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Algal Oil vs Fish Oil: Which is Better?

Omega-3s are long-chain polyunsaturated essential fats that the human body cannot produce it on its own. There are three main omega-3s: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Together these three fatty acids are important for heart, immune and endocrine health, and are especially critical for brain health and mood regulation. They also help to form the structural basis of our cell membranes which keeps the nervous system working optimally.

When it comes to getting enough omega-3 fatty acids through our diets, many of us have long turned to fish oil supplements, but there’s a relatively new player in the market – algal oil. 

Algal oil has surged in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. Below, we outline the difference between fish oil and algal oil and help you understand which is a better choice for you.

What is Fish Oil?

Fish oil comes from the tissues of fatty fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna, and can contain up to 30% omega-3 fatty acids.

To harvest fish oil, huge numbers of fish are typically caught using methods like trawling. Once caught, they undergo processing on the boat, where they are gutted and cleaned to extract the oil-rich tissues, usually found in the fish's liver or other fatty areas.

The fish are then transported to processing facilities where the oils are refined. Often, this involves a step where the triglyceride (a type of fat) bonds are modified to increase the DHA and EPA content within the final product. What’s left of the modified triglycerides is a substance called ethyl esters which are not only harder to digest but are also more prone to oxidation and going rancid – a big issue in fish oil supplements.

What is Algal Oil?

Algal oil is sourced from microalgae, a potent source of DHA and EPA – the two types of omega-3 which the human body needs.

It is normally cultivated in large tanks or ponds in a controlled environment, and once the microalgae has grown big enough, it is extracted for its oil.

Interestingly, fish get their DHA and EPA from microalgae as they are unable to synthesise them on their own, so consuming algal oil would be bypassing fish and going straight to the source instead! 

Fish Oil vs Algal Oil: A Comparison

Nutritional Value (DHA/EPA co­­ntent)

Fish Oil: Standard fish oil supplements contain approximately 180mg of EPA and 120mg of DHA per 1000mg of fish oil. Any fish oil that provides EPA & DHA at higher concentrations has mostly likely been modified.

Algal Oil: While not all algal oil supplements contain EPA, the concentrations of DHA are typically higher than those in fish oil, making it particularly supportive for brain and heart health. However at Ora, we use life's™OMEGA in our Clean Omega D, which provides both DHA and EPA at 330mg and 150mg respectively per 1000mg of algal oil. This makes it 85% more potent than omega-3 derived from fish oils.

Winner: Algal oil

Bioavailability and Stability

Fish Oil: Most fish oil supplements on the market contain modified triglyceride fatty acids called ethyl esters. The ethyl ester form is the broken-down version of triglycerides, which means it is less stable and has a higher chance of becoming oxidised and rancid, which often contributes to the fishy taste of fish oil. This form of fish oil is known to be less bioavailable, making it more difficult to digest.

Algal Oil: Algal oil contains unmodified triglycerides – the form that naturally occurs in fish. As it remains in its natural form, triglycerides are more bioavailable and the body is able to digest these fatty acids 10-15 times faster than the ethyl ester forms found in refined fish oil. This is the strongest, most stable form of fatty acids, and the body is better able to make use of it and reap its benefits safely.

Winner: Algal oil

Environmental Impact

Fish Oil: Fish oil production contributes to overfishing as it requires an extremely large amount of fish. On average, one person’s annual supply of fish oil requires 110 fish – so just think about the extraordinary number that need to be caught to supply a large portion of the world’s population! Moreover, most fish become fish oil are caught via fishing methods like trawling, which results in by catch – the accidental killing of other sea creatures like turtles and sharks. This has a devastating impact on the marine ecosystem.

Algal Oil: life's™OMEGA which is used in our Clean Omega D which is sourced directly from non-GMO microalgae that has been fermented in a fully controlled manufacturing environment and extracted through a pure water process. Unlike other algae farms that grow microalgae in outdoor ponds which increases the risk of contamination, life’sOMEGA is sustainably cultivated via indoor fermentation of these marine plants.

Winner: Algal oil

Purity and Safety

Fish Oil: Fish oil – whether farmed or wild-caught fish – is likely to contain pollutants like microplastics, heavy metals and toxic chemicals which are detrimental to health, especially in pregnant women. While a good quality fish supplement would have undergone strict testing to keep these levels as low as possible, other cheaper brands may not, causing more harm than good.

Algal Oil: Since microalgae is grown and harvested in a controlled indoor environment, it does not come into any contact with pollutants and contaminants, making it a pure and safe source of omega-3s.

Winner: Algal oil

If you know you're not getting enough omega-3s from your daily diet and are looking to boost your intake, a good quality algal oil like life'sOMEGA in Ora's Clean Omega D is a pure and potent source of both DHA and EPA. Not only will you be getting more omega-3s per 1g compared to fish oil (and therefore much more bang for buck), you will also will not be disrupting marine ecosystems and ensuring that what you're putting into your body is free from toxic substances. 

 

References:

1. Swanson, D., Block, R., & Mousa, S. A. (2012). Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life. Advances in Nutrition, 3(1), 1-7.

2. Yurko-Mauro, K., McCarthy, D., Rom, D., Nelson, E. B., Ryan, A. S., Blackwell, A., ... & Salem, N. (2010). Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimer's & Dementia, 6(6), 456-464.

3. Harris, W. S., Kris-Etherton, P. M., & Harris, K. A. (2008). Intakes of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid associated with reduced risk for death from coronary heart disease in healthy adults. Current Atherosclerosis Reports, 10(6), 503-509.

4. Geleijnse, J. M., Giltay, E. J., Grobbee, D. E., Donders, A. R., & Kok, F. J. (2002). Blood pressure response to fish oil supplementation: metaregression analysis of randomized trials. Journal of Hypertension, 20(8), 1493-1499.

5. Lane, K., Derbyshire, E., Li, W., & Brennan, C. (2014). Bioavailability and potential uses of vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the literature. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 54(5), 572-579.

6. Stark, K. D., Van Elswyk, M. E., Higgins, M. R., Weatherford, C. A., & Salem Jr, N. (2016). Global survey of the omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid in the blood stream of healthy adults. Progress in Lipid Research, 63, 132-152. 

7. Marine Stewardship Council. (2015). Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements – An update. [Online report]. Retrieved from https://www.msc.org/docs/default-source/default-document-library/omega-3-supplement-report-marine-stewardship-council.pdf

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