Algae oil has already been well-established as a potent vegan source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, for those who wish to avoid the use of fish oil.
Most readers will also be familiar with the link between intake of omega-3 fatty acids and brain health.
Do omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, derived from algae oil, also benefit the gut?
Despite being more environmentally friendly, sustainable, biologically safe, and just as beneficial – algae oil has not caught on in public consciousness to the same degree as fish oil.
Algae oil has all the same health benefits which are ascribed to fish oil. These include potent anti-inflammatory effects on the gut microbiota.
In the case of probiotics, prebiotics, and plant fiber – there is a wealth of research to support their role in gut health. Supplements of this nature are regularly consumed to diversify bacterial populations, increase ‘good’ gut bacteria, promote regularity, and reduce inflammation.
However, the impact of healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, like the DHA found in algae oil, is less clear. We’ll explore this in more detail!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids Positively Influence the Environment of the Gut
In several studies, omega-3 fatty acids were found to exert a positive effect on the gut, “reverting the microbiota composition” back from a state of dysbiosis (1). Gut dysbiosis is common among those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) or ulcerative colitis (UC).
More specific studies have looked at docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) derived specifically from algae oil, like the one we sell here at Earth & Elle.
The results are the same.
In one animal study, mice were induced with colitis, and then “treated” with 2 weeks of algae oil at 250 mg/kg/day or 500 mg/kg/day. Mice weigh around .01 kg, so these are extremely low doses of DHA, compared to what an adult would be taking. Yet, the results were extremely promising.
Any damage to the colon was significantly healed by the algae oil supplementation.
As well, algae oil (containing DHA) prevented pro-inflammatory cytokines. Shockingly, the oil also increased beneficial bacterial populations, while decreasing pathogenic populations of gut bacteria like Clostridium. This study demonstrated that algae oil, not fish oil, prevented the progress of ulcerative colitis in mice. Algae oil was therapeutic enough at low doses to decrease inflammation within the gut, repair the intestinal barrier, and promote healthy microbiota (2).
Comparable digestive disorders are believed to stem from similar sources. IBD, for example, is closely related to intestinal barrier dysfunction, autoimmune response, and gut microbiota dysbiosis – which could be related to pathogenic bacteria overgrowth in the gut from antibiotic use, medications like NSAIDs, or food poisoning (3).
Research also shows a clear relation between gut health and the amount of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) produced in the gut. Algae oil supplementation increased and stimulated the production of butyric acid. This is a huge deal because short-chain fatty acids like butyrate play an essential role in supporting the complete health of the digestive system (4).
Those with IBD or gut dysbiosis, including those with SIBO, are regularly found to have a decreased amount of short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) producing bacteria (5).
The levels among these patients are much lower than those in healthy individuals. A potential treatment option would then be increasing the intake of DHA through algae oil, with additional support from a butyrate supplement. Most people jump to supplement with probiotics, but this approach may be more effective in healing the gut.
Further evidence to support this comes from a study that looked at the effects of algae oil on gut dysbiosis caused by antibiotic treatment. A high dose of 500 mg (per kg, per day) restored balance by increasing the number of good gut bacteria without probiotic supplementation. It also reduced inflammation caused by cytokines interleukin 6 (6).
This suggests algae oil should be used alone (or in conjunction with) probiotics + butyrate after a course of antibiotics to help replenish good gut bacteria.
DHA and the gut-brain axis
DHA is important to brain and nervous system function, and this is well known.
DHA can help restore beneficial bacterial populations, repair the gut barrier + junctions, and improve conditions like IBD. This is less well-known.
Regardless of the source of the DHA, fish oil or algae oil, the beneficial results are demonstrably the same. This is reinforced through countless research papers published within the last 10 years.
There is no major biological difference, except for a lower risk of contamination when compared to fish oil.
There is a strong correlation between the gut and the brain, as we scraped the surface of in our article on antibiotics. We’ll touch on this a lot more in future blog posts.
Gut microbiota and gut dysfunction can have a potent effect on the functioning of the brain via the gut-brain axis. Emotional disorders like depression, anxiety, and stress have all been linked to dysbiosis within the gut.
Algae oil supplements may have a beneficial impact on behavioral and neurological disorders. Higher levels of DHA in the body have been associated with better gut bacteria diversity, while also corresponding to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in “socially isolated” mice.
The bacterial population of our guts clearly have an important, enormous effect on many aspects of our health. Antibiotics are the primary culprit causing dysbiosis and dysfunction, but poor diet, alcohol consumption, cigarettes, and insomnia can also impact the fragile balance of species that reside inside of us.
DHA and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from algae oil have a clear role in restoring gut function, maintaining bacterial balance of good vs. bad populations, and reducing inflammation. DHA from algae oil promotes short-chain fatty acid production and SCFA producing bacteria, all while lowering pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Microbiota and humans are a perfect example of a symbiotic relationship, and people should always keep the gut in mind when they think of improving their health. It really is the cornerstone of overall wellness and reducing risk factors of disease.