Algae are an excellent source of energy and DHA, which is lately the cause of much attention. Microalgae that contain large quantities of high-quality EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids responsible for proper brain function and immunity health are being commercialized as sustainable alternatives to fish oil. The lipid content of microalgae can reach up to 70%, with high concentrations of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Specific strains have been found to contain a staggering 14% DHA. Algal oils have been shown to be nutritionally equivalent to fish oils and have been used to enrich larval feed and to replace fish oil in fish diets.
There is Something Fishy with Fish Oil
Fish oil, derived from fisheries, is the most common and major source of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, due to sustainability issues, limited availability, and the increasing price of fish oil, some farmers are opting to use cheaper alternatives high in omega-6 (i.e. vegetable oil, cotton seed oil, sunflower oil) that affect the nutritional quality of the farmed fish and the amount of DHA in the fillet or capsule. It is estimated that in 2005, most farmed trout sold in supermarkets contained 15% percent EPA/DHA. That figure dropped to 6% in 2008.
The fish market isn’t the only industry where omegas-3s (specifically DHA) are quickly disappearing, particularly in Western diets. Humans require an omega-6: omega-3 ratio of 4:1. The typical western diet provides a staggeringly high 16:1 ratio. Lowering this ratio reduces the risk of many chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and some cancers. In addition to the benefits gained from a healthy omega-6: omega-3 ratio, increased levels of DHA provide needed nutrients essential to human functions.
Are algae the future?
Absolutely. A microalgae-based feed supplement can be used to create a safe and sustainable alternative to fish oil. The question is no longer ‘if’. The question is ‘when’, and the answer is ‘now’. Are you getting your DHA?