Omega 3 and 6 are examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids, both of which are needed in the human diet; they have opposite effects, both of which are vital to good health. While omega 6 promotes inflammation and clotting (important for wound healing, for example), omega 3 has 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 have a ratio as high as 30: 1, which is both inflammation and chronic disease (e.g.). As a result of these skewed ratios, omega-3 is now a hot diet supplement on the market with some pretty strong scientific evidence to prove its effectiveness in reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Current recommendations for daily omega-3 are 250 mg DHA daily (up to 1000 mg for people with heart disease, for example), an amount that has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by 36%! Given current largely unsustainable fishing practices, are our current main sources of omega-3s, which are either fish (2x per week) or fish oil, something that can be of benefit to 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, fatty cold water fish 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-3 in an extremely low omega-6 diet, unfortunately, it is not a viable source for most of us. In the human body, ALA must be converted to EPA and then DHA to make the bioactive products, but the conversion can be anywhere from 0.2-20%. Additionally, most studies suggest that marine-based omega-3s are required to get any of the health benefits of omega-3s. This is a definite dilemma for vegans and people who want a sustainable source of omega-3s alike.
How untenable are current practices? There have been some serious developments in marine fishing over the past 60 years. While production in the 1950s was 19.3 million tons per year, this figure 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 being harvested faster than they can reproduce. It has been estimated that global food fisheries will collapse completely by 2050 if current trends continue. Although the primary sources of omega-3s come from oily marine fish, given the impact of the environmental degradation that fishing brings, should these sources be recommended?
For me that answer should be no! We know that marine-based omega 3s (EPA and DHA) are the ones we need to look for. Why not with an algae alternative at the source? Algae are the most common primary producers in the ocean, converting light and carbon dioxide into energy. They can grow on a large scale quickly and easily and be a very clean source of vegetarian omega-3 that multiple industries can benefit from (e.g. biodiesel, animal feed, natural health products, groceries, 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 3 seems to be the most obvious step towards sustainability for Omega 3 and is already contained in some outstanding vegan products, including Floras Udo plus DHA and Nutrasea’s Vegan Algae Omega 3. More and more algae Omega 3 products are appearing every year, 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 to see the success of algae omega-3 products? At this point it’s all about support! Spread the word about algae alternatives and maybe consider trying some yourself. With Baby Algae Omega-3 Products, consumer interest and education will go a long way in helping them thrive to support recommended omega-3 intakes not just for small populations, but for the entire world!
- Adarme-Vega C, Lim D, Timmins M, Vernen F, Li Y, Schenk P. (2012) Microalgae biofactory: a promising approach to sustainable omega-3 fatty acid production. microbial cell factories 11:96
- Lenihan-Geels G, Bishop 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 in marine macroalgae: potential for nutritional and pharmaceutical applications. March Drugs 10: 1920-1935.
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (2011) Review of the State of Global Marine Fisheries Resources. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 569: 334.
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