The Algae Industry Magazine exclusive “Algae Medical Solutions” series examines algae compounds that provide therapeutic solutions for malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and other diseases. Our popular Algae101 blogger, Mark Edwards, has authored 12 books on algae solutions for food, feed, fertilizer and energy. He has focused considerable energy on algae-based therapeutics for diabetes, and this series extends that research to broader health solutions from algae compounds. Edwards summarizes the latest scientific and medical research and develops new models to improve the health of our 1 of 3 overweight or obese children and 1 in 2 overweight adults.

These major public health challenges affect Americans as well as our global neighbors. Over-consumption plagues developed countries and now obesity has passed under-nutrition as the most prevalent health threat. Over one billion people worldwide are overweight or obese. Algae contain numerous compounds that can fight obesity on two fronts: the urge to over-eat, and empty calories. Satiety and hidden hunger are two primary causes of obesity and diabetes and may be resolved with algae foods, nutraceuticals and medicines.

The series begins with “Secrets of Algae Therapeutic Solutions,” which dives into cellular metabolism to explain why algae medical solutions are superior to many compounds sourced, as they are today, from plants, animals or synthetic compounds.

Algae medical compounds will revolutionize medicines because these natural compounds can be produced faster, easier, cheaper and with higher quality than traditional medicines. Unlike many pharmaceuticals and medicines, algae compounds typically show no adverse side effects. Since algae serves society from the bottom of the food chain, algae medicines and foods are free from genetically engineered material, allergens, pesticides and gluten. Algae medical compounds will become the foundation for a new wave of functional foods that fight disease and improve health and vitality.

Algae medical solutions may soon eclipse the economic value of other algae technologies, including food, energy and pollution solutions. Algapreneurs will grow algae to produce a broad spectrum of nutraceutical, cosmaceutical, pharmaceutical, vaccine and advanced medical compounds that provide prevention and/or treatment for nearly every known disease.

Part 1: Secrets of Algae Therapeutic Solutions

Algae provide hundreds of active therapeutic compounds that benefit nearly every human and animal medical condition. This should be no surprise since plants and animals have depended on algae to sustain their growth, development and health for over 2 billion years.

All living cells evolved from algae. Animals have relied on algae for eons to provide the essential nutrients, vitamins and trace elements to support the healthy cellular metabolism required for an active life. Cellular metabolism evolved to take advantage of the nutrients and energy delivered by algae. Algae compounds support health at the cellular level by helping to regulate energy, neurological signaling, blood pressure and viral and bacterial threats. Systemic illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, digestion, heart, eye, skin or respiratory diseases would have terminated animal evolution eons before early hominoids appeared. Therefore, algae had to offer dietary nutrients that enabled health and vitality.

Algae micronutrients, antioxidants and trace elements facilitate hormone release; regulate body temperature and balance brain chemistry. Algae compounds facilitate healthy functioning of all the major systems, especially the brain, eyes, immunity and heart.

Cell size

Algae’s diminutive stature creates a big advantage. Algae are tiny – about five µ (microns). The period at the end of this sentence is about 20 µ. Small is beautiful for easy absorption and assimilation by the body. Algae’s tiny cell size allows consumers to receive nutrients that are immediately bioavailable.

Five µ algae cells

Five µ algae cells


Land plants, in contrast, must survive in challenging environments where most of the cells are specialized for structure and lack the nutrient density necessary for food. Typically, for land-based plants, only the seed (or fruit) offers food value. Plants must invest 90% of their energy in nonfood producing components including roots, stock, stems, leafs and seed coverings. The nutrients are more diluted and not as bioavailable, since they form a matrix with cellulosic compounds.

Nutrients in land plants are attached to larger cells that the body must break down through digestion. Depending on the food, as much as 80% of the nutrients stay locked into the biomass and pass right through the body. In the case of elephants, most the nutrients pass through the gut and create a poo pile containing over 95% of the original plant nutrients.

Algae’s second secret is nutralence – the tiny alga cell packs a full set of essential nutrients that are easily digested. Each cell grows and reproduces independently, creating significantly higher nutrient density than terrestrial crops.

A three-meter corn stalk, including roots, may weigh a kilogram. This huge biomass provides only 3 grams of protein stored as a fraction of the kernels on the cob. A kilogram of algae may contain 60% protein, or a yield of 600 grams of protein. Most of the cellulosic material land plants use for structure goes to waste in terms of food.

Cows provide a good model for nutrient absorption. Cows are ruminants, which means they have four stomachs to aid digestion. A cow’s digestive system evolved to eat grasses, not corn. However, feedlots fatten 650-pound heifers and steers with an additional 400 pounds before slaughter with a diet of corn. This 6-month corn diet adds fat, as meat marbling, but causes massive digestive and liver problems for the cow. Factory farms feed the cows a constant dose of antibiotics to allow the animals to survive long enough to reach slaughter weight.

A USDA team led by Fred Barrows has reported digestibility results; the percentage of each nutrient in feed that is bioavailable to fish. Fish have the same digestive problem with food grains as cows and must be fed antibiotics to survive. Barrows’ team completed a broad series of feeding trails and found the fish flourished on a partial algae diet. The fish digested nutrients from algae quickly, grew faster and exhibited higher survival rates. The fish meat was superior to grain fed fish in color, texture and taste. The algae-fed fish did not require antibiotics to sustain good health. The algae diet required less food input for weight gain and produced significantly less fecal waste, which means the fish were assimilating nutrients more efficiently.

Micronutrients include all the elements commonly found in plants, plus vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and trace elements. Algae may contain over twice the total number of micronutrients as land crops with two to five times the nutrient density. And algae often contain healthy antioxidants, such as omega-3 fatty acids, that are not found in terrestrial crops.

Algae’s secrets to health solutions include the following factors.

AttributeAlgae Compared with Terrestrial Crops
Cell sizeTiny, 2 to 5 microns.
BioavailabilitySmall cells are readily absorbed.
High nutralence
  Micronutrients availableMore total micronutrients.
  Unique micronutrientsMicronutrients available not found in terrestrial crops.
  Micronutrients densityMore micronutrients per bite.
DigestionAlgae compounds aid digestion.
Blood sugar releaseAlgae manage sugar release to the blood stream.


Algae cost benefits

In addition to the health advantages, algae offer economic benefits. Medical compounds grown today in plants and animals have three disadvantages: development time, growth time and compound density. A vaccine grown in cow’s milk may take a decade to develop. Cows start producing milk in two years, so production time is long. The target compound in milk is low – often less than 1% – which means farmers must produce tons of milk to make the vaccine.

Compounds produced in algae offer a development time of weeks rather than years. Growth time is days versus months. Compound density may be 5% or higher in dry weight algae, which means medicine production is faster and less expensive.

Algae prevent disease

Algae compounds prevent disease by providing the essential nutrients for sustained health and vitality, and contain high multiples of the nutrients that cause the major nutrient deficiencies globally. Algae contain several times more beta-carotene (provitamin A) than other foods – doctors and dietitians recommend algae powder as a source of beta-carotene in dietary supplements and functional foods. Algae are rich in the antioxidant vitamins C and E, in concentrations far higher than land plants. Vitamin C helps people avoid scurvy, while vitamin E moderates neurological problems due to poor nerve conduction and anemia due to oxidative damage to red blood cells.

Algae are a good source of all seven B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Algae are unique as a plant source of vitamin B12, and doctors and dieticians recommend it – particularly nori – as a dietary supplement for vegetarians who desire vitamin B12 from a natural, non-animal source.

Algae provide a mineral profile superior to that of land plants, milk, eggs or soybeans. Terrestrial foods, such as food grains, have minerals bound up in phytic acid complexes, limiting their bioavailability. These complexes cannot be absorbed into the blood stream and pass through the body. Studies show iron absorption, for example, significantly higher for algae as compared to rice.

Algae are also rich in iodine and selenium, critical trace elements that are highly variable in food supplies by geographic region. These minerals have been associated with endemic deficiency disorders throughout history. Algae concentrate these trace minerals; small amounts of algae (one tablespoon of dried algae) provide sufficient levels of these nutrients when introduced into the diet. Consumers may even extract vitamins and nutrients from non-digestible algae by chewing algae.

Algae have a high content of glutamic acid that stimulates taste with umami, (savory or hearty flavor), amplifying the desire to consume algae for its good taste.

Algae medical treatments

Algae compounds can restore healthy functioning to major organs and major body systems, and prevent or remediate nutrient deficiencies. Peer-reviewed scientific research provides algae-based medical solutions for the following health challenges:

DeficienciesMajor organsMajor systemsDiseases
VitaminsBrainCardiovascularBlood pressure
ElementsHeartEndocrineBleeding gums
DisordersSkin, hair, nailsCirculatoryCancers
AnxietyBloodNervousViral infection
PsychoticPancreasMuscularBacteria infection


Considering that land crops provide compounds from roughly 200,000 species, and algae grow compounds from possibly 10 million species, which source do you think offers the most potential for new advanced medical compounds?