April 5, 2012

A Nutrient that might help vegans - DHA/EPA, Omega 3's and Vegans

Believing that a vegan diet is not only adequate, but the preferred diet for humans, I tend to question the claims that we need supplements. And for my first 25 vegan years, I did not supplement. Now, in my 3rd decade of being vegan, and 12 years after menopause, I DO take supplements. I have tuned into what my body is telling me, done some research and realize that I don’t regularly consume enough of the plant sources of ALA (omega-3) (short-chain fatty acid) such as Chia Seed, Flax or Linseed, Echium Oil, Perilla, Black Raspberry, Lingonberry, Purslane, Hempseed, Butternut, Walnuts, Pecan Nuts, Hazel Nuts, Canola oil, and some leafy greens - and therefore it is appropriate for me to supplement DHA; a long-chain fatty acid that can be made from short-chain fatty acid, ALA. Perhaps it’s psychosomatic and I bought what sellers are selling, but in retrospect, I do feel noticeably better (mentally) since I began supplementing with algae-derived DHA, 9 months ago.

I’ve been using a DHA vegan softgel capsule that provides 120 mg of DHA. I've just switched over to Opti3 – containing DHA and EPA (both are long-chain fatty acids) along with newly marketed vegan Vitamin D3 called Vitashine; (D3 is usually animal-derived, but this Vitamin D3 is made from lichen.) This is only because I'm heading into winter. Most of the year I live in sunny places, and therefore get my Vitamin D directly from sun exposure on my skin. I prefer getting my Vitamin D naturally over D2 or D3, so don’t give much reality to the D2 or D3 debate, however many think D3 (usually not vegan) is absorbed better by the body. For vegans who don't get enough sun exposure, Opti3 appears to be a gift to the vegan community; a product specifically formulated to optimally meet the needs of vegans.
Vegan DHA, EPA & newly produced Vitashine; vegan Vitamin D3 - all in one capsule; no fish, no gelatine - http://opti3omega.com
Sourcing DHA from fish is unethical to the fish as well as full of harmful contaminants such as PCB’s, dioxin, mercury, and heavy metals. Algae-based DHA was first discovered in the early 1980’s. NASA sponsored scientific research in search of a plant-based food source that could generate oxygen and nutrition on long-duration space flights. This research led to the development of algae-based DHA oil. There are now vegan options of DHA: O-Mega-Zen3®+EPA made by NuTru (U.S.), Opti3-Complete Omega-3 (U.K.), DHA & EPA-Omega-3 Vegan by Deva (U.S.), V-Pure (U.K.), Dr. Fuhrman's DHA Purity (U.S.A.), Pure One 100% vegan oil and capsule, Spectrum Vegetarian DHA, Ovega-3, Minami Nutrition's Vegan DHA, Moreepa-Vegan DHA (U.K), and V-Mega-3, etc.
http://devanutrition.com/vegan_dha_epa.html -
Based in the U.S., Deva Nutrition offers ONLY vegan supplements.
Dr. Fuhrman has some interesting research about vegans and DHA. Please note that he also sells DHA. However, I’ve heard from those who use DHA Purity by Dr. Fuhrman that it is a quality, good tasting, count-on-able brand, especially for children who don’t want to swallow large pills, as it comes in liquid form. Dr. Fuhrman explains: “DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid. The fat in fish is mostly omega-3. Since vegans don't consume fish, they can get their DHA from the same place the fish do; algae.”
Dr. Fuhrman's DHA Purity - U.S.A. - http://drfuhrman.com/shop/DHA.aspx
(Please note: not all Dr. Fuhrman's supplements are vegan. This product is vegan and mailed to you refrigerated.)
 From Ginny Messina, vegan registered dietitian:
“DHA and EPA are the long-chain omega-3 fats that are found in fish oils. Although there is a little bit of EPA in sea vegetables, vegans generally don’t consume these fats at all. While DHA and EPA are not considered essential nutrients (there is no RDA for them), they are linked to some health benefits including reduced risk for heart disease. Low levels of DHA may raise risk for depression and, in older people, cognitive decline.” Source: http://theveganrd.com/2010/11/more-on-omega-3-fats-in-vegan-diets.html  
“… These beneficial effects of n-3 fatty acids have been shown in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and, in some patients with renal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Most of the studies were carried out with fish oils [eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)]. However, α-linolenic acid, found in green leafy vegetables, flaxseed, rapeseed, and walnuts, desaturates and elongates in the human body to EPA and DHA and by itself may have beneficial effects in health and in the control of chronic diseases.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 70, No. 3, 560S-569S, © 1999 American Society for Clinical Nutrition/From The Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health, Washington, DC.
Vegan doctors and pediatricians have advised algae-derived DHA supplementation for pregnant and nursing vegan mothers and for their vegan toddlers. Dr. Fuhrman further explains why:
“DHA is an omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid and one of the crucial building blocks of human brain tissue. Early in life, DHA is supplied via the placenta and from breast milk. Adequate DHA is particularly important for pregnant and nursing women. Studies have shown improved intelligence scores of breast fed children whose mothers took DHA supplements during pregnancy and nursing. The DHA levels in the breast milk from women in the United States are among the lowest in the world. DHA deficiencies starting in childhood can contribute to multiple problems later in life, such as hyperactivity and allergies. In fact, dyslexia and ADHD have been linked to the low DHA intake common in the United States. An adequate level of DHA has been found to improve behavior and symptoms of ADHD. Deficiencies of DHA may increase vulnerability to depression and may be responsible for most post partum depression after the baby's needs extract DHA from the mother's stores.”
It has been established that a woman’s body has an increased demand for Omega-3 during pregnancy and breast feeding. Women convert short-chain omega 3 into long-chain DHA and EPA at a greater efficiency than men and that might be due to the importance of meeting the demands of the fetus for DHA. Although many children have been raised vegan without supplementing with DHA, or even extra ALA, and have developed healthfully – vegan health professionals do recommend supplementing with 200 mg of DHA every 2 days, for breastfeeding mothers of vegan children and to also supplement vegan toddlers, until we learn more about the subject.
V-Mega3, Vegan Omega 3 DHA - http://v-mega3.com
Many doctors confirm the mental health benefits of omega-3’s for their patients with depression. There have been public health studies that confirm this as well as conflicting reports. Some studies found that DHA and EPA supplementation improved depression: http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16337677, while others found that it did not: http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17158410  - while another public medical study http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17685742 found evidence to confirm that it improves depression, but thinks more tests are needed to validate this.

Dr. Fuhrman states:
“DHA supplementation is indicated in anyone with a history of depression. Alzheimer's sufferers have also been found to have lower DHA levels than healthy adults of the same age. Maintaining adequate DHA stores throughout life, as well as eating a diet rich in natural plant foods, is necessary for preventing the late life occurrence of these mental deficits associated with aging.”
One study concluded:
"Twenty-four week supplementation with 900 mg/d DHA improved learning and memory function in age-related cognitive decline and is a beneficial supplement that supports cognitive health with aging." 

I have been impressed by the memory of my 3 year old vegan friend, who has been supplementing with Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA since conception. Studies have confirmed that DHA can help improve memory function. The following quote is an excerpt from an article written by Marilyn Elias and published in the USA Today:
“Past studies have found that the omega-3 acid DHA reduces symptoms of depression. The research seems to support rapidly growing evidence that DHA improves mood and memory, says Penny Kris-Etherton, a registered dietician and nutrition professor at Pennsylvania State University: "There are effects on the brain from what we eat." A follow-up to a previous study, the landmark Framingham study, found that people with high blood levels of DHA cut their risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's, by half. There's also evidence that low DHA levels contribute to aggression, Kris-Etherton says.” Source: http://usatoday.com/news/health/2007-03-06-aps-omega_N.htm
DHA and EPA may help Bipolar Disorder:
"In April 1999, in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr. Andrew Stoll from Harvard and his colleagues published the first double-blind placebo study which examined what happens when rapidly-cycling bipolar patients had their medications supplemented with high doses of fish oils. ..The thirty patients were divided into two groups and one group got a placebo of olive oil capsules; the other 9 grams of pharmaceutical quality EPA and DHA fatty acids. While the study was designed for a nine-month period, a pre-planned preliminary analysis of the data found a significant discrepancy between the placebo control group and the omega-3 fatty acid group: the patients on the placebo relapsed or failed to improve, while many of the patients taking the omega 3 supplements experienced dramatic recoveries." Source:  http://epa1.co.uk/Depression_and_Bipolar_Disorder.asp
Not only does Omega 3 possibly help depression, bipolar disorder, boost brain function and memory - but additionally, omega-3 has been shown to benefit diabetes, weight loss, asthma, heart health, lowering cholesterol, raising HDL and lowering triglyceride levels, helping inflammatory bowel diseases, and alleviating arthritis symptoms. A lack of omega-3 has been linked with macular degeneration. Dr. Fuhrman explains what studies have found:
“Algae derived DHA was found in recent studies to increase the HDL/LDL ratio and decrease the total cholesterol/HDL ratio as well as lower triglycerides. DHA also increases the elasticity of the blood vessels and reduces total vascular resistance resulting in a lower pulse pressure that has significant effects at lessening the occurrence of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes. It also has an anti-arrhythmic effect reducing the overall rate of fatal heart attacks.” http://vegan-dha.com 
http://nuique.com/omega3 - 
Capsule shell made from modified food starch, glycerine, carrageenan, sorbital, purified water;
 with no added sunflower oil or sunflower lecithin.  
New findings come from a research group led by Ailsa Welch at Britain’s University of East Anglia in 2010:
“There have been numerous small, careful metabolic studies to determine the extent of conversion of dietary ALA to EPA and DHA. But this one studied a large population of 14,422 men and women aged between 39 and 78 to compare intakes of the various omega-3s (ALA or EPA+DHA) among people with different eating habits to their actual omega-3 EPA+DHA blood levels. The study included 14,422 men and women participants; aged between 39 and 78…. Despite having significantly lower intakes of EPA and DHA (from fish or fish oil), blood levels of EPA and DHA in vegans and vegetarians were approximately the same as regular fish eaters. The results indicate that the bodies of vegetarians and other non-fish-eaters can respond to a lack of dietary omega-3 EPA and DHA by increasing their ability to make them from omega-3 ALA.”
Welch AA, Shakya-Shrestha S, Lentjes MAH, Wareham NJ, Khaw KT. Dietary intake and status of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in a population of fish-eating and non-fish-eating meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans and the precursor-product ratio of a-linolenic acid to long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: results from the EPIC-Norfolk cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92:1040-1051.
At least one vegan nutritionists is skeptical of the Welch study because there are other factors such as omega-6 intake and the unusual blood measure used, etc., while The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called it BREAKING MEDICAL NEWS, stating:
"Women following vegan diets have significantly more omega-3 “good fats” in their blood, compared with fish-eaters, meat-eaters, and ovo-lacto vegetarians, according to a new report from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. Levels in vegan men were not quite as high as in vegan women. Despite zero intake of long-chain omega-3s (EPA) and (DHA) and substantially lower intake of their plant-derived precursor (ALA), vegan participants converted robust amounts of shorter-chain fatty acids into these long-chain fatty acids. Source: http://pcrm.org/health/medNews/women-on-vegan-diets-have-more-long-chain-omega-3s 
“Vegetarian diets typically contain limited amounts of DHA, and vegan diets typically contain no DHA. Vegetarians and vegans have substantially lower levels of DHA in their bodies, and short-term supplemental ALA has been shown to increase EPA, but not DHA. However, supplemental preformed DHA, available in algae-derived oils or capsules, has been shown to increase DHA levels. While there is little evidence of adverse health or cognitive effects due to DHA deficiency in adult vegans, fetal and breast milk levels remain a concern, so it is recommended that vegan mothers supplement with DHA…In a study of over 14,000 men and women, vegans with no intake of dietary EPA or DHA still had very high levels of plasma DHA and EPA, showing that conversion of ALA and omega-3 fatty acids is very efficient and much higher than sometimes reported in vegans. Male vegans had only slightly lower levels of DHA than female vegans, and only slightly lower levels than fish-eaters (195 compared to 240). EPA levels were higher in male vegans than in meat-eating and fish-eating males.  Pub Med Link:  http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20861171  
A different study confirming that vegans make long-chain fatty acids from short-chain ALA:
“The proportions of plasma long-chain n–3 fatty acids were not significantly affected by the duration of adherence to a vegetarian or vegan diet. This finding suggests that when animal foods are wholly excluded from the diet, the endogenous production of EPA and DHA results in low but stable plasma concentrations of these fatty acids.”  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 82, No. 2, 327-334, August 2005 © 2005 American Society for Clinical Nutrition
Contrary to the above studies, this Public Medical study from Austria concludes that vegans do need to supplement DHA and EPA:
“The present observational study included 98 Austrian adult volunteers of both genders, of which 23 were omnivores, 25 vegetarians, 37 vegans, and 13 semi-omnivores. They concluded “The vegetarian diet, with an average n-6/n-3 ratio of 10/1, promotes biochemical n-3 tissue decline. To ensure physical, mental and neurological health vegetarians have to reduce the n-6/n-3 ratio with an additional intake of direct sources of EPA and DHA, regardless of age and gender.” http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18305382 
The following study verified that vegan algae-derived DHA is an acceptable source: Omega-3 fatty acids for nutrition and medicine: considering microalgae oil as a vegetarian source of EPA and DHA  - Department of Biosciences, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Nilayam, India.
“Long-chain EPA/DHA omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can be co-preventative and co-therapeutic. Now, organically produced DHA-rich microalgae oil is available. Clinical trials with DHA-rich oil indicate comparable efficacies to fish oil for protection from cardiovascular risk factors by lowering plasma triglycerides and oxidative stress. This review discusses 1) omega-3 fatty acids in nutrition and medicine; 2) omega-3s in physiology and gene regulation; 3) possible protective mechanisms of EPA/DHA in major diseases such as coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, cancer and type 2 diabetes; 4) EPA and DHA requirements considering fish oil safety; and 5) microalgae EPA and DHA-rich oils and recent clinical results.” Source:  http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18220672
DHA is promoted for heart health, but vegans already have a lower risk of heart disease, and we are not certain if more EPA or DHA would significantly benefit vegans further. There is no undeniable evidence that vegans are being harmed by lower blood levels of DHA, but to be safe, some vegans choose to follow the recommendations of vegan health professionals who have concerns about possible neurological problems in vegans due to long-term DHA deficiency. It is recommended for vegans over 60 years of age to supplement daily with algae-derived DHA. Some elderly vegans have had no DHA in their blood, when tested. And those vegans who don't carefully plan their diet to include ample sources of ALA, might also be lacking DHA. Suggested doses are: Under 60 years of age, take 200-300 mg of vegan DHA every 2-3 days. Over 60 years of age, take 200-300 mg per day. Stay away from oils high in omega-6, such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, sesame, and vegetable blends because they interfere with the absorption of omega-3. Instead use olive oil or organic canola oil. Also, include a dietary source of omega 3 daily, such as, a few walnuts, ¼ tsp of flaxseed oil, 1 tsp of organic canola (rapeseed) oil, or 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseed, etc. Now you can make an informed decision if you need to supplement with vegan DHA/EPA.

Footnote Update (2018) :  I stopped taking these as I have reason to believe that they may raise cholesterol levels.


DaveDandelion said...

When it comes to nutrition we should look towards qualified experts in nutrition and not MDs. We should be especially wary of those with a conflict of interest (like selling their own supplements)! Please check out Virginas Messina's talk she did for Vegan Chicago for the comprehensive view of vegan nutrition.



Anonymous said...


Ginny Messina does recommend we supplement with EPA and DHA, she also state's she supplements EPA and DHA from Vegan supplements.

I don't agree on her notion that oils are healthy. I developed heart problems by eating Olive oil and agree with T colin campbell on the notion that olive oil is just as bad as a stick of butter.


M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

A message to Dave Dandelion from my brother, Brook Katz: The body NEEDS oils every day to properly run. You wouldn't run your car without oil as you'd ruin your engine, but you wouldn't pour olive oil into it cause that wouldn't work properly and your engine would burn up. Just the same with the humane machine. The right oils make things work and run smoothly, but you don't want to be pouring lots of olive oil in your engine either. It's important to know what kinds of oils are needed and in what amounts. (I still recommend getting your oils from eating the right foods, but those that can't or won't need to get them from supplementation cause you need them from somewhere!) Your right that most doctors won't know this either, but some, like Dr Fuhrman, are experts on the subject. Most dieticians won't know this either, or that these products are available. I recommend that people find VEGAN specialists for their answers, as our needs and dosages differ greatly from that of carnivores. That being said, "Common sense is still the best doctor." Listen to what your body tells you it needs, and put the right things in your engine. It will work great!

Captain James Tea Cook said...

Great collection of studies and resource on fish oil free Omega 3

Susan C. said...

Feedback on a few products, if anyone is interested: I highly recommend Ovega-3 (ovega.com), which has fairly high DHA & EPA, is reasonably priced, and is not fishy-tasting. V-Pure is great but expensive. Omega-3 Vegetarian EPA (Futurebiotics) has 600 mg EPA, but I had to return it b/c of the fish-burps. Ovega-3 is rather pleasant, if anything.

Alicia Sangineti said...

and what about countrys where we cann't obtain vegan supplements? (in some countries all suplements have animal components or something)

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

Alicia, I live in one of those countries! Order on-line. Opti-3 and V-Pure and others are in the U.K. and be ordered online.

vegangsterARNP said...

I am a nurse practitioner. Thank you for all your hard work putting this together. It is very good for many people to have the resources at their fingertips as well as micro explanations of why we should get these essential oils.

I personally eat chia daily, put flax seed in cereals, take evening primrose a couple of times a week, and regarding vit. D3, I take the brand Source of Life Garden. By the way, B12,I take the brand called DEVA.

I had to do literature reviews in my schooling about omega oils and mental health. People who eat animals are deficient in so many more things than vegans, first of all. All one has to do is enter any supplement store. Do you ask yourself, WHY in the world are omega oils in every store all over the place? Are vegans everywhere? For that matter, vitamin B12 is in every single store everywhere. Are vegans taking over the world?(i wish) You will realize that knowing how few vegans there are in comparison with carnists, that these pills are for them. They aren't banking on just vegans to buy these products. Why? because carnists are lacking in most essential minerals and vitamins. However, i am very glad that there are vegan options available for us, as our soils all over are stripped of the natural minerals from over cultivation, which forces us to look for other soucres of oils, B12s, etc.

Anyhow, thank you for the hard work.

Anonymous said...

From all the literature I've seen nobody seems to doubt the benefits of Omega-3 oils. However there has been lot of controversy about Canola oil that you list in your article so that one might require additional research.

Alex Strain said...

Butterflies, thank you for the list. Did you also look into this for dogs?

M. (known as) "Butterflies" Katz said...

Hi Alex

I also give DHA/EPA Omega 3 supplements to Kisses (canine). I only recently started, but I wish I started when she was younger before she was diagnosed with enlarged heart and pulmonary edema. I wish I did all supplementation that I do know, when she was younger. I also give her flax meal every day as well as hemp oil as the oil for her food; both heart healthy omega 3 oils.

Anonymous said...

susan, please tell me how you get fish burps from a vegan supplement. you do know VEGAN means that it can't have any animal product in it. that includes FISH.

Anonymous said...

I believe the reason why people complain they get fish burps when taking vegan supplement of DHA and EPA, it's because it's the same source that fish consumes but the vegans take it from Algae instead of fish.

Sebastian Bryers said...

@Anonymous, I actually take an algae oil supplement from a company called Ora Organic and I don't get fish burps from it. It's high in DHA and EPA, but doesn't taste like fish (I think they've added a lot of organic orange and citrus flavors because it tastes like pineapple). I'd recommend it if you're looking for a vegan source of Omega-3.

Shanaya said...

I was looking for this kind of information that I received from here..