Omega-3 fatty acids play a significant role in overall health. Since omega-3 fatty acids are essential, they cannot be created within the human body and must be consumed through the diet. Omega-3’s provide an extensive amount of health benefits including lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels, improving eye health, brain development, reducing the risk of certain cancers and diabetes, and acting as an anti-inflammatory. The three types of omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in various nuts and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseeds, soybeans, and chia. EPA and DHA are found in cold water fatty fish, fish oil, krill oil, and algae oil. In the human body ALA is converted into EPA and DHA. This process is inefficient, which increases the chance of developing a deficiency in EPA and DHA.
For most of my life I have been against taking dietary supplements. My goal was to obtain all of my nutrients through my diet alone. After going vegan and eliminating cold water fatty fish from my diet, I started to investigate if it was possible for me to obtain enough Omega-3’s. To increase my intake of Omega-3’s, I started adding flaxseeds and chia seeds to my morning smoothies. After further research, I realized that this may not been sufficient due to the conversation rate of ALA to EPA and DHA being around 12%. This is when I decided to open my mind about the possibilities of supplementing EPA and DHA.
Choose the Right Supplement
Omega-3 supplements are usually found in grocery stores as fish oil. The problem with fish oil is that they are notorious for containing various harmful substances. Due to the pollution of our waterways, fish oils may contain organic pollutants, pesticides, and heavy metals. Since making fish oil requires actual fish, this only increases overfishing throughout the world.
Omega-3 supplements are also sold as algae based. Unfortunately most people don’t know this and still to this day I have never seen algae based omega-3 supplements in stores. But they are available online. The great thing about algae is that it’s the original source of omega-3’s. The cold water fatty fish that are high in omega-3’s obtain these fatty acids by either directly eating algae or by eating smaller fish that eat algae. So taking algae based omega-3’s is virtually cutting out the middle man. Algae based omega-3’s also don’t contain contaminates that fish oil has and it doesn’t negatively impact the environment.
Which Algae Supplement to Choose?
Now that I made the choice to start taking algae based omega-3 supplements, I had to figure out which one to try. After reading a variety of research articles, I found that taking 250 mg per day of EPA/DHA was recommended for optimal cardiovascular and brain health. While browsing through amazon.com, it seems that most omega-3 supplements are created as 500 mg tablets. I can’t really recommend a particular brand, but the one I bought is called Ovega-3. It’s a one a day soft gel tablet that is about $30 for a 2 month supply.
Potential Health Risks
Before I wrap up this blog, I want to mention a particular harmful ingredient that’s found in almost all algae based omega-3 supplements. This ingredient is called carrageenan. It is widely used in the food industry, for its gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties. Carrageenan is linked to inflammation and can lead to digestive problems and skin rashes. Currently the research on carrageenan is mixed, with some people suggesting it’s harmful and some suggesting that it’s not. I currently haven’t had any adverse effects from taking these supplements, but like any other supplement or drug, you should extensively research it for yourself or consult a physician especially if you have other health conditions.
- Ji, X. J., Ren, L. J., & Huang, H. (2015). Omega-3 biotechnology: a green and sustainable process for omega-3 fatty acids production. Frontiers in bioengineering and biotechnology, 3.
- Lane, K., Derbyshire, E., Li, W., & Brennan, C. (2014). Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the literature. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 54(5), 572-579.
By: Germaine Guy, RD, LDN