The Omega-3 Index is a measure of eicosapentaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells. The index is the result of a 30-year research by Dr. William Harris on the relationship between fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. The Omega-3s are important for joint, brain, and heart health. Low levels of omega-3s are related to increased risk for dementia, depression, and fatal heart attack. You can improve blood levels of omega-3s by simple dietary changes. EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish. And therefore those who eat fish-free diets may not fully enjoy their benefits.
New Study on Vegans
A new study has found that the omega-3 index of vegans is low, but not as low as the levels measured in omnivores. The study aimed at finding out if supplements were efficacious at raising the omega-3 index in vegans classed as deficient in DHA and EPA. It did not get into the debate as to whether the supplements were necessary. The researchers, who were led by the University of San Diego’s Barbara Sarter, measured the omega-3 in cohort vegans. This was then compared with a cohort of deployed US Army soldiers receiving military rations. The finding was that the average omega-3 index level were similar, being 3.5 percent in the soldiers and 3.7 in the vegans. The same study also supports the efficacy of an algal-derived omega-3 supplement to boost DHA and EPA levels. The data was obtained from the tests conducted on 165 vegans, and the scientists from the University of South Dakota, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of San Diego reported that their omega-3 index was similar to those measured in omnivores but slightly higher.
A researcher in Clinical Nutrition also observed that quite a number of long-term vegans appear deficient in EPA and DHA because of the lack of a healthy nutrition; the researcher added that whether this leads to health consequences is unclear. In conclusion the researcher stated that there’s a possibility that a low-dose supplementation with algae-sourced EPA and DHA may mitigate the potential adverse effects of deficiency in EPA and DHA.
Do Vegans need Omega-3s?
The question that arises is whether vegans need omega-3s or not. The issue of DHA and EPA intake for vegans was debated at Loma Linda University during the 6th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition. The Nutriagredients-USA at the time reported that delegated were told by successive speakers that vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians are significantly less likely than their non-vegetarian counterparts to develop heart disease, despite their zero- or low-intake of DHA and EPA. However, the delegates were told that there’s no evidence that vegetarians and vegans are at a high risk of Alzheimer’s disease, depression or other cognitive problems.
The benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet to the heart’s health can be attributed to the fact that they typically eat fewer calories, less saturated fat, more fiber as well as consuming more plant-based healthy fats and cardio-protective phytochemicals. An associate professor at Loma Linda University in the Department of Nutrition noted that there’s some evidence that alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of the important omega-3 fatty acids, has heart health benefits beyond its impact via the conversion to DHA and EPA, and that ALA has independent health benefits that are often overlooked.
However, the researchers said that in the vegans, the spread of omega-3 index values was large, with two participants having omega-3 levels above 8 percent. Additionally the omega-3 index was significantly lower in men than women, and was also linked to age. The supplements were associated with an increase in the omega-3 index and can therefore lead to a healthy life.
Speaking as a vegetarian very keen on healthy nutrition and lifestyle I believe that a low supplementation is essential for my health especially if the production of supplements is more sustainable and help to reduce our impact on the Planet.
Uira is developing a new technology to produce a fishfree Omega 3 algae supplement using a sustainable method of farming.
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