You Don't Have to Eat Fish to Get All Your Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

DHA, also known as docosahexaenoic acid, is an essential fatty acid brain food. Human brains, especially brains of the very young and the elderly, simply can't function without it. They don't wire as they should and they don't produce hormones to regulate the rest of the body the right way.

Getting extra DHA early in life helps children develop both athletic and academic skills. In Japan, DHA supplements are even handed out to school kids before exams. And DHA protects the elderly against the ravages of multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's disease. But you don't have to take fish oil to get your DHA.

DHA is also available from vegan sources, not requiring the killing of fish or the tiny shrimp known as krill. Even better the microalgae used to make vegan DHA are grown in sanitary tanks, rather than harvested directly from the sea. No sea animals are ever caught in the nets in the collection of the algae to make vegan DHA. Here are five things every vegan or vegetarian needs to know about vegan DHA.

1. The best brands of vegan DHA offer the DHA in methylcellulose capsules.

Most vegans and vegetarians would agree that putting microalgae DNA into capsules made of beef gelatin defeats part of the purpose of choose microalgae over fish oil. The kind of capsule that is free of animal products is usually labeled as "methylcellulose." Kosher and hallal certified microalgae DHA are also free of animal products.

2. Microalgae isn't the only vegetarian sources of DHA.

The human body can make DHA from alpha-linoleic acid, which is abundant in many kinds of vegetable oils, especially chia seeds, kiwiseed (Chinese gooseberry) oil, shiso (perilla oil), flaxseed oil, flaxseed oil, purslane, sea buckthorn oil, hempseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil. So why not just use these products to get your DHA?

The problem with using most of these products is that they are not only rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the kinds of fatty acids that reduce inflammation, they are even richer in omega-6 fatty acids, the kinds of fatty acids that increase inflammation. (Flaxseed oil is slightly richer in omega-3's than in omega-6's, but it also adds omega-6 fat to the diet.) The benefits of alpha-linolenic acid are offset by the problems produced by getting too many omega-6's. Microalgae is not the only vegan source of DHA, but it is the best.

3. Microalgae provides more DHA than EPA.

Microalgae and fish oil both provide DHA and EPA. Fish oil provides more EPA than DHA. Microalgae provides more DHA than EPA. That's important for vegans and vegetarians, because it turns out that vegetarians tend to be more deficient in DHA than in EPA. Even if vegans and vegetarians made an exception for fish oil in their diets (and many do), microalgae as a vegetarian DHA supplement is actually superior to fish oil, providing more of the omega-3 essential fatty acids in which most vegans and vegetarians are deficiency.

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