Benefits of Plant Based Omega 3s - Why Should You Start Consuming Them Now?
Two Popular Sources of Plant Based Omega-3s
Omega-3s, some of the most commonly recognized essential fatty acids (EFA), have become staples of the dietary supplement and natural product industries. Known for supporting regular cell processes, hormone production, and helping to reduce inflammation, the Omega-3 family has also been recognized as the key component for balancing the excessive amounts of Omega-6 EFA that we currently consume in the Standard American Diet (SAD). Traditionally, Omega-3 supplements have been derived from fish or krill oils; but thanks in part to an increasingly troubled marine ecosystem and increased consumer demand for plant-based alternatives, another source of Omega-3s is slowly making its way into the spotlight…
The Three Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Before we dive into the growing case for plant-based Omega-3s, it’s worth noting that there are three major forms of omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). The first two, EPA and DHA, are longer-chain EFA often found preformed in animal sources, which our bodies can metabolize in greater quantities and with greater ease. The third type, ALA, is most often found in plant sources. While both EPA and DHA can be metabolized from ALA, the body can only process so much ALA at a time (then deriving only a limited amount of the more bio-available EPH and DHA).
Even with the body’s slightly limited ALA processing power, the interest in plant-derived Omega-3s continues to rise. Along with their ability to balance the aforementioned Omega-6s while providing other traditional omega-3 fatty acid health benefits, plant-derived ALAs are quickly being recognized as a sustainable and effective source of omega-3 fatty acids that can help meet the needs of vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore consumers.
What are the Benefits of Plant-Based Omega-3s?
The relationship between dietary ALA intake and cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been examined in several studies. A meta-analysis (i.e. evaluation of multiple studies) examined dietary consumption of ALA on the risk of CVD.[i] A total of 27 studies, 251,049 individuals and 15,327 CVD events (fatal coronary heart disease, non-fatal CHD, total CHD, and stroke) were included in the analysis. The results were that a moderately lower risk of CVD with higher ALA intake.
Also of interest is the fact that the cardio-protective effects of higher ALA intakes don’t seem to have anything to do with changes in serum lipid profiles. An evaluation of 14 randomized controlled trials determined that ALA supplementation had no effect on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, or triglyceride levels.[ii] Rather, several studies found that increasing ALA intake decreased serum concentrations of C-reactive protein(CRP), a marker of inflammation that is strongly associated with the risk of cardiovascular events.[iii] [iv] [v]
Two Popular Sources of Plant-Based Omega-3s
Flaxseed: Plant-Based Omega-3
Long recognized in the health and wellness community as being capable of offering a variety of health benefits, flaxseed continues to be one of the most popular non-animal sources of Omega-3s. Flaxseed oil, in particular, has been acknowledged for its ability to provide consumers with a concentrated dose of Omega-3s in the form of ALA. While numerous studies have pointed to the cardiovascular benefits that may come from flaxseed-derived omegas, there's currently little to no research supporting claims that those same flaxseed-derived omegas support brain health.
Consumer demand for flaxseed oil, flour, and seed butter products continue to rise. Flaxseed’s reputation and fan base make it a great option to consider when looking for an Omega-3 source for your dietary supplement product formulations.
Interestingly enough, Algae is the only plant that naturally contains DHA and EPA, making it the next closest thing to fish oil-derived omega-3s (minus the mercury, PCBs, and other toxins commonly found in fish-based products, that is). One of the lesser known facts about most varieties of algae (despite their growing popularity in the consumables marketplace) is that they are fairly simple and inexpensive to farm: Only requiring sunlight, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and phosphorus to grow.
Along with being easy to produce, algae farming has also received praise for its environmental responsibility. It’s one of the few farming operations that has a carbon neutral footprint (meaning that the process expels no new carbon into the atmosphere).
Effective, environmentally responsible, and growing in popularity (to the tune of over $5 million in conventional retail sales last year), algae-derived omega-3s are another viable option for those looking to diversify their dietary supplement’s formulation.Read more about this trending ingredient and the benefits derived from algae.
Looking Ahead: The Future of Plant-Based Omega 3 Supplements
It seems likely that Omega-3 supplements will continue to hold their ground and even grow as some of the most popular supplements on the market today. It also seems more than likely that, as our industry continues to move towards vegan, vegetarian, and environmentally responsible alternatives to classic staple ingredients,plant-derived Omega-3swill continue to climb in popularity.
[i] Pan A, Chen M, Chowdhury R, et al. α-linolenic acid and risk of cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(6):1262-1273.
[ii] Wendland E, Farmer A, Glasziou P, Neil A. Effect of α-linolenic acid on cardiovascular risk markers: a systematic review. Heart. 2006;92(2):166-169.
[iii] Bemelmans WJ, Lefrandt JD, Feskens EJ, et al. Increased α-linolenic acid intake lowers C-reactive protein, but has no effect on markers of atherosclerosis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004;58(7):1083-1089.
[iv] Rallidis LS, Paschos G, Liakos GK, Velissaridou AH, Anastasiadis G, Zampelas A. Dietary α-linolenic acid decreases C-reactive protein, serum amyloid A and interleukin-6 in dyslipidaemic patients. Atherosclerosis. 2003;167(2):237-242.
[v] Zhao G, Etherton TD, Martin KR, West SG, Gillies PJ, Kris-Etherton PM. Dietary α-linolenic acid reduces inflammatory and lipid cardiovascular risk factors in hypercholesterolemic men and women. J Nutr. 2004;134(11):2991-2997.
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