ALGAL OIL Overview Information
Algal oil is an oil made from certain marine algae. Like fish oil, algal oil is used as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Two of the most important omega-3 fatty acids contained in algal oil are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Algal oil is used in foods and as a medicine.
Algal oil is most commonly used along with another fatty acid to fortify infant formula. It is also used for improving thinking skills in children and older people, lowering cholesterol, improving vision in people with a certain eye condition (retinitis pigmentosa), and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
Don't confuse algal oil with algae such as blue-green algae, brown algae, chlorella, or laminaria. Also, don't confuse algal oil with DHA or EPA from other sources such as fish oil.
How does it work?
Algal oil contains omega-3 and omega-9 fatty acids. These fatty acids can reduce inflammation (swelling), improve levels of some fats in the blood, and help with brain function.
Possibly Ineffective for:
- Memory and thinking skills (cognitive function). Taking algal oil does not seem to improve cognitive function or reading ability in most children.
- Decline in memory and thinking skills that occurs normally with age. Some research shows that taking algal oil can improve an older person's ability to remember past events. It also seems to improve some forms of learning. But taking algal oil doesn't seem to improve short-term memory related to reasoning and decision-making in older people. And it doesn't seem to improve higher-level thinking skills.
- A lung disease that affects newborns (bronchopulmonary dysplasia). Some research shows that giving algal oil rich in DHA to breast-feeding mothers doesn't reduce a preterm infant's risk for this lung disease. It might even increase the risk for this disease in some infants.
- Child development. Taking algal oil while breastfeeding doesn't seem to improve vision of the breastfed infant by the age of 4 or 8 months. It also doesn't seem to improve most measures of brain development in the child by the age of 5 years. But it might improve motor skills in the child by the age of 30 months and attention at the age of 5 years.
- Heart disease. Eating 1.5 tablespoons per day of an algal oil that is high in oleic acid may help to prevent heart disease. But research is limited.
- High levels of cholesterol or other fats (lipids) in the blood (hyperlipidemia). Taking algal oil rich in DHA might help lower blood fats called triglycerides. It might also increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or "good") cholesterol. But taking algal oil seems to also increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol. Most research has involved patients without heart disease. So it's unclear if algal oil rich in DHA can improve cholesterol or reduce the risk of heart-related events in people with heart disease. Taking algal oil rich in EPA does not seem to lower triglycerides or LDL cholesterol.
- A serious intestinal disease in premature infants (necrotizing enterocolitis or NEC). Early research suggests that taking algal oil providing DHA while breast-feeding does not prevent NEC in preterm infants.
- Low bone mass (osteopenia). Early research shows that taking algal oil along with calcium and vitamin D doesn't improve bone mass better than taking just calcium and vitamin D.
- An inherited eye condition that causes poor night vision and loss of side vision (retinitis pigmentosa). Taking algal oil doesn't seem to slow the breakdown of cells in the retina in males with this eye condition. The breakdown of these cells can lead to loss of side vision and difficulty seeing at night. But taking algal oil might slow the loss of visual field sensitivity.
- An eye disorder in premature infants that can lead to blindness (retinopathy of prematurity). Early research suggests that taking algal oil providing DHA while breast-feeding does not prevent retinopathy of prematurity in preterm infants.
- Blood infection (sepsis). Early research suggests that taking algal oil containing DHA while breast-feeding does not prevent sepsis in preterm infants.
- Cystic fibrosis.
- Infant development.
- Other conditions.
ALGAL OIL Side Effects & Safety
When taken by mouth: Algal oil rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is LIKELY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth. It has been used safely in studies for up to 4 years. Algal oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is POSSIBLY SAFE for most adults when taken by mouth.
Most side effects of algal oil are mild and may include fishy burps, stomach or intestine symptoms, or slightly increased cholesterol levels. But algal oil is a source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Doses of algal oil providing DHA and EPA in excess of 3 grams per day is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. There is concern that taking more than 3 grams per day of EPA and DHA might slow blood clotting and may increase the chance of bleeding. People should limit their intake of DHA and EPA to no more than 3 grams per day, with no more than 2 grams per day from a dietary supplement.
Special Precautions & Warnings:Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Algal oil rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth in appropriate amounts during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Algal oil is included in some prenatal vitamins and infant formulas as a source of the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA. If it is taken by the mother during lactation, DHA levels in the breast milk increase. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding are advised to get 200-300 mg of DHA daily. While this intake can be achieved by consuming 2-3 servings of fish weekly during pregnancy, and 1-2 servings per week during lactation, women who are nutrient deficient or who do not eat fish may meet this need by taking a supplement such as algal oil. There isn't enough reliable information to know if algal oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is safe to use when pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Infants and children: Algal oil rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is LIKELY SAFE when used appropriately. Algal oil is included as a source of DHA in some infant formula. It is generally recognized as safe for this use. Algal oil has also been used safely for up to 4 years in children 7 years and older in daily doses that provide 30 mg/kg of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA. There isn't enough reliable information to know if algal oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is safe to use in infants and children. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.
Aspirin-sensitivity: Some algal oil contains DHA. DHA might affect your breathing if you are sensitive to aspirin.
Bleeding conditions: Some algal oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. DHA alone does not seem to affect blood clotting. However, there is concern that taking algal oil in doses providing more than 3 grams per day of EPA and DHA might increase the risk of bleeding.
Difficulty breathing in preterm infants: Some algal oil contains DHA. DHA might worsen breathing in preterm infants who already have difficulty breathing.
Diabetes: Some algal oil contains DHA. DHA might increase pre-meal blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
Low blood pressure: Some algal oil contains DHA. DHA can lower blood pressure. This might increase the risk of blood pressure becoming too low in people who already have low blood pressure.
ALGAL OIL Dosing
The appropriate dose of algal oil depends on several factors such as the user's age, health, and several other conditions. At this time there is not enough scientific information to determine an appropriate range of doses for algal oil. Keep in mind that natural products are not always necessarily safe and dosages can be important. Be sure to follow relevant directions on product labels and consult your pharmacist or physician or other healthcare professional before using.