omega-3 capsules in a fish shape
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Algae Oil vs Fish Oil: Which is Better for You?

You’ve probably heard that omega-3s are super important for keeping your brain sharp, your heart healthy, and even reducing inflammation. But did you know that there are different sources of omega-3s? Yup, you can get them from algae (a vegan source) or fish oil.

We’ll examine the benefits and potential risks of both options, so you can make an informed decision. Plus, we’ll give you tips on how to choose the best foods or supplements for your needs.

So, let’s dive in and learn more about these two sources of omega-3s and how they can benefit your health!

What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3s are essential fatty acids that you must get from your diet because the human body cannot produce them.  Omega-3s are necessary for brain growth, reducing inflammation, and promoting heart health

There are three types of essential omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).  To be useful, ALA must be converted to EPA and DHA.  Unfortunately, the conversion happens slowly and inefficiently, so for the purposes of this discussion we will focus on EPA and DHA since they are the active compounds and have the most evidence supporting their benefits.

DHA and EPA are found mostly in fatty fish, algae, and seaweed.  

Two servings of fatty fish a week is adequate to cover basic needs.  If you do not consume two servings of fatty fish a week, or believe you could benefit from an omega-3 supplement for added brain and heart support, look for a supplement that contains at least 500 mg of omega-3s.  

Pro-tip: To get omega-3s in their most natural form, consider a fish oil supplement from either algae oil ( a vegetarian source), krill oil, or wild Alaskan salmon.  

Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fats

Brain Health. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain function and development. They can improve cognitive function, memory, and mood, and may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  A systematic review found that omega-3 supplements may improve memory, attention, and decision-making. (1)

Heart Health. According to the American Heart Association, omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides, reduce blood pressure, have anti-inflammatory properties, and prevent the formation of blood clots, all of which are important for preventing cardiovascular disease (2,3,4).

Joint Health. Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce joint pain and stiffness, and may also help prevent the development of rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory joint conditions (5). 

Eye Health. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for eye health and may help prevent age-related macular degeneration and improve dry eye symptoms (6,7). 

Skin Health. Omega-3 fatty acids can help improve skin health by reducing inflammation and protecting against damage from the sun’s UV rays (8,9). 

Reduced Risk of Cancer. Some studies have suggested that omega-3s may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer (10,11,12). 

Mood.  Research suggests that omega-3s may help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions (13, 14). 

Now that we’ve reviewed the benefits of omega-3 fats, let’s compare two excellent options for omega-3s:  algae oil and fish oil. 

Algae oil is one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3s, which means it’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans. On the other hand, fish oil is derived from, you guessed it, fish. 

It doesn’t stop there, though.  Read on to learn the nuances of these beneficial oils to discover which is best for you.

bubbles in algae under water

What is Algae Oil

Algae oil is extracted from certain types of marine algae, tiny organisms found in oceans, lakes, rivers, and even damp soil.  Rich in the omega-3 fatty acid called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is important for brain and eye health, algae oil also contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), but typically in lower amounts than fish oil.

Algae oil is considered a more sustainable and eco-friendly source of omega-3s compared to fish oil.  Unlike fish oil, which is often obtained from wild-caught fish and can contribute to overfishing and ecosystem disruption, algae can be grown in controlled environments and harvested sustainably.

Algae oil is also vegan, making it an excellent choice for those who follow a plant-based or vegetarian diet.  In nature, it is consumed by fish and converted into omega-3 fatty acids.  When you consume algae oil you benefit from the omega-3 fats without involving the fish!

Pro-tip: Algae oil is best consumed as a supplement.  Though algae oil is available as a cooking oil, it is typically highly refined (processed) and thus lacking some of the benefits of pure algae oil. 

Types of Algae Oil

  • Schizochytrium. This type of microalgae is known for its especially high DHA content.
  • Nannochloropsis. Nannochloropsis is a microalgae that contains high amounts of both EPA and DHA.
  • Spirulina. This blue-green algae contains lower levels of EPA and DHA compared to other types of algae.
  • Chlorella. This green algae is sometimes used as a source of omega-3s in algae oil supplements, but it is less commonly used compared to other types of algae.

Schizochytrium and Nannochloropsis are the most commonly used types of algae for algae oil supplements due to their high EPA and DHA content.

How is Algae Oil Processed? (and Why You Should Care)

Algae oil is typically processed either by wet extraction or solvent extraction. The extraction process used may impact the quality of the oil and is an important consideration when choosing algal oil supplements.

Wet extraction breaks down the cell walls of the algae using heat, pressure, or enzymes. The oil is then separated from the other components of the algae, producing a high-quality algae oil that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Solvent extraction uses solvents such as hexane or ethanol to extract the oil from the algae. This process is often used to extract larger quantities of oil more quickly and efficiently than wet extraction. However, it may also leave trace amounts of solvents in the final product.

After the oil has been extracted, it is typically purified and tested for contaminants such as heavy metals, toxins, and pollutants. This ensures that the algae oil is safe for human consumption.

Pro-tip: Since hexane is a known carcinogen (causes cancer), it is important to be aware of the extraction process of your algae oil and confirm whether it has been purified and tested for solvents by a third party.

Sustainability

Algae oil is a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to fish oil. Algae is a renewable resource that can be grown quickly and easily, and it doesn’t require the same kind of resources as other oil crops like soybeans or canola. So if you’re looking for a way to reduce your carbon footprint, algae oil is a great option.

How to Choose an Algae Oil Supplement

Source. Ensure that the algae used to make the supplement is sourced from a clean and sustainable environment. Look for products that use microalgae, which is the most common source of omega-3s in algae oil supplements.

Purity. Read reviews and check the company’s website to ensure that they follow strict quality control standards.  Products that have been verified by USP and manufactured in a GMP-certified facility ensure that they meet high standards for quality and safety. 

Omega-3 Content. Look for a supplement that provides at least 250-500 mg of DHA per serving and at least 100-250 mg of EPA per serving.

Additional Ingredients. Some algae oil supplements contain additional ingredients, such as flavorings or preservatives. Make sure you are comfortable with all the ingredients listed and avoid any that contain artificial additives.

It’s always important to consult with a healthcare provider before adding any new supplement to your diet.

Overall, algae oil is a healthy and sustainable source of omega-3 fatty acids that can provide numerous health benefits, especially for those who follow a plant-based diet or are concerned about the environmental impact of their food choices.

Fish oil pills and fresh fish on light background

What is Fish Oil

Fish oil is a well-known source of omega-3 fatty acids, essential nutrients that play a crucial role in supporting overall health. One of the main benefits of fish oil is its high content of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two types of omega-3 fatty acids that have been extensively studied for their health-promoting effects.

Pro-tip: The best dietary sources of fish oil include smaller cold-water fish like salmon, krill, anchovies, mackerel (not king mackerel), and sardines because they are less likely to contain mercury or other contaminants.

Types of Fish Oil

  • Cod liver oil. Extracted from the liver of the cod fish, this oil is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids. However, it may contain very high levels of vitamin A, which can be toxic in large doses.
  • Krill oil. Derived from Antarctic krill, a small, shrimp-like crustacean, this oil provides a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids.  Krill oil supplements may be better absorbed than traditional fish oil (15) and contain astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant (16). 
  • Salmon oil. This type of fish oil is derived from salmon, a fatty fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon oil may also contain astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant that is responsible for salmon’s pink color.
  • Sardine oil. Sardine oil is derived from sardines, a small, oily fish that is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Sardine oil is often used as an alternative to other types of fish oil because it is less likely to be contaminated with toxins like mercury.
  • Tuna oil. Tuna oil is derived from tuna, a large, predatory fish that is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, tuna may also contain high levels of mercury, which can be harmful in large doses.

How is Fish Oil Processed? (and Why You Should Care)

Fish oil is typically processed using either molecular distillation or cold-pressing.

Molecular distillation separates the omega-3 fatty acids from other components of the fish, such as heavy metals, toxins, and pollutants. The fish oil is heated and then condensed. The heating process may destroy some of the benefits of the fish oil.

Cold-pressing is a process that involves pressing the oil out of the fish without the use of heat. This process preserves the natural nutrients in the fish oil, but may not remove all of the contaminants.

Once the fish oil has been extracted, it is typically purified and tested for contaminants such as heavy metals, toxins, and pollutants.   After purification, the fish oil may be further processed to remove any unwanted flavors or odors. 

Pro-tip: The processing method used to produce fish oil will depend on the manufacturer and the quality standards they follow. It’s important to choose a high-quality fish oil that has been purified and tested for contaminants to ensure that it is safe and effective.

How to Choose Fish Oil Supplements:

When it comes to choosing the best type of fish oil, there are several factors to consider. 

Source. Look for fish oil that is sourced from wild-caught fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, or herring. These fish are generally high in omega-3 fatty acids and are less likely to contain contaminants such as mercury and PCBs.  Avoid farmed fish when possible as they are often given antibiotics and are more likely to contain contaminants.

Purity. Choose a fish oil supplement that has been purified and tested for contaminants. Look for products that have been certified by third-party organizations such as the International Fish Oil Standards (IFOS) or the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

Omega-3 Content. A high-quality fish oil supplement should contain at least 500mg of combined EPA and DHA per serving.

Freshness. Choose a fish oil supplement that is fresh and has not been exposed to air or light, which can cause it to become rancid. Look for products that are stored in dark, opaque bottles and that have an expiration date.

Additional Ingredients. Fish oil supplements may contain additional ingredients. Make sure you are comfortable with all the ingredients listed and avoid any that contain artificial additives.

It’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before adding any new supplement to your diet.

Algae Oil vs Fish Oil: Which is Better for You?

Algae oil is a vegan and sustainable source of plant-based omega-3s, which are essential nutrients for human health. This makes it an excellent choice for those concerned about the environmental impact of their food choices.  It is also less likely to contain contaminants than many fish oils.

On the other hand, fish oil supplements are more widely available than algae oil supplements and they are often less expensive.  A high quality fish oil is properly processed and purified to reduce the risk of contaminants.

Whether you prefer a vegan diet, are allergic to fish, or are just looking for a sustainable alternative to fish oil, algae oil may be the better choice for you. But if you prefer taking a supplement derived from fish, fish oil is a great option as well –  just make sure it is wild-caught and properly processed to eliminate any potential toxins. 

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