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Supplements that contain algae extract may offer the same omega-3 benefits as fish oil, but those that contain omega-3 fatty acids only from land plants may not. That's because the types of omega-3 fatty acids in sea-based foods differ from those in plants.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Plant foods and supplements including flaxseed, walnuts and beans, as well as canola, soybean and flaxseed oils contain ALA. Fish, including mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring, and trout, as well as some algae, contain EPA and DHA. Most health benefits are thought to come from EPA and DHA. Your body converts the ALA in plant foods into EPA and DHA, but there is some debate over whether the converted EPA and DHA offer the same level of benefits as when these fatty acids are consumed directly from seafood.
All of these foods can be part of a healthy diet. Omega-3 supplements from fish or plant foods may also be recommended if you have certain conditions or if you can't consume these foods. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements about whether increasing your intake of these foods and/or taking supplements is right for you.
Vegetarians who want to gain this same anti-inflammatory benefit as fish oil contains, can substitute borage seed oil, black currant oil, flaxseed or flaxseed oil or evening primrose oil -- all said to be rich in gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and also contain several anticoagulant substances. Flaxseed contains more omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant source. In fact, one gram of flaxseed has twice as much omega-3 as a gram of fish oil. You can also try omega-3 supplements made from algae (such as neuromins). Walnuts also have omega-3 fatty acids and can be used as snacks, in salads, or in casseroles and other main dishes.
There are none known at this time based on the current available science. Some plant based omega-3 supplements claim they can covert in the body to the omega-3 fish oils, DHA and EPA -- but that’s a stretch. Relatively little to no DHA and EPA are contained in plants. For instance, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant based omega-3 fatty acid and although it’s true that your body can covert some ALA to EPA and DHA, it is only a very small amount (8-20% of ALA to EPA; .5-9% to DHA). Therefore, plant based omega-3s are not considered a good source of the more beneficial omega-3s found in fish. And it’s a mistake to include all omega-3s to together when looking at their benefits.
Omega-3s from plants (Flaxseed, walnut, hemp, etc.) have different health effects than omega-3s from fish. Omega-3s from fish, known as marine omegas, contain high levels of the two most studied omega-3 fatty acids, the 20-carbon eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and the 22-carbon docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are the components that are responsible for the many potential benefits related to maintaining heart, brain, eye and hearing health. If you’re looking for an omega-3 supplement, look for fish oil capsules containing ~600 mg of omega-3s made up of 360 mg of EPA and 240 mg of DHA. Take 1 capsule daily if you’re not consuming 2 to 4 servings of fatty fish per week unless your doctor or qualified health professional advises more.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.