Emma Seiteri, 2019.
Are you a vegan and do you eat chia seeds, linseeds, hemp, walnuts and dark green leafy greens in abundance and therefore think that you must be sorted for your omega-3? Well, you might need to rethink that after you’ve read this!
WHAT ARE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS?
There are a few different omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These two omega-3 fatty acids are also called essential fatty acids, because our bodies are not capable of producing them so we need to get them from our diet.
A third omega-3 fatty acid is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3 fatty acids found in plant sources are in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. Our bodies can’t utilize ALA, so it needs to be converted into its usable forms before it can be utilized. Even high amounts of ALA are not sufficient enough, because the conversion ratio from ALA to its usable forms is very poor in our bodies (Gerster, 1998). The essential omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are something every vegan needs to supplement, because it is almost impossible to get adequate amounts of ALA daily from your diet to be converted to its usable forms.
There is only one plant based source of omega-3 fatty acids that includes DHA and EPA, and that is microalgae (Doughman, 2007). Microalgae is a diverse group of eukaryotic organisms that mostly live in marine environments, but also in fresh water and soil environments. The DHA in microalgae is the only plant based equivalent to animal derived DHA. What that means is that only way to get sufficient DHA is to use supplements derived from microalgae (Bernstein, 2012). The supplement derived from microalgae is called algae oil.
Vegans who do not supplement essential fatty acids tend to have reduced concentrations of EPA and DHA. Actual omega-3 deficiencies are rare (Rosell, 2005), but it most definitely does not mean that lower levels of DHA or EPA won’t have any negative health effects. It seems like if the human body is depleted of essential fatty acids, it has some adaptive mechanisms to fight that. But as said, low levels of circulating omega-3 fatty acids can lead to various health issues. That is why it is imperative to supplement essential omega-3 fatty acids in form of DHA and EPA.
WHY ARE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS IMPORTANT?
There are a few reasons why omegas are a must for fitness, health and performance.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce triglyceride levels in humans (Bernstein, 2012). High triglyceride levels is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so getting in sufficient omega-3 fatty acids can lower the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties (Bloomer, 2009). They may aid recovery from your workouts as it reduces inflammation in the body.
- There has also been some evidence that omega-3 helps with weight loss (Kunesová, 2006), but the evidence is not yet substantial.
- Omega-3s also play a big role in regulating cholesterol (Wei, 2011) and blood pressure (Woodman, 2002).
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have positive effects on various mental health issues such as depression (Martins, 2009).
WHAT SHOULD I TAKE AND HOW MUCH?
One of the best products in the market for vegan omega-3 is Myprotein Vegan Omega. Myprotein Vegan Omega is a very potent source of both EPA and DHA derived from microalgae.
If you find softgels hard to swallow they also have a Vegan Liquid Omega in a refreshing tangerine flavor, which is pure DHA. Seriously, this tastes so good! This is also such a good option for non vegans if you hate the fishy taste of normal fish oil/fishy burps!
The dosage varies from individual to individual, but the daily dose for adults should be anywhere around 2500mg of EPA & DHA combined.
Gerster H. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)?. Int J Vitam Nutr Res. (1998)
Doughman SD, Krupanidhi S, Sanjeevi CB. Omega-3 fatty acids for nutrition and medicine: considering microalgae oil as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA. Curr Diabetes Rev. (2007)
Bernstein AM, et al. A meta-analysis shows that docosahexaenoic acid from algal oil reduces serum triglycerides and increases HDL-cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in persons without coronary heart disease. J Nutr. (2012)
Rosell MS, et al. Long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in plasma in British meat-eating, vegetarian, and vegan men. Am J Clin Nutr. (2005)
Bloomer RJ, et al. Effect of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid on resting and exercise-induced inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers: a randomized, placebo controlled, cross-over study. Lipids Health Dis. (2009)
Kunesová M, et al. The influence of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and very low calorie diet during a short-term weight reducing regimen on weight loss and serum fatty acid composition in severely obese women. Physiol Res. (2006)
Wei MY, Jacobson TA. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid versus docosahexaenoic acid on serum lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Curr Atheroscler Rep. (2011)
Woodman RJ, et al. Effects of purified eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids on glycemic control, blood pressure, and serum lipids in type 2 diabetic patients with treated hypertension. Am J Clin Nutr. (2002)
Martins JG. EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Am Coll Nutr. (2009)