Algae Oil Vs. Flaxseed Oil: What’s the difference?

Algae Oil is an up and comer in the UK’s supplement scene. With some UK Health Services now recommending Algae Oil as an alternative to fish oil, there’s a lot to be happy about from ethical, health and environmental points of view!

However, algae oil isn’t the only vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids, so why is it becoming the poster child for vegan omega 3 when others have been around for ages? One of the big players in plant-based Omega 3 is flaxseed oil, but it is not getting the same attention as algae oil. 

I’m here to look at why. What’s the difference between algae and flaxseed oil, should we be using both, and which one wins out in the health stakes. 

Flaxseed Oil, you’re up first! 

Flax (Latin name: Linum usitatissimum) has been cultivated for hundreds of years. Flaxseed oil is made by cold pressing flax seeds that have been allowed to ripen, and then dried. 

Fun fact; flaxseed oil is also known as linseed oil. Yes, the thing that cricketers famously use to oil their bats! 

Flaxseed oil is rich in a particular type of Omega 3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, shortened to ALA. ALA is mostly found in plants, and is considered to be an essential fatty acid as it is not created in the body. Outside of flaxseeds, common sources of ALA include chia seeds, brussels sprouts, walnuts and hemp seeds. 

A good daily intake of ALA is considered to be between 1.1 - 1.6 grams. So when you consider that 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil contains around 7 grams of ALA, you can see why it is a popular plant-based source of omega 3!

However, one thing to be considered is that ALA is not biologically active, and needs to be converted into other types of fatty acid in the body - otherwise it is stored as energy. The two fatty acids which are converted by the body from ALA are Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the fatty acids more commonly found in fish.  However, the process of converting ALA into DHA and EPA is not particularly effective. Studies suggest that only 5% of ALA is converted into EPA, and less than 0.5% into DHA. 

However, there are a number of health benefits of taking flaxseed oil, including improving heart health, lowering blood pressure levels, treating gastrointestinal problems, and boosting HDL - that’s the good kind of cholesterol! It has also been shown to be effective at reducing LDL, which is the not-so-good kind of cholesterol. 

Flaxseed oil has also been shown to improve hydration and smoothness of the skin and, if you’re prone to sensitive skin, it has also been shown to help there too! 

Algae Oil - Time to Shine! 

There are around 40,000 species of algae on the planet, from kelp forests, to seaweeds all the way down to single celled microalgaes. Certain types of these microalgaes are rich in DHA and EPA. These are often grown specifically for their oil, which is rich in DHA and EPA. 

In the main, algae used for oil is not harvested from the sea, but grown sustainably in tanks, meaning that there is no disruption to marine ecosystems as there is with traditional fish oils. This environment also means that it is possible to manipulate the environment in which the algae grows, thereby increasing the amount of omega 3 fatty acids produced. This is achieved by manipulating factors such as temperature and UV exposure.

This oil is used in many different ways, and is common in supplementing infant formula, foods and even animal feed. In fact, algae is considered to be a primary source of omega 3 for most marine life, since fish cannot create it themselves. 

The main benefit of algae oil is that it contains DHA and EPA rather than ALA, which needs to be converted. It is also purer and more potent than other forms of omega 3 supplements and less likely to be contaminated with pollutants and heavy metals. Bonus. For example, our vegan Omega 3 liquid supplement is third party tested for heavy metals and other contaminants, making it cleaner and purer than other supplements. It is also more potent, thanks to being able to control the environment, more sustainable, and better for the environment. But then again, most plant-based supplements are less damaging to their environment than their animal product equivalents. 

On top of that, there are so many health benefits to using an omega 3 supplement, such as improving your brain, eye, and heart health and improving the levels of good fats in your blood, it’s no wonder more and more people are looking to clean, plant-based omega 3 supplements. 

Algae oil vs flaxseed oil: which is best?

The clearest distinction between algae oil and flaxseed oil is the type of omega 3 fatty acid that they provide. 

Whilst Flaxseed provides large amounts of ALA, the way that the body processes and converts this into other fatty acids to be used in the body appears to be inefficient. For example, you would need to eat half a kilo of flaxseed every day for your body to be able to make half a gram of DHA. By comparison, 2ml of Vivo Life’s liquid omega 3 supplement from algae provides 300mg of EPA and 600mg of DHA. 

However, it is worth continuing to eat plant-based foods rich in ALA such as flaxseeds and flaxseed oil because your body still requires a supply of ALA. Just because one converts into the others it doesn’t mean that they are interchangeable unfortunately 

In short then, omega 3 from algae is likely to be a cleaner, purer, more potent source of DHA and EPA than others, ensuring that you continue to eat foods rich in ALA like flaxseed is also important. It’s still about striking that balance with essential nutrients! 

Sources

Flaxseed Oil vs. Fish Oil: Which Is Better?

Extremely limited synthesis of long chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements

FLAXSEED: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews

ALGAL OIL: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews

Algae Oil: Nutrition, Benefits, and More

Effect of flaxseed oil and microalgae DHA on the production performance, fatty acids and total lipids of egg yolk and plasma in laying hens

Bioavailability and conversion of plant based sources of omega-3 fatty acids – a scoping review to update supplementation options for vegetarians and vegans

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids? Explained in Simple Terms

Omega-3 Fats in Vegan Diets: A Quick Primer