Algae, ranging from single-celled microalgae to large seaweeds, are the simplest and most abundant form of plant life, responsible for more than half of the world’s primary production of oxygen. They form the base of the food chain with many living things depending upon them.
Algae have been collected for more than 4000 years in China and Japan for use as human food. There are many algae that are still cultivated for their nutritional value, either for supplemental use, or as a food source.
Algae are rich sources of:
….. and more
Algae are natural superfoods with greatest sources of extraordinary nutrients.
As algae are very high in nutrients, they are emerging as one of the most promising health supplements with potential health benefits. Studies evaluating the effects of algae suggest that some algae are beneficial for:
Commercially Available Algae Dietary Supplements
|Algae Health Supplement||Key Benefit|
|Spirulina||Richest Protein Supplement|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids
(Phaeodactylum and Crypthecodinium)
(from H. pluvialis)
(from D. salina)
Protein – Some algae such as Spirulina contain unusually high amounts of protein, between 55 and 70 percent by dry weight, depending upon the source (Phang et al., 2000). It is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids, though with reduced amounts of methionine, cystine, and lysine, as compared to standard proteins such as that from meat, eggs, or milk; it is, however, superior to all standard plant protein, such as that from legumes.
Essential Fatty Acids – Some of the algal strains have a high amount of essential fatty acids which are effective for heart and joint health. In particular spirulina is rich in α-linolenic acid (36 percent of total PUFAs), and also provides γ-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic acid (LA, 36 percent of total ), stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (AA).
Beta carotene – Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A, which is essential for healthy skin, mucus membrane, immune system, and eye health. It is also an anti-oxidant, which prevents cell damage caused by free radicals.
Astaxanthin – Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment and mainly used as an antioxidant. It is believed to be effective in decreasing the risks of cancer, and beneficial in cardiovascular, immune, inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. Studies state that it can also be used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol, musculoskeletal injuries, muscle strength and endurance, and male infertility.
Canthaxanthin is a carotenoid used to protect skin against sun sensitivity and for relieving itching caused by sun exposure. It is used in cosmetics and in medications.
Zeaxanthin and Lutein – Zeaxanthin and Lutein are potent antioxidants which are effective in eye health.
Phytoene, phytofluene – These are carotenoid pigments and believed to be beneficial in skin care by acting as antioxidants, UV absorbers and anti-inflammatory agents.
Echinenone, Fucoxanthin, and Phycobilins (Phycocyanin, Phycoerythrin, allophycocyanin) – These are carotenoid pigments that act as anti-oxidants, and believed to have anti-inflammatory, antinociceptive, and anti-cancer effects.
[Please note that some properties mentioned above are specific to some algae species details of which are given in subsequent topics]
The table below provides a summary of potential nutraceutical products from microalgae, alternative sources and applications.
|Product||Potential or Existing Algae Source||Some Alternate Source (S)||Applications|
|Beta carotene||Dunaliella salina||Blakeslea trispora, synthetic||Pigmenter (food), pro-vitamin A, antioxidant|
|Astaxanthin||Haematococcus pluvialis, Chlorella zofingiensis||Xanthophyllomyces dendrorhous, synthetic||Pigmenter(aquaculture), anti-oxidant|
|Canthaxanthin||Chlorella spp, other green algae||Dietzia natronolimnaea, synthetic||Pigmenter (aquaculture, poultry and food)|
|Zeaxanthin||Chlorella ellipsoidea; Dunaliella salina (mutant)||Paprika (Capsicum annuum); Tagetes erecta, synthetic||Anti-oxidant, food pigmenter|
|Lutein||Scenedesmus spp., Muriellopsis spp., other green algae||Tagetes spp., Blakeslea trispora||Anti-oxidant|
|Echinenone||Botryococcus braunii, cyanobacteria||-||Anti-oxidant|
|Fucoxanthin||Phaeodactylum tricornutum||Brown algae||Anti-oxidant|
|Phycobilins (Phycocyanin, Phycoerythrin, allophycocyanin)||Cyanobacteria, Rhodophyta, Cryptophyta,Glaucophyta||-||Natural pigment (e.g. cosmetics and food products), fluorescent conjugates, anti-oxidant etc|
|Arachidonic acid||Parietochloris incisa||Mortierella spp||Nutritional supplement|
|Eicosapentaenoic acid||Nannochloropsis spp., Phaeodactylum tricornutum, Monodus subterraneus etc||Fish oil||Nutritional supplement|
|Docosahexaenoic acid||Crypthecodinium cohnii, Schizochytrium spp, Ulkenia spp||Fish oil||Nutritional supplement|
|Sterols||Many species||Various plants||Nutraceutical|
Following are the most commonly used commercial algae-based health supplements:
1 kg of Spirulina has the same nutrients found in about 1,000 kgs of assorted vegetables
|Nutritional Profile||A balanced protein composition with the presence of rare essential lipids, numerous minerals and even vitamin B12.|
|Algae Strains Used||
|Key Benefits||The complete protein supplement containing all essential amino acids|
|Uniqueness||Dried spirulina contains about 60% protein. Spirulina has over 100 times the concentration of proteins as found in fruits and nuts. Having 10 g of spirulina is hence equivalent to having 1 Kg of nuts.|
|Recommended Dosage||2 to 3 grams ( in four to six portions of 500 milligrams each)
Max limit: Up to 10 grams per day
|Spirulina is completely safe. In few cases, people have reported some side effects such as:
|Who Should Avoid?||
Know more about the benefits of Spirulina
The only food supplement with high chlorophyll to detoxify your body
|Nutritional Profile||Chlorella is an attractive potential food source because it is high in protein and other essential nutrients; when dried, it is about 45% protein, 20% fat, 20% carbohydrate, 5% fibre, and 10% minerals and vitamins.|
|Algae Strains Used||
|Key Benefits||Powerful natural detoxification agent. Chlorella can eliminate the harmful and unwanted chemical toxins that have accumulated in our body through pesticides in our food, heavy metals in air &water, and chemicals in drinking water.|
|Uniqueness||Chlorella contains 2-7% chlorophyll, the highest of any known food. The property of detoxifying poisoning substances from the body is one of the important differences between chlorella and other nutritional supplements.|
|Recommended Dosage||1.5 to 3 g /day ( Maximum limit – up to 9g )|
|Side-effects||The most common side effects include diarrhoea, nausea, gas (flatulence), green discolouration of the stools, and stomach cramping.|
|Who Should Avoid?||Chlorella can contain iodine. Therefore, chlorella might cause an allergic reaction in people sensitive to iodine.|
Know more about the benefits of Chlorella
100% vegetarian source of Omega-3 which can save you from heart-attack
|Nutritional Profile||Alga is the vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids – Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – which are important for heart, brain and eye health.|
|Algae Strains Used||DHA:
|Key Benefits||Cardio vascular health|
|Uniqueness||Vegetarian source of Omega-3 fatty acids which helps in the metabolism of dietary fat and cholesterol.|
|Recommended Dosage||1-2 g per day|
|Side-effects||Gastrointestinal symptoms such as belching, indigestion, or diarrhoea|
|Who Should Avoid?||People who take drugs such as anticoagulants or anti-inflammatory drugs should avoid omega-3 supplements|
Most powerful anti-oxidant which is,
6,000 times stronger than vitamin C
550 times stronger than vitamin E*
10 times stronger than beta-carotene
|Nutritional Profile||Astaxanthin is a naturally occuring carotenoid pigment with extremely powerful antioxidant properties. Studies report that astaxanthin is 550 times stronger than vitamin E and more powerful antioxidant than other carotenoids such as β-carotene, lutein and lycopene.|
|Uniqueness||Astaxanthin contains hydroxyl and keto functional groups which provide them the unique ability to penetrate the blood brain and retinal barriers. Studies report that this unique ability enables astaxanthin to protect the brain and nervous system from neurodegenerative diseases and aging.|
|Algae Strains Used||Haematococcus pluvialis, Chlorella vulgaris, Chlorella zofingiensis, and Coelastrella striolata var. multistriata
Haematococcus pluvialis is the richest algal source of astaxanthin and predominantly used for the commercial production of natural astaxanthin.
|Key Benefits||Extremely powerful natural antioxidant that traps more free radicals than any other antioxidant.|
|Astaxanthin is found to have beneficial effects in:
|Recommended Dosage||2 mg / day (Max. limit – 8-10 mg/day)|
|Side-effects||Side effects, although non-toxic, include:
|Who Should Avoid?||
*Source – www.mercola.com
|Nutritional Profile||Beta-carotene is a carotenoid pigment. It acts as a provitamin-A and is converted to Vitamin A in the human body. In addition, it acts as an antioxidant and protects the body from cell damaging molecules called free radicals.|
|Algae Strains Used||
|Key Benefits||Beta-carotene acts as a precursor of vitamin A and potent antioxidant. Therefore, found to be beneficial in skin health, eye health and prevents cardiovascular diseases.|
|Beta-carotene is found to be beneficial in:
|Recommended Dosage||20-180 mg /day (as supplement)
1–3 g ( as dried D. salina powder)
|Who Should Avoid?||