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Are There Vegan Friendly DHA and EPA Supplements?

Question:
I'm a vegan but my doctor wants me to take fish oil with EPA and DHA. Is there something I can take that would be as good as fish oil capsules but would satisfy the needs of a vegan?

Answer:
You can get the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from the same place that fish get theirs — algae. Because algae is lower on the food chain than fish, omega-3's from algal oils are naturally less contaminated than oils from fish (although fish oil in supplements is purified, removing most of these contaminants, as shown by tests by ConsumerLab.com).

Another advantage of algal oil over fish oil is that the EPA and DHA are in the triglyceride form — which may be somewhat better absorbed than the ethyl ester form found in many fish oil supplements In fact, an increasing percentage of fish oils are now sold in the triglyceride form, possibly for this reason. 

However, algal oil is typically more expensive that fish oil and, based on tests by ConsumerLab.com, algal oil supplements do not contain the omega-7 fatty acids found naturally in fish oil, which, preliminary research suggests, may help reduce inflammation and improve cholesterol levels. (Be aware that highly concentrated fish oils also tend to have very little omega-7, as it is removed during processing in order to increase the concentrations of EPA and DHA).  

Flaxseed oil, echium oil and chia seeds are sometimes promoted as alternative sources of omega-3 fatty acids. However, be aware that they do not contain EPA and DHA. Rather, they contain a different omega-3 fatty acid -- alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). While ALA has some benefits, they are not the same as those for EPA and DHA and the body can convert only a very small percentage ALA into EPA and DHA. More details about these and other seed-based sources of fatty acids are found in our Product Review of Flaxseed Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, Borage Oil, and Black Currant Oil Supplements: Sources of ALA and GLA (Omega-3 and -6 Fatty Acids).    

The bottom line: You can certainly get EPA and DHA from algal oil -- it will just cost you a bit more than from most fish oils. Other alternatives, such as flaxseed oil, echium oil and chia seeds provide the omega-3 ALA, but do not provide the EPA and DHA found in fish and algal oil.

You can see ConsumerLab.com's test results for algal oil supplements in the Vegetarian Source (Algal) Oil section of the Fish Oil/Omega-3 Supplements Review >>

Also see answers to these questions:



I've tried a number of fish oil supplements, all of which make me nauseous. What is the best non-fish alternative? I am primarily interested in getting EPA. >>

I drink organic milk with added DHA Omega-3, but it is expensive. Is it worth paying extra for the added DHA?  >>

Is it true that there is no point in taking fish oil supplements for heart health? >>

Is echium oil a good alternative to fish oil? I am allergic to fish.  >>

Are plant-based calcium supplements, like AlgaeCal, better than regular calcium supplements? >>



See other recent and popular questions >>
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Christina12781   March 5, 2017
I use flax seed as a vegan source of Omega 3 fatty acids. I grind it fresh in a dedicated coffee grinder and use it immediately. I typically use two heaping tablespoons of flax and let it soak briefly in orange juice or soy milk - almost any liquid will do. I think it would be helpful to mention this and other vegetarian sources of Omega 3 fatty acids.

ConsumerLab.com   March 6, 2017
Hi Christina - We've added information about flaxseed oil and other vegetarian sources to the answer above, with a link to our Product Review about those sources.

andrew12778   March 5, 2017
what about Flax seed or Borage ? ,

ConsumerLab.com   March 5, 2017
Hi Andrew - Please see this CL Answer: https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/_/fish_or_flax_oil/, and the "What It Is" section of the Review of Flaxseed Oil, Primrose Oil, Borage Oil and Black Currant Oil Supplements https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/_/flaxseed/#whatitis.

This CL Answer initially posted on 3/2/2017. Last updated 7/25/2017.

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