Sales of algae supps are on the rise, and given the range of health benefits they purport to offer, it's not difficult to see why. Studies claim that they fight the symptoms of coronavirus, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and help protect against stroke and heart disease. Those are some lofty claims, but we're not convinced, so along with experts in exercise science and nutrition we've evaluated algae's health claims.
Thanks to their antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects, algae supplements (powdered seaweed) can prevent lung inflammation, a major symptom of COVID. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, known to show improvements in cardio fitness.
The COVID stuff — at least in early research. Blue-green algae (known as ‘spirulina’) does have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that might reduce the severity of symptoms, says Kelly Pritchett, an associate professor of nutrition and exercise science at Central Washington University. But all we have are cell studies. We need human trials
for claims to hold water.
What’s, Um, Complicated?
Seaweed supps and depression. Some research has shown that people who take omega-3 improve their depressive symptoms; other studies show no benefit. Mental health is complex, after all, and nutritional fixes don’t get to the crux. ‘It’s important to seek medical care for depression,’ says Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian. ‘Supplements may play a part in treatment, but it depends on the situation.’
What’s Also Complicated?
The heart part. Early research shows that algae supplements appear to reduce triglycerides, total cholesterol and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, which may help fight against stroke and heart disease. But the effects vary depending on age, race, sex and dosage, says Pritchett, so it’s unclear if everyone will benefit. What is clear: eating food rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and cold water-harvested seaweed) is good for your heart.
Worth a Pop?
For COVID-19? No. Get vaccinated, and keep washing your hands. For depression? Seek professional support first. For your heart or cholesterol levels? Ask your doctor. If you don’t eat any fish, they may think algae supps are a smart way to top up on EPA and DHA fatty acids. Just make sure you’re buying from a trusted brand.