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What is red algae?

red algae on the sand

Wondering what the red algae hype is all about?

We’ll set the record straight in our guide on all things red algae.

From what it is to the different benefits, find out everything you need to know below.

In this article, you’ll learn about:

  • What red algae is
  • What makes red algae red
  • Why red algae is used in skincare
  • What red algae is good for
  • 8 red algae benefits
  • The types of red algae supplements available
  • If you can eat red algae
  • Potential red algae side effects
  • If red algae is suitable for everyone

What is red algae? And what makes it red?

First things first, what actually is red algae?

In its most natural form, red algae is a type of phylum Rhodophyta which is made up of 6,000 other species.

Predominantly marine algae, it is most commonly found attached to other shore plants.1

But what makes it red? This is down to the phycobilin pigments - phycoerythrin and phycocyanin, which have a reddish hue.2  

Why is red algae used in skincare?

More recently, red algae has become a popular skincare ingredient, primarily because of its antioxidant properties.

It has also been shown to have antifungal and antibacterial activity, which may help with blemish-prone skin or fungal acne.

What is red algae good for?

So what is all the hype about? Red algae is actually good for a lot of different areas of health. These include:

  • The skin
  • Cholesterol levels
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Gut health
  • The immune system
  • Bone health

If any of these areas are applicable to you and your health needs, find out more about how red algae can be beneficial below.

8 red algae benefits

So, now you know what red algae is, what does it actually do? Read our top 8 benefits of red algae below.

  1. A source of antioxidants

As mentioned previously, one of the main benefits of red algae is its antioxidant properties.

The specific sources of antioxidants found in red algae include certain vitamins, polyphenols and polyunsaturated fatty acids.3

This has lead researchers to conclude that red algae could be used in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases, particularly human cancers.4

But more pharmacological research is needed in this area.

  1. May lower cholesterol

As well as showing antioxidant activity, red algae also contain certain non-protein amino acids that may help to lower cholesterol in the blood.5

In addition to this, researchers have found a specific mineral that can be extracted from red algae which may be used to treat hypertension, diabetes, and high blood cholesterol.6

  1. Supports skin health

One of the key ways that red algae supports the skin is through UV protection.

It contains mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs), sulfated polysaccharides, carotenoids, and polyphenols which provide protection against UVB and UVA rays.7

It is also said to contain both vitamin C and vitamin A, the former of which has been shown to be hydrating, treat inflammatory skin conditions and promote collagen production.8,9,10  

  1. May help with thyroid function

Since red algae contains iodine, in some instances this could help to support thyroid health.

For example, a deficiency in iodine can lead to hypothyroidism (or an underactive thyroid) which can cause weight gain, fatigue, constipation, depression and many other symptoms.11,12

But if you are worried about your thyroid health, you should always speak to a doctor before trying any supplements.

  1. Helps to regulate blood sugar levels

When researching the effect of seaweed supplementation, one study found that it influenced glycemic control, as well as potentially being effective in lowering blood lipids and improving antioxidant enzyme activities.

They, therefore, highlighted that more research should be done on whether it could be a potential form of treatment for people with type 2 diabetes.13

  1. Supports gut health

A 2021 study has found that the sugars in red seaweed like red algae have prebiotic qualities, which help to provide the gut with good bacteria and therefore experience less gastrointestinal discomfort like constipation and diarrhoea.14

  1. Protect the immune system

Another one of the best red algae health benefits is that it could help to protect the immune system.

Specifically, scientists have studied the benefits of marine algae polysaccharides, or MAPs for short, which have been shown to initiate an immune response in the body, as well as attacking cancer cells and blocking viral adhesion to cells.15

  1. Contributes to bone health

And last up in our benefits of red algae list is its contribution to bone health.

Studies on mice showed positive effects on bone density when supplemented with red marine algae, so the researchers concluded that more studies should be done on humans to find out whether they can be used to support bone health more widely.16

Summary

  • Red algae shows antioxidant activity due to its polyphenol, vitamin and polyunsaturated fatty acid contents.
  • The non-protein amino acids in red algae have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.
  • There are also benefits to the skin, thyroid function, blood sugar levels, gut health, bone health and the immune system.

The final say

Intrigued to experience some of these red algae benefits for yourself?

From supporting your immune system to your bone health, red algae may be able to help with certain aspects of your physical health.

But it is important to note that as red algae could interfere with certain medications and conditions, you must speak to your GP before trying any red algae products.

Handpicked content: Algae supplements: what are they?

You also asked...

Can we eat red algae?

Yes! Although not in a lot of food products, you can sometimes eat red algae.

And if you’re a fan of sushi, you’re in luck. Nori is a sea vegetable that is a form of red algae which is commonly used to wrap around sushi or added to soups and salads.

 

Is red algae suitable for everyone?

While red algae has a variety of different health benefits, there are a few people who should avoid it:

  • People taking warfarin or other blood-thinning medications as the vitamin K contents may interfere
  • People with an overactive thyroid due to the iodine contents
  • More research is needed on the effects on pregnant or breastfeeding women
 

What are the potential side effects of red algae?

While red algae supplements are safe when taking the recommended dosage and with the advice from a medical professional, there is a chance that it could cause some side effects. These include:

  • Goiter
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
 
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 27 September 2021

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