Fish are commonly known as the best source of omega 3s.
They have DHA and EPA, which are the 2 best forms of omega 3s for humans (there are several forms of omega 3). That’s why most omega 3 supplements consist of fish oil.
Obviously that’s not an option for us on a vegan diet. Most of the food sources of omega 3s on a vegan diet are in the form of ALA, which is arguably the worst type. It only converts to DHA at a rate of 5-15%, which the body needs to do to make it usable.
So if you’re worried about not getting enough omega 3 fats on a vegan diet, there’s only one viable vegan alternative to fish oil – supplements.
Some vegan supplements are made from flaxseed (so mostly ALA), but the best vegan omega 3 supplements are made from algae (algal-oil to be specific).
Algae has both EPA and DHA, the same as fish do. This makes sense since fish eat algae in the wild and get their omega 3s from it.
The rest of this post will look at the potential benefits from taking omega 3 capsules.
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Algae-Based Supplements Raise Your DHA Levels
The first concern we need to address is how well your body actually absorbs the DHA from these supplements.
One study compared the effectiveness of vegan omega 3 supplements (from algal-oil) and fish (1).
Here’s the most important result they found:
These results indicate that algal-oil DHA capsules and cooked salmon appear to be bioequivalent in providing DHA to plasma and red blood cells
The data showed that the plasma levels of DHA went up approximately 80% in both the algal-oil and fish groups.
In short, not only do algae-based omega 3 supplements work, but they work as well as eating fish does.
Vegan omega 3 supplements made from algae are just as effective as eating fish at raising your DHA levels.
Health Benefits of Omega 3 Fats
Omega 3s are important for a variety of reasons.
When we’re talking about benefits, remember that we’re talking about DHA. Having a boatload of ALA doesn’t do much if it doesn’t convert into DHA effectively.
The benefits of getting more omega 3 mostly apply when you’re deficient in omega 3s, which is more likely in vegans.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of a deficiency:
The benefits, which hopefully you’re used to all the time, are just the opposite:
- Clear mind
- Good mood
- Consistent focus levels
- Good eyesight (or at least not deteriorating)
- Good sleep
If you already have enough DHA, you likely won’t see any significant changes in your health.
If you are deficient in omega 3 fats, taking omega 3 supplements can improve many aspects of brain function.
How Vegan Omega 3 Supplements Might Help You Get These Benefits
I say “might” help because the research behind omega 3 supplements is very controversial (5)
There are some studies that showed positive results, while a similar amount showing negative or no results.
Basically, there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to supplementation.
It may help, or it may not.
It also may help, but only for a specific subset of people.
If you want a professional opinion on omega 3 supplementation, ask your doctor (I am not a medical professional in any way just to be clear!). However, I doubt they can be any more specific.
Common sense leads to me to 2 main conclusions personally, which you may find useful in forming your own opinions:
- You should try to get a decent amount from food sources – Yes, vegan food sources of omega 3s are mostly ALA, but your body can hopefully convert enough so that you’re perfectly healthy. Plenty of vegan recipes have good amounts of omega 3 fats.
- If you’re suspect you’re deficient, try a supplement – I’ve already written a post on the top vegan omega 3 supplements that you might find useful. There’s likely not much (if any) risk, and you’ll know within a few weeks if you feel any different.
If you have any questions or thoughts to add, just leave a comment down below.
Bottom line: There are potential benefits of taking vegan omega 3 supplements if you’re not getting enough in your diet, with very little risk of downsides (other than wasting money), so it may be worth trying. Consult with a doctor if you’d like a medically-oriented decision.