Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids which means our bodies are incapable of making them, hence, they must be provided for though the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are mad up of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are primarily found in fatty fish, such as salmon. Alternatively, ALA is found in flaxseed, walnuts, and soybeans. Typically, vegetarians depend on flax seed oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, flax oil only contains ALA and does not consist of EPA or DHA. Even though ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA, this conversion is extremely ineffective. In fact, only 5% of ALA is converted into EPA and only 0.5% of ALA can be converted to DHA. This is terrible news for vegetarians that depend on flax as their source of omega-3 fatty acids. The reason this process is inefficient is because the enzyme doing the conversion, delta-6-desaturase, is rate limiting. Delta-6-desaturase also competitively binds to omega-6 fatty acids, thus, making it less available to bind to ALA.

The good news is that algae oil is a very strong source of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids. How is algae oil a good source of omega-3 for vegetarians? Marine algae, such as zooplankton and phytoplankton are actually the primary source of DHA and EPA. The marine fish eat the algae and then store the omega-3’s in their fat, which is why fish oil has such a high amount of both DHA and EPA. DHA derived from algae is now commercially available and has similar health benefits as DHA derived from fish oil. Some algae are also high in EPA, ie. Nannochloropsis sp. and Spirulina, but, EPA-rich microalgae oil is still limited. DHA-microalgae oil is obviously a better source of DHA, compared to flax seed oil. This is because there are two more enzymatic conversions your body must perform to get to DHA from ALA.

Vegetarians with low levels of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, supplemented with 1 gram of algae derived DHA per day, and significantly elevated their levels of both DHA and EPA after eight weeks (Lipids 40 (8): 807-814). This is evidence that DHA derived from microalgae is a much more potent source of DHA and EPA compared to ALA derived from flax oil. So now that you know DHA from algae oil is an exceedingly better vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, does it have the same health benefits as fish oil?

The answer is yes. Several studies that have shown that eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid derived from fish oil both have cardiovascular benefits. Similarly, DHA from algae oil also has the same cardiovascular benefits. In one study, vegetarians that supplemented with 1 gram of algae oil a day, decreased their triglyceride levels by 23%, after eight weeks (The British Journal of Nutrition 95 (4): 779-786). Microalgae oil is such a great source of omega-3 fatty acids for all vegetarians.

These statements and/or products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not medical advice, if you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician.

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Rhotini writes for For more information on Algae Oil DHA and Fish Oil Weight Loss DHA