Harvard meta-analysis supports benefits of algal DHA omega-3

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Atherosclerosis

Harvard meta-analysis supports benefits of algal DHA omega-3
Algae-derived docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation may boost levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and cut levels of triglycerides, says the first systematic review and meta-analysis of on lipid levels.

Scientists from Harvard and the Cleveland Clinic also report in the Journal of Nutrition​ that supplemental DHA is also associated with an increase in LDL cholesterol.

While LDL is seen by many as ‘bad’ cholesterol and that any increase is detrimental, the reviewers note that the data indicated an increase in the size of the particles.

“Because particle size, in addition to lipoprotein cholesterol content, may help predict atherogenic risk, the net effect of algal DHA supplementation on serum lipoproteins and lipids may be beneficial despite the increase in LDL-cholesterol,”​ they wrote.

“The 8% increase in LDL-C and 5% increase in HDL-C we observed with algal oil is similar to that observed with 4 grams per day of purified DHA, the latter which was also associated with a transition to larger, possibly less-atherogenic LDL particles.”


The meta-analysis confirms what the original studies demonstrated: DHA-rich algal oil confers cardiovascular benefits, said Harry Rice, PhD, VP of scientific and regulatory affairs for GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3).

In an email to NutraIngredients-USA, Dr Rice added: “This is in line with other studies using long-chain omega-3 rich oils. GOED supports the use of long-chain omega-3 oils, inclusive of DHA alone, EPA alone and EPA & DHA combined.”

Norman Salem Jr., Corporate Scientist for Nutritional Lipids, told this website that the review demonstrates that algal DHA helps mitigate cardiovascular (CVD) risk factors such as lowered triglyceride and increased high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

"In addition, it appears that the small increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is associated with a rise in particle size, which is thought to indicate a shift towards a less atherogenic profile.

"Other related studies have found algal DHA plays a role in reducing blood pressure, heart rate, platelet aggregation, vascular constriction and the production of inflammatory mediators such as cytokines,"​ added Salem, Jr.

Review details

Led by Adam Bernstein, the scientists identified 11 randomized, controlled trials that met the rigorous criteria for inclusion; all of these reports included only healthy individuals free of coronary artery disease.

Results of the meta-analysis showed that consumption of about 1.7 grams per day of algal DHA was associated with a 15% reduction in triglyceride levels, a 5% increase in HDL cholesterol, and an 8% increase in LDL-cholesterol.

“We also note that two earlier meta-analyses of fish oil supplementation reported increase in LDL similar to those we observed in this study with algal oil,”​ wrote Dr Bernstein and his co-workers.

“The effect of algal oil supplementation on overall cardiovascular risk must also consider its effect on other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure, platelet aggregation, and inflammation.”


“High-dose algal oil supplementation, as with fish oil supplementation, should be done under a physician’s supervision to monitor for side effects, adverse reactions, and interactions with other medications,”​ they added.

“To approximate 200 mg/d of DHA, algal oil supplementation at present may cost three times as much as fish oil supplementation.”

Source: Journal of Nutrition
Volume 142, Pages 99-104
“A meta-analysis shows that docosahexaenoic acid from algal oil reduces serum triglycerides and increases HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in persons without coronary heart disease”
Authors: A.M. Bernstein, E.L. Ding, W.C. Willett, E.B. Rimm

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1 comment

plant-derived fatty acids

Posted by v. olenius,

glad to see that they are studying effects of algae derived omega 3s. i work in a research lab that studies fatty acid levels in the serum of various human populations...and the PI is focused on fish-based diets as an ideal diet...so as a vegan and someone who is also concerned with over-fishing, it's refreshing to see a harvard study on plant-derived fatty acids. hope to see similar ones in the future.

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