Algae Oil vs Fish Oil: What’s the Difference?

When I was in school, some teachers gave out sweets for exceptional work or interesting answers in class. One decided that he would go a step further and try to “feed our brains” - he gave us chewable fish oil tablets which were supposedly orange flavoured. Once you’d had one, you never asked for another - they were truly awful. 

Now I use omega-3 from algae oil, which has all the benefits of omega-3, with none of the fish. Which is great, because omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for some of the most important parts and processes in our bodies, such as maintaining our heart, brain and eye health, as well as promoting the health of our immune system and regulating inflammation responses. 

Taking an omega-3 supplement is one of the best ways to ensure that you are filling these requirements and giving your body the tools it needs. Fish oil supplements are possibly the most widely known and used omega-3 supplement, but what if you don’t eat fish? 

Algae oil is a plant-based alternative to fish oil, but does it hold the same benefits for the body as fish oil? This article examines the differences between the two and whether or not one is better! 

What is fish oil?

Natural fish oil is sourced from the oily tissues of certain fish such as herring and salmon, and can contain as much as 30% omega-3 fatty acids, with 70% being other fats. They may also include Vitamins A and D (Ikeda et al., 1995).

The fish oils used in supplementation are often refined. This process involves treating and purifying natural fish oil, and occasionally concentrating it. This process is beneficial because it helps to remove contaminants and heavy metals from the fish oil, and it also helps to increase the concentrations of DHA and EPA within the final product. Most of the fish oils on the market are refined in this way, and usually come in easy to swallow capsules. 

However, refined fish oil isn’t as bioavailable as natural fish oil, which means that we cannot absorb it as easily or make as much use of the resulting nutrients. When the refining process takes place many of the triglycerides (a type of fat) which is found in fish oil are converted into a substance called ethyl esters. These ethyl esters are less easily absorbed than triglycerides, and are more prone to oxidation and going rancid. (Sullivan Ritter et al., 2015) 

What is algae oil?

Microalgae is a potent source of DHA and EPA - the types of omega-3 which are the most beneficial to the human body. It’s not only beneficial to humans, though. Microalgae is where fish get their omega-3 too! 

Just like humans, fish cannot produce their own DHA and EPA. When fish ingest algae (or other fish which have previously consumed algae), they also consume the DHA and EPA the algae has produced. (Harwood, 2019)

Research has shown that the concentrations of DHA in algae oil are higher than those in fish oil, making it an excellent source of omega-3. One study examined algae oil in relation to salmon and found that not only does algae oil work in the same way as fish oil in the body, it also contains equivalent amounts of DHA to a portion of cooked salmon. (Arterburn et al., 2008)

Not only does it contain higher concentrations of DHA than fish oil, algae oil is also a more sustainable and environmentally friendly source of omega-3. The algae which is used in the supplement industry is grown in tanks, which means that no fishing practices are needed and that the omega-3 in your algae oil hasn’t ever come into contact with the pollutants and contaminants in the ocean. (Adarme-Vega et al., 2012)

Whilst the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish is dependent on species, algae oil can be manipulated by external factors such as temperature, oxygen and exposure to UV light, to increase the amount of omega-3 they yield. (Adarme-Vega et al., 2012)

This makes it a cleaner, purer and more potent form of omega-3 suitable for everyone! 

Is one better than the other? 

Both sources can be used in supplementation to provide omega-3 fatty acids to the body and feel their benefits. However, there are some other factors which determine which supplement might be better in other ways: 

  • Algae oil is a primary source of omega-3. Fish oil is a secondary source, because every fish gets their omega-3 from algae. Going to the source means a more potent form of omega-3 (Arterburn et al., 2008).
  • Algae oil is easier to digest (Ryan et al., 2009) - I think anyone who has ever tried a fish oil supplement knows how badly they can repeat on you throughout the day. Algae is also more bioavailable than many of the refined fish oils on the market, so your body can use more of the omega-3. Plus, most algae oils don’t have that fishy taste common in fish oils. 
  • Algae oil is more sustainable. Fish oil supplements contribute to overfishing, ocean pollution and the destruction of marine habitats. Algae is grown sustainably in tanks. 
  • Algae oil is cleaner. All fish, whether wild or farmed, come into contact with water pollution, microplastics, heavy metals and other contaminants. Algae does not, making it a cleaner source of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that many fish oils may contain more ingredients than they say they do, or they may not meet the dosage of omega-3 fatty acids that they’ve stated (Albert et al., 2015). 

That seems like a pretty clear win for algae oil, doesn’t it? 

If you want a sustainable, potent and clean source of omega-3, choosing an algae oil will give you all the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, without contributing to the loss of our marine habitats or putting yourself in danger of ingesting heavy metals and other potentially toxic substances. 

Vivo Life’s Vegan Liquid Omega-3 is just that - a 100% plant-based omega-3 supplement containing 900mg combined EPA and DHA from sustainably grown algae that has been third party tested for your peace of mind.

With all that in just 2ml of liquid (which tastes like lemon, not fish) there is no reason to even entertain the idea of fish oil. 


‌Ikeda, I., Sasaki, E., Yasunami, H., Nomiyama, S., Nakayama, M., Sugano, M., Imaizumi, K. and Yazawa, K. (1995). Digestion and lymphatic transport of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids given in the form of triacylglycerol, free acid and ethyl ester in rats. 

‌Sullivan Ritter, J.C., Budge, S.M., Jovica, F. and Reid, A.-J.M. (2015). Oxidation Rates of Triacylglycerol and Ethyl Ester Fish Oils. Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, 92(4), pp.561–569. doi:10.1007/s11746-015-2612-9.

Adarme-Vega, T., Lim, D.K.Y., Timmins, M., Vernen, F., Li, Y. and Schenk, P.M. (2012). Microalgal biofactories: a promising approach towards sustainable omega-3 fatty acid production. Microbial Cell Factories, [online] 11(1), p.96. doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-96.

Harwood, J.L. (2019). Algae: Critical Sources of Very Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids. Biomolecules, 9(11), p.708. doi:10.3390/biom9110708.

Arterburn, L.M., Oken, H.A., Bailey Hall, E., Hamersley, J., Kuratko, C.N. and Hoffman, J.P. (2008). Algal-Oil Capsules and Cooked Salmon: Nutritionally Equivalent Sources of Docosahexaenoic Acid. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, [online] 108(7), pp.1204–1209. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.020.

Ryan, A.S., Keske, M.A., Hoffman, J.P. and Nelson, E.B. (2009). Clinical overview of algal-docosahexaenoic acid: effects on triglyceride levels and other cardiovascular risk factors. American Journal of Therapeutics, [online] 16(2), pp.183–192. doi:10.1097/MJT.0b013e31817fe2be.

Albert, B.B., Derraik, J.G.B., Cameron-Smith, D., Hofman, P.L., Tumanov, S., Villas-Boas, S.G., Garg, M.L. and Cutfield, W.S. (2015). Fish oil supplements in New Zealand are highly oxidised and do not meet label content of n-3 PUFA. Scientific Reports, 5(1). doi:10.1038/srep07928.