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?
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 >>
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Also see answers to these questions:
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