Algal Oil Is The Plant-Based Secret To Getting Enough Vitamin D3 & Omega-3s
From spirulina to biofuel, algae has to be one of the most versatile plants in our world. It can sequester CO121 approximately 10 to 50 times2 more than plants on land and is becoming a vital part of reversing the environmental disruption humans have caused on our planet.
In addition to its ability to support our planetary wellness, algae is also able to support our personal wellness—particularly in the form of algal oil via algal-sourced nutrients and bioactives.
What is algal oil?
Algal oil is a sustainable and plant-based source of some of the most important nutrients (key vitamins, fats, and even phytonutrients), making it especially helpful for those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.
"Algal oil is oil sourced from microalgae, which just means very small marine-based bacteria," shares Jennifer Maeng, M.S., R.D., CDN, registered dietitian, author, founder of Chelsea Nutrition, and Twinlab nutritionist. For example, "the oil produced by this algae is a nutritious ingredient that can be featured in dietary supplements to improve the level of good fats in your body."
"Algal oil can serve as a source of healthy fats for your body: polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) like odd-chain fatty acids (omega-3s)," Maeng continues. She notes that this is great news for vegetarians and vegans, who may be lacking sufficient healthy fats, especially the marine-based DHA, in their diet.
Algal oil is not only a great source of omega-3s but also an innovative and sustainable plant-origin source of vitamin D3.* Both omega-3s and vitamin D are especially important to supplement with if following a plant-based diet, making these algae-sourced nutrients the perfect accompaniment for those who choose a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
Health benefits of algal oil.
"Vitamin D3 can be naturally synthesized by certain algae," explains Maeng. "And because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it blends well with omega-3 fats, creating a great 'emulsion' for a supplement that is best absorbed by your body."
Healthy fats, like omega-3s and omega-9s, are found in other plant oils too, which is why mindbodygreen intentionally infuses an organic trio of olive, flaxseed, and avocado oils alongside the hero nutrient, algal-sourced vitamin D3. It's built-in absorption technology.*
Speaking of absorption: D3 is the body's preferred form of vitamin D, but plant-based D3 is a rarity. Most sources of vitamin D3 are animal products, and the only vegan foods that provide vitamin D2 are irradiated mushrooms and yeast.
Algal technology uniquely (and only quite recently) now provides the preferred form of vitamin D. That's why mindbodygreen leverages algal-sourced D3 in their vitamin D3 potency+ to deliver the most ideal form of D, whether you're plant-based or not.*
Supplementing with vitamin D is important (actually, it's critical)—not only because 41% of U.S. adults3 are insufficient in the vitamin and 934 to 100% of the U.S. population is failing to consume a very modest 400 IU of vitamin D per day (which is way less than the amount actually needed to achieve and maintain healthy vitamin D levels in the body, mind you), but because we simply can't get enough vitamin D from diet and sunlight alone.
The vitamin D insufficiency statistics are incredibly concerning to experts, given the wide range of vital, whole-body health benefits D provides—including bone, teeth, muscle, and immune support, to name just a few.*
Sustainability of algal oil.
Specific types of algal oil—like VegD3®, which is chemically identical to vitamin D3 of animal origin—are even organic and sustainable. By the way, this combination of beneficial, clean, and premium features is not common in the plant D3 world.
Other plant-based D3 are derived from lichen, which is a notably unsustainable source of D3 given its decade-long growth period and the fact that it needs to be removed directly from the ecosystem. In direct contrast, organic VegD3® (which you'll find in mbg's vitamin D supplement, that's shaking up the vitamin D segment thanks to its innovation and thoughtful formulation) prioritizes sustainability during every step of the supply chain and has no negative impact on the local environment.
Algal oil for omega-3s.
Algal oil is also a vegan-friendly source of omega-3s. "For people on a plant-based or vegan diet, algal oil may be of particular benefit, as plant foods only contain the ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) form of omega-3 fatty acids," shares plant-based dietitian Desiree Nielsen, R.D.
Unlike most plant-based sources of omega-3s, algal oil sources provide mostly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and then, much smaller amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid, aka EPA. For a more balanced and concentrated EPA and DHA profile in a supplement form, you'll want to consider a sustainably-sourced fish oil.
Interestingly, if you're wondering why algae is a source of omega-3s in the first place, it's where the oily fish obtain their omega-3 content from. So, by eating algae or taking a supplement featuring algal oil or algal-sourced ingredients, you're getting your fatty acids straight to the source—just like salmon, anchovies, and other fatty fish do!
Algal oil vs. fish oil.
When we think about omega-3 supplements, the first product that comes to mind is fish oil. And rightly so. Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, as it offers concentrated amounts of EPA and DHA—the two kinds of marine omega-3s with the most scientific research (many decades, in fact) and that the whole body uses (think: heart, brain, eyes, perinatal health, etc.).*
So, what does algal oil offer that fish oil doesn't? It allows strict vegans, vegetarians, and people who don't or are unable to eat fish to consume marine omega-3 DHA (and smaller amounts of EPA, depending on the formula). As mentioned above, the fish obtain their omega-3s from the algae they eat in the ocean, so you could also think of the algal oil as tapping into the original source.
Even though algal oil is not as high in EPA and DHA as fish oil because of how both of these PUFAs become more concentrated as you follow the food chain up, it is a valid source of omega-3s—especially for those who exclude fish from their diet.
If you're familiar with plant-based sources of omega-3s, you may be asking why flaxseed and walnuts aren't enough to satisfy your body's need for fatty acids. That's because most non-marine plant-based sources of omega-3s provide alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, the precursor to EPA and DHA in the body), but the body is really inefficient at converting ALA to EPA and DHA.
Researchers at the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University confirm this physiological challenge, citing research from the 5British Journal of Nutrition5 that found only 8% and less than 4% of ALA was converted to EPA and DHA, respectively, in healthy young men; while 21% and 9% of ALA converted to EPA and DHA, respectively, in healthy young women.
"Making EPA and DHA from ALA is possible but very inefficient, and achieving optimal omega-3 index levels is nearly impossible with only ALA," lipid expert and president and founder of the Fatty Acid Research Institute William S. Harris, Ph.D., previously shared with mbg.
mindbodygreen's own vice president of scientific affairs, Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, notes that getting enough of all three types of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is critical for optimizing whole-body health.* (Another reason for plant-based eaters to embrace the use of an algal oil supplement for that all-important DHA.)
Ferira also notes that as a nation, "our ALA consumption is plentiful, but we're failing on EPA plus DHA intake. Nationally representative research confirms this major nutrient gap again and again."
Sources of algal oil.
Algal oil and algal-derived ingredients are featured in certain dietary supplements. For example, vitamin D3 potency+ contains algal cholecalciferol (aka D3) that is organic and sustainably sourced.
If you're plant-based (or simply want to get critical nutrients from a plant source), algal oil supplements can provide vitamin D3 and omega-3s (especially DHA), as well as key carotenoids like powerhouse antioxidant astaxanthin.
The doses of vitamin D, omega-3s EPA and DHA, and astaxanthin from algae sources can vary by each supplement brand and product, so you'll want to check the label to ensure you're getting the product that's right for your needs (and rooted in quality science and clean ingredients).
Algal oil dosage.
While no algal oil recommended intake levels exist and product formulas vary, one teaspoon of supplements featuring algal oil typically contain several hundred milligrams of DHA. If liquid algal oil isn't your style, certain supplements offer algal oil-derived DHA in capsule or softgel form.
Nielson suggests identifying your unique omega-3 needs to determine your dosage and thus, supplement approach. "How much EPA and DHA you need will depend on your goals," she shares.
"For example, pregnant adults want to ensure they get 200 milligrams of DHA daily throughout pregnancy. For heart health, you'll need higher doses,"* Nielsen says, also recommending that partnering with your healthcare provider is smart to personalize that regimen.
Daily minimums for EPA and DHA combined are thought to be in the 250 to 500 milligram range, but cardioprotective doses of these two omega-3s are thought to be much higher (more on those daily omega-3 recommendations and science here).
Since mbg's vitamin D3 potency+ is a D3 supplement, its dosage is based on the amount of D3 it provides. In this case, that's 5,000 IU of vitamin D3, an efficacious daily dose of the essential fat-soluble vitamin (i.e., to achieve and sustain optimal vitamin D status.)*
In fact, you'll want to avoid subpotent vitamin D supplement doses, as they are one of the common culprits of "'stubborn" vitamin D levels (i.e., if you can't improve your vitamin D levels).
Algal oil is generally well tolerated, but one's supplement experience is wholly dependent on the specific formula. You'll want to always check the Supplement Facts panel for active ingredients and other ingredients that you may have personal sensitivities to (e.g., allergens).
Other ingredients in algal oil products may include things like other plant oils (avocado, olive, flaxseed, coconut, sunflower, etc.), antioxidants like rosemary extract and vitamin E tocopherols, and citrus essential oils from lemon and lime. Liquid tincture formulas often include flavors. You'll want to avoid chemical preservatives, synthetic dyes, and added sugars.
While the doses of omega-3s in algal oil products are often significantly lower than most fish oil supplements, Nielsen recommends consulting your health care provider if you are on a blood-thinning medication, out of an abundance of caution.
Discussing the collective body of science to date, Ferira ensures that the blood-thinning qualities of omega-3s are an old wives' tale and only a valid concern at exceedingly high doses (i.e., over 10,000 milligrams of EPA plus DHA, so 10 whole grams). These doses of concern are 5 to 30-plus times higher than any omega-3 supplement, whether algal or fish oil, would provide.
As a source of plant-based omega-3s, vitamin D3, and even key phytonutrients—there isn't another supplement that can top algal oil. Its sustainable processing, plant-based alignment, and vast health benefits make it the perfect supplement to help you advocate for the health and well-being of your body and our planet.
Josey Murray is a freelance writer focused on inclusive wellness, joyful movement, mental health, and the like. A graduate of Wellesley College, where she studied English and Creative Writing, her work appears in Women’s Health, Cook & Culture, and more. By expressing her own vulnerability, she writes with warmth and empathy to help readers find self-compassion and true wellness that’s sustainable for body, mind, and planet.