Microalgae: a small ingredient with big potential to boost cognition

By Annabel Kartal-Allen | Published: 10-Apr-2024

A novel study has discovered the benefits of fucoxanthin supplementation on cognition and oxidative stress in murine models

Cognition is an area of development in the nutraceutical industry that has timeless potential; consumers continue to search for the best tools to help them get through the slog of the 9 to 5, study for that impossible exam or just to feel refreshed and “switched on” during the day.

Thousands of products exist on the market from a plethora of natural and synthetic sources, which is why so many companies are looking into unchartered territory to find the next big thing; Microphyt believes that microalgae could be the answer.

As the presence of ingredients from algal sources begins to increase in the nutraceutical industry, a stream of clinical studies highlights the benefits of supplementation with these water-loving protists. Regularly fortifying the diet with microalgae has been proven to benefit users in multiple ways, including cognition, muscle endurance and overall mood.

Microphyt believes in the power of microalgae and, because of this, wanted to test how Phaeodactylum tricornutum (PT) can influence cognition and overall brain health when taken daily. To find out more about the study and its implications for the industry, Annabel Kartal-Allen spoke to Dr Rémi Pradelles, Chief Scientific Officer of Microphyt.


The study

This study was part of a series of seven preclinical trials conducted by Microphyt that aimed to determine PT’s efficacy in various contexts. Dr Pradelles comments: “We wanted to determine if BrainPhyt is beneficial in terms of supporting cognitive health, whilst also ascertaining the mechanisms of action that lead to these positive impacts. A primary focus in this study was establishing if PT supplementation could help people experiencing symptoms of ageing … and therefore whether the ingredient could be useful for an older demographic. BrainPhyt is a PT extract standardised to 2% fucoxanthin, a carotenoid and potent antioxidant.”

“In our study, published in Marine Drugs, researchers employed a validated mouse model to study the effects of BrainPhyt on the ageing brain. The parameters measured were cognitive function, oxidative stress and inflammation. D-galactose exposure was used to accelerate ageing in the mouse brain by inducing oxidative stress, inflammation and neurochemical changes.”

The 51-day study randomised 72 mice into three groups: a control, a negative control and four BrainPhyt groups, each receiving different human equivalent doses. The control group was injected with saline and the other groups received D-galactose injections 5 days per week.

Dr Rémi Pradelles, Chief Scientific Officer of Microphyt

Dr Rémi Pradelles, Chief Scientific Officer of Microphyt

The mice were put through a series of tests to evaluate their spatial cognitive function, short and long-term memory, as well as long-term learning after supplementation, with impairments induced in some groups via chronic D-galactose exposure.

Spatial cognitive function was evaluated using the Y-maze test. By quantifying spontaneous alternation behaviour (the natural tendency of rodents to alternate between maze arms), researchers can assess spatial memory and cognitive flexibility. This provides insights into the impact of D-galactose intoxication on spatial cognition and memory processes.

To determine long-term learning and memory function, a 5-day Morris water maze test was done. Mice placed in a water maze must swim to find a platform that allows them to exit. As the test is repeated, the mice learn through visual cues the location of the platform. Researchers measure how long it takes the animals to find the platform during training sessions (swim latency) and how accurately they remember it in future sessions.

Short-term learning and memory function was measured with a passive avoidance test. Mice are placed in a box with two compartments: one brightly lit and the other dark. When the animal crosses over to the dark compartment, it receives a mildly negative stimulus, such as a loud noise. Repeating the test enables scientists to measure the time it takes for the mice to enter the dark compartment, which indicates better memory retention.

Tests consistently demonstrated that BrainPhyt provided significant protection against memory decline and the behavioural issues caused by D-galactose.

Who is Microphyt?

Microphyt is an ingredients developer that focuses on harnessing the natural power of microalgae, a somewhat untapped market in the health and nutraceutical industry. The company places a significant weight on sustainability in its processes and wishes to create ingredients that are great for both users and the planet. 


The results

Dr Pradelles elaborates on the findings of the trial: “These tests consistently demonstrated that BrainPhyt provided significant protection against memory decline and the behavioural issues caused by D-galactose. Higher doses of BrainPhyt not only mitigated but completely reversed the D-galactose-induced cognitive decline, with the response being dose dependent.”1

BrainPhyt demonstrated positive effects ... spatial working memory and both long and short-term memory compared with the untreated group

“Biochemical analyses further supported the study results. The BrainPhyt groups had significantly reduced inflammatory markers, including TNF-α and IL-6. In addition, positive effects were observed on markers of oxidative stress, including brain and plasma levels of lipid peroxidation.”1

“BrainPhyt demonstrated positive effects on several aspects of cognitive function, including spatial working memory and both long and short-term memory compared with the untreated group following exposure to brain age-accelerating D-galactose.”1

The neuroprotective properties of BrainPhyt are underscored by significant reductions in both oxidative stress and inflammation.2 Fucoxanthin is a remarkable antioxidant and has the advantage against other similar molecules owing to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier. In vitro studies demonstrate that fucoxanthin promotes neurite outgrowth activity, highlighting its potential to foster neural growth.2 These neuroprotective benefits play an important role in maintaining brain health and cognitive function.”


What else can it do?

As well as its most recent cognitive study, Microphyt has explored other areas in which PT supplementation can benefit consumer health, such as its impact on metabolic wellness. Another application of this proprietary extract owned by Microphyt, PhaeOptim, supports metabolic wellness. 

Dr Pradelles explains: “Microalgae can also help to support an active lifestyle, which is a vital element of healthy weight management. A double-blinded, placebo-controlled and randomised clinical study shows that women following a supervised exercise and diet plan and taking 220 mg/day of PhaeOptim burned more fat during and after exercise, whilst also enhancing their aerobic capacity by 2.5 times and reducing their resting heart rate.”3

“PT also contains other nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to brain health and function, so multiple components will likely be exhibiting the positive effects we’ve seen in clinical trials.”


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An ingredient for everybody?

With the benefits of microalgae supplementation being demonstrated across a variety of demographics in a range of contexts, the ingredient type could significantly impact the industry by offering solutions for most age groups and health applications. Going into the future, Microphyt hopes to continue the pursuit of knowledge in this field: “Another clinical study with BrainPhyt is currently pending publication. From there, we plan to continue our research into the benefits of PT, as well as other microalgal strains for human health and wellness,” Dr Pradelles concludes.



  1. A Standardized Extract of Microalgae Phaeodactylum tricornutum (Mi136) Inhibit D-Gal Induced Cognitive Dysfunction in Mice. Marine Drugs 2024, 22(3), 99.
  2. In vitro studies of the neuroprotective activities of astaxanthin and fucoxanthin against amyloid beta (Aβ1-42) toxicity and aggregation. Neurochemistry International, 2019 Mar:124:215-224.
  3. Effects of Supplementation with Microalgae Extract from Phaeodactylum tricornutum (Mi136) to Support Benefits from a Weight Management Intervention in Overweight Women. Nutrients 2024, 16(7), 990; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu16070990

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