Omega 3 and 6 are examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids, both of which are needed in the human diet. They have counteracting effects, both of which are vital to good health. While omega 6 promotes inflammation and coagulation (important for wound healing, for example), omega 3 plays an anti-inflammatory and anticoagulant role. While getting a 1: 1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 through diet would be optimal, most of us today even have a ratio of 30: 1, which can cause inflammation as well as chronic diseases (e.g. heart disease, arthritis , Cancer, etc.). ). As a result of these skewed ratios, omega-3 is now a hot supplement on the market, with some pretty strong scientific evidence to show its effectiveness in reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Current recommendations for daily omega-3 are 250 mg DHA daily (up to 1000 mg in people with heart disease, for example), an amount that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by 36%! Given that current fishing practices are largely unsustainable, are our current main sources of omega-3s, which are either fish (2x per week) or fish oil, useful for entire populations? How do vegan options hold up against these sources of fish oil? Should algae be the next step towards a sustainable omega-3 source?
The three primary omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). In the marine omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA), algae are the first source of omega-3 fatty acids, which bioaccumulate up the marine food chain and give large marine fish with fatty, cold water the highest concentrations. ALA Omega-3 is the land-based Omega 3 and is found in nuts, seeds and many vegetables, with particularly high concentrations in chia, flax, walnuts and avocados. While ALA could potentially be an adequate source of omega-3s when it comes to an extremely low omega-6 diet, it may not be a viable source for most of us. In the human body, ALA needs to be converted to EPA and then to DHA in order to make the bioactive products. However, the conversion can be between 0.2 and 20%. Additionally, most studies suggest that a marine-based omega-3 is required to get any of the omega-3’s health benefits. This is a definite dilemma for vegans and people who want a sustainable source of omega-3s alike.
How untenable are current practices? In the past 60 years, marine fishing has developed seriously. While production was 19.3 million tons per year in the 1950s, that number rose to 163 million tons by 2009! Currently, around 70% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited or depleted, and around 90% of large predatory fish are extinct (e.g. tuna, shark, cod). Today’s fish stocks are clearly harvested faster than they can reproduce. It has been estimated that there will be a complete collapse of food fisheries worldwide by 2050 if current trends continue. While the primary omega-3 sources are from oily marine fish, should these sources even be recommended as fishing has an impact on the environment?
For me this answer should be no! We know that marine-based omega-3s (EPA and DHA) are the ones to look for. Why not bring it to the source with an algae alternative? Algae are the most common primary producers in the ocean and convert light and carbon dioxide into energy. They can grow quickly and easily on a large scale and be a very clean source of vegetarian omega-3 fatty acids that can actually benefit multiple industries (e.g. biodiesel, animal feed, natural health products, food products, cosmetics). The use of algae is not a new concept. It’s been used for things like vitamins, animal feed, cosmetics, and food additives for decades. Algae omega-3s seem to be the most obvious step towards sustainability for omega-3s and are already found in some standout vegan products, including Floras Udo plus DHA and Nutrasea’s vegan algae Omega 3. More and more algae are popping up every year -Omega-3 products on and with more research and consumer interest, there is no reason why algae cannot gain enough popularity to alleviate current pressures on marine ecosystems.
Would you like omega-3 products from algae to be successful? At this point, it’s all about support! Spread the word about algae alternatives and maybe try it yourself. With algae omega-3 products in their infancy, consumer interest and education are essential to ensuring that recommended omega-3 intakes are not limited to small populations, but is supported for the whole world!
- Adarme-Vega C, Lim D, Timmins M, Vernen F, Li Y, Schenk P. (2012) Microalgae Biofabriken: A Promising Approach to Sustainable Production of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. icrobial Cell Factories 11:96
- Lenihan-Geels G, Bischof K, Ferguson L. (2013) Alternative sources of omega-3 fats: can we find a sustainable substitute for fish? Nutrients 5: 1301-? 1315.
- Pereira H., Barreira L., Figuiredo F., Custodio L., Vizetto-Duarte V., Polo C., Resek E., Engelen A., Varela J. (2012) Polyunsaturated fatty acids of marine macroalgae: potential for nutritional and physiological pharmaceutical applications. Mar. Drugs 10: 1920-1920; 1935.
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2011) Review of the State of Global Marine Fisheries Resources. FAO Technical Paper 569: 334 for Fisheries and Aquaculture.
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