Vegan Omega 3 Supplements

omega 3 for vegansOmega-3 fatty acids are essential anti-inflammatory nutrients with wide therapeutic application, but they are notoriously tricky to get in the diet.

Eat more fish” has been the catch-cry of nutritionists everywhere, but with rising awareness of sketchy fishing practices and contamination, fish may not be the best option. So where can we get our healthy fats?

The answer is simple.

Eat what the fish eat: Algae omegas.


What Exactly is an Omega-3?

Omega-3 is an umbrella term for a collection of polyunsaturated fatty acids that have a double carbon bond at the third carbon from the omega end of the carbon chain – it’s “omega minus 3” that gives it the name “omega-3”.

Human physiology utilises three types of omega-3 fatty acids:

  1. a-Linoleic acid (ALA)
  2. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  3. Docosahexanaenoic acid (DHA)

EPA and DHA are the more biologically active, anti-inflammatory fats. They have been shown to:

  • Protect against cardiovascular disease
  • Improve sports performance and recovery
  • Reduce the risk of cancers including prostate cancer and colorectal cancers
  • Reduce inflammation throughout the body
  • Balance hormones and improve fertility
  • Support brain function
  • Improve eye health and can improve some vision issues
  • Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
  • Protect against allergies and asthma
  • Improve symptoms of depression and anxiety [5] [10]

The most popular source of EPA and DHA has been fish or supplemental fish oil (we’ll talk about the health risks of these sources in a moment!).

Most plants contain some amount of ALA, and this omega-3 fat is particularly concentrated in flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds.

ALA is converted in the human body to EPA and DHA through a series of not-so-efficient metabolic reactions. Human conversion of ALA to EPA is estimated to be between 8% and 20%, and to DHA is 1% to 9%. It gets even more complicated – if you have a diet rich in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (e.g. from animal sources), then the conversion is even lower [6].

Vegan struggle – if you need to take high doses of EPA and DHA omega-3s, it can be very tricky to get it from ALA alone.

But there’s good news, especially for vegetarians and vegans.

It’s a myth that EPA and DHA are only found in animal sources. There are two major plant-based sources of these omega-3 fats – sea vegetables and algae. Algal oil or algae omegas are derived from algae that grows in a marine environment, which provides a concentration of EPA and DHA as strong as fish oil. This is the same algae that fish eat to receive their omega-3s – by taking algal oil, you’re basically cutting out the middle man (or middle fish, really).

Bonus – no fishy aftertaste!


Algae Omegas

Why Algae Omegas and  Not Fish Oil for Non-Vegans?

Fish oil has been the standard therapeutic supplement to support omega-3 levels in the body, but people are looking elsewhere for their fatty acid hit for four main reasons:

Researched Risks

The oceans are not the crystal clear, unpolluted places they once were. Heavy metals, toxic chemicals and PBCs are rife in the waters and these contaminate the fish that are harvested for fish oil. Carcinogenic compounds are stored in the fatty tissue of fish – this tissue is, quite literally, fish oil. Research says that the benefits of omega-3 from fish outweighs the cancer risk, but why not negate the risk all together and get your omegas from a carcinogen-free source like algae? [3]

Algae oil is produced in tightly controlled fermentation facilities that never come in contact with carcinogens, toxins or pollutants from the ocean [1].

  • Studies have also shown that people with type-2 diabetes mellitus or impaired glucose tolerance should use caution when taking fish oil supplements, while no negative effects have been observed from taking algae omegas [4].

Vitamin A & Vitamin D Overdose

Some fish oils, especially cod liver oil, contain pre-converted vitamin A and vitamin D. Both of these fat-soluble vitamins accumulate in the body and are quite hard to detoxify. Excessive intake of vitamin A can result in dysfunctional bone metabolism, yellowing of the skin, blurred vision, headaches, hair loss and liver damage; too much vitamin D also disrupts the bones, hurts the liver and can lead to cardiovascular damage [7].

Stinky & Gross

Fish oil is quick to oxidise, resulting in not-so-fresh smelling capsules (or worse, liquid) that isn’t very appetising to swallow. While algal oil can have an “oceanic” flavour if you are taking very high doses (>2g at a time), generally it has a very subtle taste.

Sustainability

There’s no getting around it – fish oil is a drain on the oceans. Sustainable fishing protocols are helping to negate the damage but sketchy practices are still in place and contributing to the eradication of near-extinct marine species (like the very cool and critically endangered whale shark). If you want to opt out of the fish oil market, algae oil is a more sustainable and low-impact solution [3]. It’s even more environmentally friendly than farmed fish oil or krill oil [1]!


Vegetarian Omega 3 SupplementAre Algae Omega-3 Supplements As Good As Fish Oils?

As a fairly new product on the market, algae oil research is limited but so far the evidence looks good. One study showed that DHA from algae oil is more bioavailable than fish oil [1] while another showed that the total omega-3s were as absorbable as those from cooked salmon [2].

While fish oil generally takes 6 to 12 weeks to affect tissue levels of omega-3s, studies on algae oils showed a much quicker uptake of DHA and EPA at even lower doses:

  • In 2008, researchers found that taking 600mg of algal oil per day increased DHA levels within 14 days, compared to no increase from eating salmon each day [2].
  • An earlier study in 2006 found that only four weeks of a daily dose of 4g of algal oil improved DHA levels by 27% [7].
  • Investigating the effects of algal oil on cholesterol markers, another research team in 2006 found that a dose of 0.9g of algae-derived DHA a day was able to reduce triglycerides by 23% within 8 weeks [8] – much faster and at a lower dose found in fish oil research [9].

How To Take Algae Omegas

Algae omegas are available as liquids and capsules, and even as chewy gummy candies.

  • Take algae omegas with food to improve absorption and prevent nausea.
  • A decent therapeutic dose begins at 1g total EPA+DHA per day, but speak to a qualified practitioner to establish the ideal dose for your condition and circumstances.

CAUTIONS:

  • A total of 5g per day of total omega-3s (EPA+DHA) is considered safe for most adults. However, taking >900mg/EPA and >600mg/DHA for several weeks may reduce immune function by reducing inflammatory processes too much. Speak to a qualified practitioner for personalised advice.
  • There may be interactions between blood-thinning medications and algae omegas. Seek advice before taking omega-3 supplements with medications such as warfarin.

Top 5 Vegan Friendly Algae Omega Supplements

5. Zenwise Health Vegan Omega-3 (225mg, 60 soft gels)

Vegan Omega OilThis supplement contains only one thing – marine algal oil. With a concentration of 150mg EPA and 300mg of DHA, it is similar to most fish oil supplements and treating a serious condition will likely require taking 4 – 6 capsules per day (but talk to your practitioner!).

Zenwise have created a particularly clean supplement – the trace ingredients are carrageenan (a seaweed extract for colouring and naturally preserving the healthy fats), and a suspension of modified food starch, glycerine and water to keep the fats absorbable. Containing no soy, corn or artificial preservatives, this is a great choice if you’re looking to avoid common allergens.


4. Unived OVEGHA Kids Vegan Algae Omega-3 (500mg, 20mL)

Algae Fish OilHere’s one for the kids! This specially formulated algae oil omega-3 supplement contains 200mg of DHA per serving to support healthy development and growth, memory, learning, eyesight and behaviour. The liquid comes with a small spoon to make it easy to measure out appropriate dosage. It tastes pretty good, which is unfortunately due to an artificial orange flavour – not the cleanest choice of ingredients but it guarantees that kids will happily drink a dose each day! No sugar, gelatin or binders – could be worse!


3. Minami Garden of Life DHA (250mg, 60 soft gels)

Plant Based Fish OilGarden of Life have concentrated DHA from algal oil to produce a DHA-only product to support brain function and eye health. This product includes the natural preservative and anti-inflammatory, astaxanthin – a potent fat-soluble antioxidant also derived from algae that has an affinity for brain and eye tissue. Two capsules per day delivers a low therapeutic dose. A great choice if you’re looking to boost your DHA:EPA ratio for study, memory, and sharp thinking or improved eye health.


2. Ascenta NutraVege Omega-3 Plant Extra Strength (1000mg, 200mL)

Nutra Verge Plant Omega 3sThey’re not kidding – this is the strong stuff! Each teaspoon of this algal oil supplement delivers 1,000mg of omega-3, with 400mg of EPA and 600mg of DHA. Ascenta have used natural preservatives such as rosemary oil, green tea extract and vitamin E, and flavoured the supplement with monk fruit extract to make drinking a teaspoon of oil a little more pleasant. This is a great choice if you are looking for a strong therapeutic dose to really boost your omega-3 intake.


1. Nordic Naturals Algae Omega (715mg, 120 soft gels)

Nordic Algae OmegasNordic Naturals are renowned for producing high quality omega-3 supplements with potent therapeutic concentrations. Their algal oil supplement delivers 195mg of EPA and 390mg of DHA in each capsule, along with natural antioxidant preservatives such as rosemary oil and tocopherols (vitmain E) to prevent oxidation of the essential fatty acids. Packed into a vegan-friendly capsule coloured with natural seaweed extract, this is a clean, certified non-GMO and sustainable choice for therapeutic omega-3 delivery. They get a high-five from us for their guaranteed high quality and sustainable practices.

View Algae Omega on Amazon Here


Further Reading:

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