The primary omega-3 fatty acids essential to your good health are DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, and EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid. Both are well studied by the scientific community for health benefits ranging from strong hearts to mental well-being. Most people are aware of omega-3s as sourced from fish oil, but newly circulated information about omega-3s sourced from algae is raising questions about the difference and leading many to wonder which to use as a supplement. Talk to your health care provider before adding any supplement to your diet.
Why Algae Sourced?
The spotlight was thrown on algae-sourced omega-3s due to public outcry over krill processing for omega-3s. Krill are small, shrimp-like crustaceans that feed on algae, and, in turn, hundreds of marine animals feed on krill. Environmental activists raised sustainability issues about krill harvesting based on studies reporting decimation of animal populations that rely on krill for food. For example, an April 2011 article published by “Nutra Ingredients” reported that some penguin populations have fallen 50 percent due to a fall in the availability of krill. Consequently, attention fell on farming algae as the originating source of omega-3s.
The abundant omega-3 found in algae is EPA. When krill ingest algae, they metabolize it to create an additional form, DHA fatty acid. Thus, all fish owe their DHA content to krill synthesis. As researchers in the March 2010 issue of the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry” report, krill oil omega-3s are in the form of phospholipids, while fish oil omega-3s are in the form of triglycerides. The form the body uses is phospholipid; thus, krill omega-3s are much better absorbed by the human body, helping to account for their commercial success.
An April 2011 article published on the “Nutra Ingredients” website discusses a joint venture undertaken by a New Zealand–based company named Photonz Corporation to develop a pharmaceutical grade of EPA by fermenting algae. The fermentation process is proprietary, and it renders a highly purified and concentrated form of EPA. The company cites its extensive experience in working with EPA derived from non-algal sources, including fish, and, as of publication, it aims to market its concentrated version of EPA into the cardiovascular disease market.
Algae Same as Fish
Researchers reporting in the June 2011 issue of “Lipids in Health and Disease” examined the efficacy of using algae as an omega-3 source. They analyzed samples from seven species and found that while green algae, such as that which krill feed on, contain only EPA, red and brown species also contain DHA. They concluded algae provide a viable alternative omega-3 source, which is comforting news to vegetarians. However, they also confirmed that the form of omega-3s found in algae is triglyceride, the same as found in fish oil.
- “Nutra Ingredients”; Antarctic Krill Harvest Under Scrutiny After Penguin Study”; Mike Stones; April 2011
- ”Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry”; Determination of Digestibility, Tissue Deposition, and Metabolism of the Omega-3 Fatty Acid Content of Krill Protein Concentrate in Growing Rats; Kayla Bridges, et al.; March 2010
- “Lipids in Health and Disease”; Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Various Macroalgal Species from North Atlantic and Tropical Seas; Vincent van Ginneken, et al.; June 2011