren’t ideal.

Algal oil provides a substitute for fish and fish oil. It’s an oil made from certain types of microalgae. Usually, fish consume these microalgae and convert them into essential fatty acids that get stored in their tissue, which you eat. Algal oil skips the fish altogether.

You’ll typically find algal oil in capsule form, but you can also find it as a liquid. You can take it by the spoonful or you can cook with it.

Nutrition Information

In 1 tablespoon (a single serving) of algal oil, you get:

  • Calories: 120 
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

Algal oil is a major source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Potential Health Benefits of Algal Oil

Algal oil contains docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA are two of the most important omega-3 fatty acids. Algal oil also contains other important fatty acids called omega-9 fatty acids.

Together, these fatty acids provide many health benefits.

They can help your heart. The omega-3 fatty acids in algal oil may help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. EPA and DHA can help lower blood pressure and triglycerides as well as improve how well your blood vessels work.  

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They can keep your eyes healthy. The omega-3s in algal oil may help slow how quickly your tears evaporate, easing symptoms of dry eyes. EPA and DHA can also help ease eye irritation in those who wear contacts or work in front of computers. The fatty acids may even help to lower the odds of age-related macular degeneration

They can ease inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids can help to stop the inflammation that occurs in those with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions, helping to reduce pain and swelling.

They can help with your depression. While further research is needed, some studies show that people with depression notice an improvement in their symptoms when they have amoreomega-3 fatty acids in their diet.

They can keep your baby healthy. EPA and DHA are vital for the growth and development of babies, both before and after birth. It’s also important for nursing mothers to get more EPA and DHA as their babies get their omega-3 fatty acids from breastmilk. Some infant formulas are fortified with algal oil to make sure that formula-fed babies get their essential fatty acids as well. 

Potential Risks of Algal Oil

Experts suggest that if you do take algal oil, just as if you take fish oil, you limit how much you take to no more than 3 grams per day. If you take more, it may affect the way your blood clots, which can make bleeding more likely.

Too much algal oil can also weaken your immune system.

If you're on blood pressure medication, be aware that the DHA in algal oil can lower your blood pressure, so that, combined with your medicine, could make your blood pressure too low. 

As with all supplements, be sure to talk with your doctor before you start taking algal oil.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 09, 2020

Sources

SOURCES

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Harvard School of Public Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution.”

Harvard Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Mood Disorders.”

National Institutes of Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Consumers.”

National Institutes of Health: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.”

NCBI Drugs and Lactation Database: “Marine Oils.”

Oregon State University Linus Pauling Institute: “Micronutrient Information Center: Essential Fatty Acids.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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