The oceans of Earth contain billions of fish and phytoplankton, both good sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, dietary omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Usually, oil extracted from fatty ocean fish is used to make omega-3 fatty acid supplements, but with the discovery of the same compound in phytoplankton, a new source of this essential nutrient is now available.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Your body cannot make omega-3 fatty acids, but they are essential to your health. These fatty acids can be consumed in foods or as supplements. Your brain needs omega-3 fatty acids to function properly and your body needs them for growth and development. The American Heart Association suggests consuming 0.5 to 1.8 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day as fish oil, or 1.5 to 3.0 grams per day from a plant source. Currently, it has no recommendations for phytoplankton sources.
Fish Oil Omega-3
Fish and fish oil contain eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, which is called DHA. These two types of omega-3 fatty acids have shown cardio-protective properties. The National Institutes of Health state that fatty fish provides about 1 gram of omega-3 fatty acids in 3.5 ounces of fish. It is recommended that you broil or bake your fish. Frying fish in other oils will cancel its protective properties.
Marine microbes called phytoplankton live in cooler, nitrogen-rich parts of the ocean, such as the north Atlantic and Pacific areas. These single-celled creatures live in the upper levels of the ocean, where they use solar energy to create molecules important to life. Omega-3 fatty acids make up half the body weight of phytoplankton called thraustochytrids. Analysis by Enviro-Health Research Laboratories determined total EPA and DHA levels to be 14.4 milligrams per gram of powdered phytoplankton.
Both fish oil and marine phytoplankton have essential omega-3 fatty acids, although phytoplankton has more omega-3 per weight. The lifespan of fish allows them to accumulate environmental contaminants, whereas phytoplankton have a short lifespan, sensitive to environmental change. An alternative source for omega-3 fatty acid supplements may assist an already-taxed fishing industry. Natural phytoplankton has seasonal variations in omega-3 fatty acid content, whereas fish oil is usually a standardized concentration.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Journal of the American Heart Association: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease: New Recommendations From the American Heart Association
- Medline Plus: Fish Oil
- Oceanography in the 21st Century: Marine Fisheries Food Webs
- Archives of Physiology and Biochemistry: Seasonal Variation of Fatty Acid Content in Natural Microplankton From the Tumpat Coastal Waters of the South China Sea
- Discover Health & Wealth: Plankton, A Super Food -- Originating Life and Sustaining It