DHA from algae

Mar 2014   Algal DHA
The discovery of algal DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is the spin off of the NASA sponsored scientific research in early 1980s.
The experiment was to use algae as a food supply, a source of oxygen and a catalyst for waste disposal in space missions. Martek Biosciences Corporation, Columbia, Maryland, while working on the results of the NASA program, have developed the commercial product 'Formulaid'. Its ingredient is an algae-based, vegetable like oil containing two polyunsaturated fatty acids known as DHA and
ARA (arachidonic acid).

Algal DHA benefits

DHA is the major component of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain. According Martek literature "DHA and ARA are the predominant fatty acids in the grey matter of the brain and DHA is particularly enriched in the retina." More and more benefits of DHA in maintaining and improving age-related ailments are being demonstrated. It is a precursor of anti-inflammatory agents and also has the potential to reduce platelet aggregation. There have been marked improvement in cognitive, learning and memory skills in elders after taking algal DHA supplements for six months.


Though DHA (omega-3) and ARA (omega-6) are important nutrients for the health, excess of ARA promotes inflammation and platelet stickiness. Modern diet is favoring cheap and abundantly available omega-6. Algal DHA supplements are also becoming cheaper. Today Americans' diets are skewed with very high proportion of arachidonic acid with very little DHA. Less than 100 mg of DHA per day is being consumed. The ratio of ARA:DHA in present diet is around 10:1 to 20:1, whereas the healthy ratio is between 2:1 and 3:1. This type of malnutrition has lead to rise in many chronic inflammatory disorders in the population. Trans fats, fried foods and fast foods are the culprits. Food items prepared to satiate the taste rather than the nutritional needs have caused this havoc in the health.

DHA from algae vs other sources

The human body can directly synthesize DHA from the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) but not very efficiently. Hence the necessity for finding a cheap, efficient and easily available source. Docosahexaenoic acid sources are algal oil, fish oil and krill oil. Each type of the source has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Fish oil have been the major source of docosahexaenoic acid and * eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Fish obtain these fatty acids from their diet of plankton. Fish oil has many side effects like flatulence, nausea and upset-stomach. Further the fishy smell when belching is highly disgusting for many. Unlike algal oil, fish oil has the high risk of accumulated toxins and heavy metals. Further fish is a limited resource, is being over-exploited and is under the threat of depletion.

Krill oil is another major source of DHA and EPA. Krill accumulate these fatty acids from their food, again, plankton. Though currently pollution-free, when compared to fish oil, it is also under the risk of over-exploitation. Krill is the major source of many marine animals including the blue whale. Direct exploitation of krill can lead to disastrous results for the marine life. The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is currently seized with the issue. Further vegetarians and vegans prefer not to consume these animal sources.

Algal DHA production involves growing specific species and strains of algae in inland farms under controlled pollution-free environment. They are not genetically modified and only selective strain selection is done to meet the productive and commercial viability. The production is sustainable and the algae directly make the docosahexaenoic acid. As the products are plant based, they are eligible for certification as vegetarian, kosher, halal and organic.

Algal DHA supplementation has been found to be heart-friendly, by reducing the triglycerides serum level and increasing HDL-cholesterol levels. However there is also an increase in the levels of LDL-cholesterol which made the researchers apprehensive. Further research indicated that though there is an increase in LDL-cholesterol, the type of LDL-cholesterol has changed with an increase in the size of the particles. Larger LDL particles are possibly less-atherogenic. Many algal DHA supplements are now available as foods, baby foods and beverages.

Related topics on nutritional deficiency diseases:
Carbohydrate deficiency diseases.
Two essential fatty acids.
Vitamin deficiency diseases.
Nutritional deficiency diseases.
Protein energy malnutrition in children.
Protein deficiency diseases.
Mineral deficiency diseases.
Fat deficiency diseases.
Krill DHA.


Current topic on nutritional deficiency diseases:
Algal DHA

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