Aaannnddd back to Kentucky! It’s a little hotter this time around but definitely still enjoying the climbing:D. Another bonus- not as many people that are crazy enough to deal with the heat; makes for some very quiet craigs. One final project to do for my undergrad and then I will be completely done! Feels so good to not have to go back another year… unless I eventually (most likely) decide to do a masters. My convocation is set for October!
Other than that, I enjoyed my time at home this past weekend! All of my sisters came to Windsor to throw my parents a surprise party for their 35th anniversary. It’s a rare occasion that we all can get together at the same time, was nice to have them all around- especially my oldest sister Melissa who I hadn’t seen in months! After 35 years of marriage, my parents continue to be prime examples of what a truly happy and loving relationship should be! I have been extremely lucky to be a daughter to both of them.
Omega-3, particularly marine based EPA and DHA, are increasingly recognized as essential for good health. For example, 250mg of EPA/DHA daily was demonstrated to reduce heart disease by 36% in a meta-analysis of cohort studies and clinical trials. Other than heart health, omega-3s have been demonstrated to be effective in the management of a wide array of inflammatory chronic diseases, brain health and reproductive health. Furthermore, omega 3 is vital in the development of human brains in early life and is shown to reduce risks neurodegenerative disorders both early and later in life. It’s easy to see that omega-3 is an important dietary addition but with current recommendations of 250mg of DHA daily (these recommendations are even higher in people with, for example, heart disease (up to 1000mg)), are fish and fish oils a viable option in terms of sustainability for even a fraction of our population? With fish stocks on the decline, is there another, more environmentally friendly way we can achieve our DHA and EPA recommendations?
Firsts things first, what is omega-3? Omega-3s and 6s are examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs); they cannot be made in the human body and must be acquired through the diet. The three primary omega-3s are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Omega 3 has a counteracting action to omega 6; while omega 6s promote coagulation, angiogenesis and inflammation for example, omega 3s are anticoagulants, anti-angiogenic and anti-inflammatory. Human evolution was characterized by diets high in omega-3, while low in omega-6; the ratio was most likely close to 1:1. Today, with the rise of westernized diets, ratios reach an astonishing 30:1 (omega-6:omega-3) at times; a big difference from our paleolithic diets. As a result, humans, not adapted to such high levels of omega-6, are plagued with more and more inflammation regulated chronic diseases.
Where can we get omega-3s? While omega-6 is readily available in our diets, omega-3 is less prominent and should be actively incorporated. In marine-based omega-3s (DHA and EPA), algae and phytoplankton are the first sources of omega-3. EPA and DHA move up the food chain to larger fish by bioaccumulation; the best sources of omega-3 come from larger, fattier, marine fish. ALA omega-3 is present in many vegetables, nuts and seeds, with notably high concentrations in flax, chia, walnuts and avocados. Unfortunately, ALA may not be the most viable omega-3 source. In the human body, ALA must be converted to EPA and then to DHA in order for the beneficial end products to be produced; this conversion can be anywhere between 0.2% to 21%. Furthermore, most studies indicate that in order to obtain omega-3 related health benefits, a marine based omega-3 should be consumed. As a result, current omega-3 recommendations are for EPA and DHA; an obvious dilemma in terms of sustainability. Recommendations of 250mg of DHA can be achieved through both fish oil supplements and the diet (about 2 fish per week) but with fish stocks on the decline, how long will we be able to continue using these stocks before fishing industries completely collapse?
Over the past 60 years, there has been drastic development in marine fisheries; in the 1950s production was at 19.3 million tons and by 2009 fish production jumped to an astonishing 163 million tons! It is now estimated that over 70% of the world’s fish stocks are either fully exploited or depleted. Today’s stocks are currently being harvested at a faster rate than they can reproduce. An estimated 90% of all large predatory fish (e.g. tuna, shark, cod and halibut) are gone and trends indicate that at the rate we’re going, food fisheries world-wide could completely collapse by 2050. The current primary EPA and DHA sources of omega-3 are from marine fatty fish like salmon, mullet and mackerel but clearly, with the decline of fish stocks, these sources are not viable for whole populations. The use of alternative omega-3 sources, such as algae and potentially ALA omega-3 with stearidonic acid (to increase the conversion of ALA to DHA omega 3), would significantly reduce impacts on fish levels.
Microalgae are the most common primary producers in the majority of aquatic systems. They convert light and carbon dioxide to energy in the form of carbohydrates, fats and proteins via photosynthesis. Algae for human use isn’t a new concept; it is already used as an alternative DHA source as well as in animal feed, vitamins, cosmetics and food additives. Excitingly, algae could also serve as a potential biofuel source for the future. Algae fats are both vegetarian and environmentally friendly and can grow easily on a large scale; they can ultimately be used to benefit multiple industries (e.g. for biodiesel, animal feed, neutraceuticals). While at present, algae production still needs to be improved (e.g. cost, cultivation, harvesting, species selection and oil extraction), there are still many natural health companies making great algae omega-3 products. Aside from a few great algae omega-3 products already available (e.g. Flora Udo plus DHA), I am very excited about a new algae based omega-3 product that Sunwarrior will have out soon!
Whether or not I have convinced you of the need for more people to switch to an algal sourced omega-3, I strongly believe that algae should be the next step in terms of sustainability for omega-3 supplements. Should practitioners even be recommending the current 250mg (or higher, depending on state of health) DHA if it means that decades from now our fish stocks will have likely collapsed? I’ve given my thoughts now it’s your turn! What are your opinions on the current omega-3 recommendations?
Adarme-Vega C, Lim D, Timmins M, Vernen F, Li Y, Schenk P. (2012) Microalgal biofactories: a promising approach towards sustainable omega-3 fatty acid production. icrobial Cell Factories 11:96
Lenihan-Geels G, Bishop K, Ferguson L. (2013) Alternative Sources of Omega-3 Fats: Can We Find a Sustainable Substitute for Fish? Nutrients 5:1301-1315.
Pereira H, Barreira L, Figuiredo F, Custodio L, Vizetto-Duarte V, Polo C, Resek E, Engelen A, Varela J. (2012) Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids of Marine Macroalgae: Potential for Nutritional and Pharmaceutical Applications. Mar. Drugs 10:1920-1935.
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (2011) Review of the state of world marine fishery resources. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper 569:334.