For a lot of people, the thought of algae will bring up an image of some green and smelly materials in a pond or a neglected fish tank. But that is not at all the scenario with the algae supplements. If you have not heard about the term Microalgae, then you need to know that this is one of the most potential sources of biofuel and it is also one of the active fields of research at present. Bio-researchers of Biosuperfood (BSF) considers algae to be one of the most nutritious foods known to man. Algae are the first photosynthetic organism of the world which underwent innumerable evolutions in these millions of years. In this period of time, algae have been the subject of a lot of exploitation under extreme temperature conditions, UV conditions, low level of nutrients and salinity.
Still, the algae were able to survive such extreme conditions and they have emerged into a very efficient variety of organisms. Thus, the scientific community is working hard to harness the nutritional benefits of algae. According to researchers, the algae supplements are more efficient and productive than the conventional crops. They are small organisms and this is why they don’t need a lot of water and any fertile land for growth. According to Wageningen University’s AlgaeParc, Algae can be grown in places like deserts. The microalgae production hasn’t reached the mainstream market till now. But the production of algae supplements is already well established.
What are Algae Supplements?
Basically, algae are the marine-based photosynthesizing organisms. In simple terms, they live in water and make the most energy from sunlight. But remember that they are not like any other land-based plant because they don’t have the other features of the land-based plants. Now, algae are a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids which include DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and the EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). You may have also heard that fishes are a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. But they are rich in fatty acids because fishes consume a huge amount of algae in the water. The algae supplements contain a good amount of BGA or Blue Green algae which supports heart and liver functions.
The range of algae is varied. You will find single-celled microalgae to the large algae in the form of kelp and seaweed. The microalgae are marketed in the form of dietary supplements which are popularly known as the “superfoods”. These are added in lattes, smoothies, even chips, and cookies. The supplements are also known as the cure-all cells. Since these are available in huge amount in the oceans, lakes, and ponds, the micro-algae form a very important part of our food chain. They are not generally eaten up by the large aquatic creatures.
Microalgae are comprised of vitamins, proteins, minerals, and fiber, but in the algae supplements, these nutritional ingredients are available in small amounts. Two important components of blue-green algae are Chlorella and Spirulina. The supplements which contain Chlorella and Spirulina also contain a good amount of Vitamins K and C. But this is not more than what you will get in colorful fruits and fresh vegetables. These supplements are also known to contain a good amount of Vitamin B12, but it is not sure if the Vitamin B12 is absorbed properly from the algae. They also have an array of other interesting components like the plant sterols, gamma linoleic acids, and Omega-6 fatty acids.
The Components of Algae
So, we have come to know that algae are one of the most abundantly found organisms on this planet. Algae have three major components which make them really nourishing to eat. The three components are Chlorophyll and other plant pigments, the Omega-3 fatty acids which come in two forms (EPA and DHA as mentioned above) and the different important aquatic materials.
The Chlorophyll and other plant pigments are also called as the phytochemicals or the plant chemicals. These plant chemicals have innumerable health benefits for human beings but at present, we are not sure how all the other available chemicals work. The fatty acids or EPA/ DHA are mostly referred as the helpful elements available from the fish oil but the actual origin is from the algae. The fish eat algae and a large amount of DHA and EPA are deposited in the tissues. Algae can also absorb and contain aquatic materials like potassium, iodine, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals are essential for maintaining good health, especially in the cases of thyroid related problems.
A lot of organizations are also experimenting with algae as the livestock feed for the chickens, cattle, and pigs. Though they are in experimental stages, still this is really promising. After feeding chickens with algae, the researchers have observed an enhanced growth and better quality of chickens. The algae lower the cholesterol level in chickens and they also enhance the healthy carotenoids which have great antioxidant properties.
The Three Major Forms of Algae Used in Supplements
The supplements which are marketed as the blue-green algae are a bit mislabeled in the market. The blue-green algae are now under the subcategory cyanobacteria which is a subset of bacteria domain. Algae comprise of a very different group of organisms. The following types of algae are used for making the algae supplements.
Cyanobacteria: These are mostly classified as the microalgae although they fall in the category of the bacteria kingdom. This includes the Spirulina and Chlorella and they are available in the supplement form. The blue-green algae comprise of the ALA (Alpha Linolic Acid) and LA along with a lot of other nutrients. But most importantly they comprise of EPA and DHA in a very significant amount. Apart from this, it also comprises of n-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids which you will find in huge amount in the fish oils.
Microalgae: This is the second major component available in algae and it is one of the best sources of n-3 fatty acids for the fish. The microalgae reside at the lowest level of the marine food chain. Most of the microalgae comprise of the huge amount of EPA and DHA.
Seaweed: The seaweed belongs to the different segment of the multicellular groups of algae. This is one of the most used articles in foods, especially the foods available in the coastal communities. The most common nutritional supplement known as kelp is used in the supplements. Kelp is also another form of seaweed. Another variation of Kelp, which is known as the Wakame, also comprises of the high level of n-3 fatty acids, EPA and other different forms of nutrients. But if you compare with the fatty fishes, then it is found that Wakame contains more EPA and doesn’t contain any DHA. The Wakame is largely used in the Japanese cooking. It is available in supplements and it is also available in more dried form.
A Comparison of Algae Supplements and Fish Supplements
It is true that algae supplements are very similar to the fish supplements. If you can supplement 1-2 grams of algae oil on a daily basis, then it will enhance DHA and EPA levels in the blood. Apart from this, it will also help you in lowering the triglycerides in the blood, limits the swelling, and reduces the blood pressure levels and heart rate. The fish oils are higher in DHA and EPA than the algae supplements. On the other hand, the algae supplements of BSF contain a higher level of other nutrients. The algae supplements are more appealing to the vegans who cannot get DHA and EPA from any other sources.
For the preparation of food for the infants, the algae supplements are used. For instance, the supplement DHASCO was prepared and marketed by Martek Biosciences Corporation which used algae supplements in a different formula for several countries including USA, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Netherlands. DHASCO is actually a blend of oil which is prepared from the alga Crypthecodinium cohnii along with the high amount of oleic sunflower oil. And this is why the product has got 40-45% DHA. Still, they are running different clinical trials to determine the safety, side effects and efficiency of DHASCO.
If you consume algae supplements, then you have to consume it in higher doses than you would take for fish supplements. The reason is fish oils have higher DHA and EPA. On the other hand, the DHA is a more active component which can lower triglycerides for bioavailability to the brain organs and the Omega-3s made from DHA. The algae supplements have more concentration of Omega-3 fatty acids and DHA and this is why they are beneficial for the human body.
The Major Health Benefits of Algae Supplements
There are a lot of health benefits of algae supplements and they are as follows:
Weight loss: The algae benefits start with the weight loss because it contains fucoxanthin. So what is fucoxanthin? It is actually the naturally occurring carotenoid pigment. It is found in the brown algae and it has got fat burning properties. The algae supplements showed better results for weight loss in comparison to the placebo-controlled study. In that experiment, the fucoxanthin was used for the first time where a group of 150 women was administered with 600 milligrams of algae supplements which comprised of 2.4 milligrams of fucoxanthin. It was observed that in 16 weeks, all the women lost 14.5 pounds of weight.
Potential cancer fighter: Studies have shown that algae supplements prevent the growth of cancer cells in animals and human beings. Algae supplements from BSF act as potential cancer treatments. It is one of the most affordable sources for cancer treatment.
Heart health: The blue-green alga prevents cardiovascular diseases and also limits nonalcoholic liver diseases. The blue-green algae act as a very natural ingredient to improve the blood lipid profile which in turn, prevents the inflammation and oxidative stress. These factors contribute to major heart diseases which are prevented by the algae supplements.
Anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties: Algae supplements are highly beneficial as pain-reduction and inflammation-control in the human body. The Omega-3 fatty acids and chlorophyll help in inflammation control. The algae supplements are also good as an analgesic and gastroprotective agents. It is very useful for preventing the gastric ulcer if it is consumed at a dose of 50 milligrams per kilogram.
Cholesterol-lowering: Algae supplements contain fucosterol. The fucosterol derived from algae has the ability to reduce cholesterol naturally. In general, the algae supplements are a rich source of phytosterols which has the ability in reducing the blood cholesterol levels. The Spirulina, present in algae supplements, act as a good antioxidant.
Heavy metal detox: A Chlorella is a form of algae which is a natural chelator for removing heavy metals from the body. It can reduce heavy metals like lead, aluminum, mercury, and arsenic. Thus, it reduces the chances of central nervous system failure and any other mental disorders.
Commercial Challenges in Large-Scale Algae Supplements Production
It is true that the algae supplements are a dream food for people but the algae supplements are still in the specialty market for certain reasons. Algae grow easily in small scales but the major issue comes up when algae are tried to produce in large scale for commercial purpose. They are microscopic elements and producing them on a massive scale is expensive and complicated.
It is tough to grow algae in high concentrations. Algae growth needs a lot of light but if they are exposed to too much light, then it will result in self-shading where the concentrations become so dense that some algae will block the light falling in other algae. So, this can be a major hindrance in growing algae in huge amount in the light.
Another challenge is the algae grow well in “raceway ponds” or the man-made ponds where the water circulation is constant. The ponds are cheap to build but the growth rate of microalgae in the ponds is very slow. Thus, it takes a long time.
So these are the challenges faced by different corporations while production algae supplements in a massive level. They are already working on solutions like bringing on the “flat panel”. It can generate a lot of algae, but it is a bit expensive. Another solution is letting the algae grow in the dark by converting the dissolved carbon within the surrounding water.