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Marine Phytoplankton vs. Fish Oil

author image Keri Gardner
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.
Marine Phytoplankton vs. Fish Oil
Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna contain omega-3 fatty acids. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

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.

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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.

Phytoplankton Omega-3

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.

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