Omega-3 from plants, is it still effective?April 10, 2023
Love the benefits of omega-3 but not the source?
The list of benefits of omega-3 is lengthy, but the sources of omega-3 are a rather short list. Add to that, one of the most well-known sources of omega-3 also happens to be unsustainable, with a high potential for impurities like heavy metals and pesticides. What’s a health and sustainability-minded person to do?
Marine microalgae omega-3 EPA DHA
Enter marine microalgae, almost too good to be true for the health and sustainability-conscious crowd who have felt frankly uncomfortable about using fish oils as their omega-3 source for a number of reasons.
Marine microalgae is a plant source of omega-3 that grows quickly, is easily and sustainably harvested, is high in both EPA and DHA, and is actually where oily fish like salmon and sardines get their omega-3 fatty acids from.1 Talk about skipping the middleman!
Why is omega-3 fat so important?
Omega-3 contains two essential fatty acids - eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - two fats that cannot be made by the body and therefore need to be replaced in the diet every day. Omega-3 fats are a key part of healthy cell membranes, making them essential for every major function in the body.2
The problem is that despite our best dietary intentions, omega-3 fats are harder to come by, particularly because of modern practices both in farming and food production.3
Is algae omega-3 as good as fish oil?
Evidence shows that the EPA portion of marine microalgae is better utilised by the cells than its fish oil counterpart. As for DHA? It’s absorbed at the same rate as the DHA from fish oil.4
So, with equal absorption of DHA and better absorption of EPA, there’s truly no reason to default to fish oil for your omega-3 intake.
Algae omega-3 benefits
Whether you’re a full-time vegan, enthusiastic about a more plant-rich diet, and/or sustainability is at the core of all that you do, omega-3 sourced from marine microalgae hits all the marks.
Omega-3 fats work tirelessly to ensure that your cells are functioning, inflammation is kept at bay, your brain is firing on all cylinders, and your joints are pain-free.
Aiming for between 125-500mg of EPA and 250-1000mg of DHA daily will provide the greatest benefits - from general health to reducing inflammation and supporting brain, heart and eye health.
What about other sources of vegan omega-3?
Omega-3s from plant sources come in the form of a fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA, which is found in foods such as chia seeds, walnuts, flax seeds and tofu, has its own benefits, including promoting heart health and fighting free radicals.
Many people eat ALA plant sources thinking that they will also be getting an adequate intake of EPA and DHA. When it comes to omega-3 fats, the issue with ALA is that although it does convert to EPA and DHA, the conversion rate is extremely low (8% for EPA and 0-4% for DHA).5
Even if you’re eating large quantities of ALA-rich plant foods (which you definitely should for their own benefits) unfortunately that conversion to omega-3 EPA and DHA just won’t be adequate. While it’s important to get plenty of ALA in the diet, think of it as completely different to omega-3 EPA and DHA.
When even omega-3-rich fish are supplementing their diets with marine microalgae, maybe it’s time we all started doing the same.
To learn more about the amazing benefits of omega-3 EPA and DHA, check out our omega-3 evidence library.
- Santigosa, E., Brambilla, F. & Milanese, L. (2021). Microalgae oil as an effective alternative source of EPA and DHA for gilthead seabream (Sparus aurata) aquaculture. Animals (Basel), 11(4):971. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8065835/
- Harvard Health. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution. Accessed February 2023 from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/
- Simopoulos, A.P. (2013). Dietary omega-4 fatty acid deficiency and high fructose intake in the development of metabolic syndrome brain, metabolic abnormalities, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Nutrients, 5(8):2901-2923. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3775234/
- Kagan, M.L., West, A.L., Zante, C. & Calder, P.C. (2013). Acute appearance of fatty acids in human plasma - a comparative study between polar-lipid rich oil from the microalgae Nannochloropsis oculata and krill oil in healthy young males. Lipids in Health and Disease, 12(102). https://lipidworld.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1476-511X-12-102
- Linus Pauling Institute. Essential Fatty Acids. Reviewed June 2019, accessed February 2023 from https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/other-nutrients/essential-fatty-acids#:~:text=Studies%20of%20ALA%20metabolism%20in,converted%20to%20DHA%20(7).