Oceans Alive Marine Phytoplankton is the latest algae sourced health supplement. It follows the great (and continuing) popularity of similar products such as spirulina and chlorella, both of which spearheaded public interest in the health benefits of phytoplankton. It has its differences from these products of course – and I’ll get to those – but it has claims such as ‘superfood’ and ‘powerful antioxidant’, which we (sadly) see on many pseudo-health products. As people (hopefully) get more wise to marketing buzz words it can be difficult to understand what this product is, and if it does any good for your health. So in this article we will have a good look at Oceans Alive Marine Phytoplankton, and see how it stacks up against similar, and more familiar phytoplankton products.
What is in Oceans Alive Marine Phytoplankton?
It was surprisingly difficult to get a definitive answer to this, but after some time I can say with a high degree of confidence that it is a type of phytoplankton called Nannochloropsis. Or more specifically, 2 strains of Nannochloropsis (one of which is proprietary to Oceans Alive). They also add sea minerals to their product too. The ingredients list is quite small (when you can find it), which is always nice to see.
Oceans Alive vs other plankton
Although 2 strains of Nannochloropsis are included in the Oceans Alive product, we can assume they are relatively similar in terms of nutritional content. In most literature various strains of Nannochloropsis are studied together, which gives a good all round picture of their contents/ benefits. So for the purposes of this article, it is quite safe to assume they are similar. Unsurprisingly, Nannochloropsis contains a very broad spectrum of nutrients, from minerals to fatty acids, which is typical of phytoplankton.
Below you can see a table of how Nannochloropsis stacks up to chlorella in terms of mineral content. There obviously will be some natural variation in both, but it gives a good picture of the potency of the phytoplankton.
|Nutrient||Oceans Alive content/100g dry weight) (% RDA)||Chlorella|
|Calcium||972mg (138%)||221mg (32%)|
|Potassium||533mg (15%)||1360mg (39%)|
|Magnesium||316mg (105%)||315mg (105%)|
|Zinc||103mg (1084%)||71mg (747%)|
|Iron||136mg (1511%)||130mg (1444%)|
For the minerals tested, they are pretty similar. There isn’t anything to make a song and dance about for either product. Both are good, but neither stands out from the other. The additional sea minerals that Oceans Alive add to their supplement may increase the overall concentration of some minerals.
Like other types of phytoplankton, Nannochloropsis contains a range of vitamins including vitamin C, vitamin A (as beta-carotene), B vitamins, and vitamin E. Nannochloropsis doesn’t contain any vitamin D, but this is common in phytoplankton.
The vitamin content in Nannochloropsis is similar to other phytoplankton, and some are found in quite reasonable quantities. It will contain up to 3mg/g (8% RDA) of vitamin C and 0.29mg/g (6% RDA) of vitamin E. These values are all quite similar to other types of phytoplankton4, and so there is little that makes Nannochloropsis stand out. The vitamin content is nutritionally significant, just nothing particularly special in terms of phytoplankton.
Nannochloropsis does beat all other algaes, including chlorella and spirulina, when it comes to omega-3 content. Nannochloropsis comprises of up to 40% omega-3 fatty acids, the most abundant being EPA5. Tests on rats have show that supplementation with this algae can raise blood EPA levels, which may mean it has cardioprotective properties.
Sadly, this is a grey area, not only for Nannochloropsis, but all phytoplankton. I can say with some confidence that these phytoplankton will contain a variety of polyphenols, and there is a very good chance that they will be quite highly concentrated. Polyphenols are a large group of non-essential nutrients found in plants that have demonstrated a number of health benefits in clinical trials. They are what give green tea its health benefits, and are often responsible for the pigments of fruits such as berries. As they are non-essential (and also quite complex), they tend not to attract as much attention as essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. However, they have demonstrated cardioprotective, antioxidant, anti-cancer and even prebiotic properties6,7. Although they are non-essential, they have great significance for health.
Phytoplankton like those found in Oceans Alive will be highly concentrated in a variety of polyphenols. Which ones they contain, and in what concentration isn’t known, but it is likely that any health benefits attributed to these phytoplankton will largely be from the polyphenols they contain. It is possible that Nannochloropsis contains a higher concentration or some unique polyphenol that isn’t found in other phytoplankton, but we don’t know.
Oceans Alive claim that their product has an enhanced nutritional profile due to their growing technique, which is altogether possible, although equally, it may be marketing. Growing phytoplankton in optimal environments can improve the nutritional profile though. They also claim that the nutrients are more bioavailable and natural because the phytoplankton cells do not undergo any kind of extraction or processing, and are simply stabilised in a mineral solution. Other algaes, like spirulina will be freeze dried and powdered to increase shelf life and make easier to take.
Again, it may be true that Oceans Alive’s delivery system is superior to powder forms, but we cannot say for sure. It certainly is a novel, and more natural way to ingest phytoplankton though.
This lack of information is not a criticism of Oceans Alive, and merely an observation. Finding out if Oceans Alive actually does have a superior nutritional profile and delivery system to others isn’t something that can easily be done. It would require quite a lot of research, which costs money, and the only company which would be interested in doing it would be Oceans Alive, who would have a conflict of interest that would taint any results. It is a catch 22.
Overall, it is an interesting product which has lots of mystery surrounding it. There is nothing to say that it is significantly different from other marine algae in terms of vitamins and minerals, although it does contain more omega-3s. This of course isn’t to say it isn’t rich in other nutrients – it is, but only on the same level as other algaes, as far as I can tell. It is possible that the way Oceans Alive grown and process their product makes its nutrients more bioavailable, but exactly how much differences this makes is difficult to determine.
I’d have thought that any significant difference in health benefits between Nannochloropsis and other phytoplankton will come from any polyphenol difference, if indeed there is one.
- Unknown author. Chlorella’s Nutritional Analysis. Available: http://www.naturalways.com/chlorella-nutritional-analysis.htm. Last accessed 5/7/17.
- Abeille d’Or. Chlorealla – The most exciting nutritional discover on planet Earth. Available: http://www.terapiaclark.es/Docs/free_chlorella_report.pdf. Last accessed 5/7/17.
- H. Beheshtipour. (2013). Supplementation of Spirulina platensis and Chlorella vulgaris Algae into Probiotic Fermented Milks. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 12 (2), 144-154.
- M.R. Brown. (1999). The vitamin content of microalgae used in aquaculture. Journal of Applied Phycology. 11 (3), 247-255.
- Megan Kent. (2015). Nutritional Evaluation of Australian Microalgae as Potential Human Health Supplements. PLOS. (2).
- Yue Zhou. (2016). Natural Polyphenols for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer. Nutrients. 8 (8), 515.
- Kanti Bhooshan Pandey. (2009). Plant polyphenols as dietary antioxidants in human health and disease. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2 (5), 270-278.
Image courtesy of NOAA MESA Project