Key Concepts

  • Omega-3 Fats are essential to our health and must be obtained by diet or supplement
  • ALA – Plant Source
  • EPA and DHA – Animal/fish/algal source
  • ALA is poorly converted to EPA and DHA – EPA and DHA play crucial roles in our body
  • Vegans/Vegetarians can supplement with an Algal Oil Omega-3 Supplement
  • Vital Choice Wild Seafood and Organics – low-mercury, sustainably-harvested fish and fish products
  • Krill Oil
  • Carlson’s Fish Oil

ALA v. EPA v. DHA

Omega-3s are an essential fatty acids and must be consumed regularly. Dietary sources come from nuts, seeds, cold water fish, eggs, wild game, and algae in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA comes from plant sources and EPA and DHA from animal and algal sources. Humans have the ability to convert ALA to EPA and DHA; however, the conversion rate tends to be low across the board: in healthy young men, studies have shown that about 8% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 0-4% to DHA; in healthy young women, about 21% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 9% to DHA.3 Because of the health benefits associated with adequate EPA and DHA consumption such as inflammation reduction, proper anticoagulation, and prevention of peripheral artery disease and major coronary events, their regular consumption appears justified.28

Choosing Sources of EPA and DHA

Therefore, in addition to consuming foods which contain ALA, consuming those with DHA and EPA is likely a good choice as well. Unfortunately, a major source of DHA and EPA, cold-water fish, can contain high levels of mercury.29 Wild caught fish have been shown to contain less mercury than farm-raised fish and have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Companies such as Vital Choice Wild Seafood company have wild-caught fish sourced from Alaska and the northwest Pacific which tend to have lower levels of contamination than other areas. Additionally, or instead, a supplement of either fish oil or krill oil can be utilized. Again, it is important to make sure that the supplements are not contributing to the toxic load of the body, so buying from an independently-certified brand by agencies such as The International Fish Oil Standards Program (IFOS) or the International Krill Oil Standards (IKOS) organization is wise. Krill oil contains an antioxidant called astaxanthin and has been shown to be more bioavailable than fish oil although both supplements confer similar benefits.30 Because krill can be obtained more sustainability and krill oil appears to have more benefits than fish oil, I would recommend it over fish oil.

Algal Oil – An Alternative for Vegetarians & Vegans

For vegetarians, vegans, and those concerned with the sustainability of our planet, check out with algal oil. Algal-oil capsules have been shown to a nutritionally-equivalent source to cooked salmon; after two weeks of 600 mg of DHA supplementation per day of algal oil, DHA levels increased by approximately 80 percent in plasma phospholipids and by approximately 25 percent in erythrocytes in participants. 31 Additionally, DHA can be retroconverted to EPA. A rat and human study which utilized microalgae as the DHA source showed that retroconversion of DHA to EPA was 7.4-13.8% with no significant difference between omnivores and vegetarians, indicating DHA supplementation as a potential alternative source of DHA and EPA.32

It has been difficult finding research on the quality of algal supplements. They can be processed mechanically or chemically, the chemicals including hexane, benzene, and other potential carcinogens.33 34. Be wary of this and look for chemical-free or hexane-free brands.

Eggs

Furthermore, vegetarians can consume eggs. Pasture-raised eggs have been shown to have twice the total omega-3 fatty acids of eggs produced from commercial hens.35 I would therefore recommend pasture eggs over conventional. In terms of dosage, the 2010 Guidelines for Americans recommends two 4-ounce servings of seafood per week to provide an average of 250 mg per day of EPA and DHA.36 There do not appear to be set guidelines regarding the consumption of ALA, although 1.5 grams per day has been shown to lower the risk of sudden cardiac death.37 To determine an individuals need for omega-3 supplementation or response to increased consumption of omega-3 rich foods or supplements, a blood test can be utilized.38 39 This is a more precise way to determine the consumption and supplementation required on an individual basis. Omega-3 supplements are likely to be best tolerated and absorbed if taken with food.

Conclusion

One of my goals in life is to not harm anything… I guess thats a good way of putting it lol. I don’t want to eat fish or promote its consumption. I provided an algal oil supplement link but I have still yet to find one that meets my rigorous standards. The supplement I provided has a really low concentration of EPA/DHA and isn’t going to be as well absorbed as fish oil. Its therefore far more expensive and perhaps lower quality.

I think algal will be my go-to omega-3 supplement in time once the manufacturing process gets better. This supplement I provided was the only one I found without carrageenan which has been linked to adverse health consequences (i.e. inflammation, glucose intolerance, and impaired insulin action)^40. I’m sure the one I provided is fine but I think in terms of quality the krill and fish oils are actually better. But, you must kill a fish to eat a fish (or swallow its precious oils). Maybe its not so bad… as Curt Cobain said, “It’s okay to eat fish cuz they don’t have any feelings…”

 

References

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*There are more references here than what it used in the article. This article was extracted from a longer piece I wrote for a school assignment. Please bear with the extra references. Thank you :-).

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