The microalgae Crypthecodinium cohnii and Schizochytrium are rich sources of Omega-3 oils and DHA, and can be produced commercially in bioreactors. This is the only source of DHA acceptable to vegans.
Potential health benefits
The 18 carbon α-linolenic acid (ALA) has not been shown to have the same cardiovascular benefits as omega-3 oils, DHA or EPA. Currently, there are many products on the market that claim to contain health-promoting “omega 3”, but contain only ALA, not EPA or DHA. These products contain mainly plant oils and must be converted by the body to create DHA, and are therefore less effective. DHA and EPA are made by marine microalgae. These are then consumed by fish and accumulate to high levels in their internal organs.
- Cancer: Several studies report possible anti-cancer effects of n−3 fatty acids (in particular, breast, colon, and prostate cancer). Omega-3 fatty acids reduced prostate tumor growth, slowed histopathological progression, and increased survival in mice.
- Cardiovascular disease: In 1999, the GISSI-Prevenzione Investigators reported in The Lancet the results of major clinical study in 11,324 patients with a recent myocardial infarction. Treatment 1 gram per day of n−3 fatty acids reduced the occurrence of death, cardiovascular death, and sudden cardiac death by 20%, 30%, and 45%, respectively. These beneficial effects were seen from three months onwards.
- Immune function: In a study regarding fish oil published in the Journal of Nutrition in April 2007, sixty-four healthy Danish infants from nine to twelve months of age received either cow’s milk or infant formula alone or with fish oil. Those infants supplemented with fish oil were found to have improvement in immune function maturation, with no apparent reduction in immune activation.
- Neurology: Limited evidence suggests that long-chain n-3 fatty acids delay or prevent the progression of certain psychotic disorders in high-risk children and adolescents. The individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia exhibited reduced levels of both n-6 and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and the results of a study in which the treatment of high-risk children with a dietary supplement containing both eicosapentaenoate and docosahexaenoate produced a statistically significant (95% confidence, but not 97.5% confidence) decrease in progression to schizophrenia. Consumption of ethyl eicosapentaenoate (E-EPA) partially countered memory impairment in a rat model of Alzheimer’s disease and produced a statistically insignificant decrease in human depression.
- Inflammation: Although not confirmed as an approved health claim, current research suggests that the anti-inflammatory activity of long-chain n−3 fatty acids contained in omega-3 oils may translate into clinical effects. For example, there is evidence that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers taking long-chain n−3 fatty acids from sources such as fish have reduced pain compared to those receiving standard NSAIDs.
The Algae Revolution Has Begun