Most people think that the omega 3 fatty acids, like eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosapentanoic acid (DHA), that come in fish body oil that are made by the fish themselves. They are wrong! The fish do not and cannot make these long chain fatty acids themselves. Only the microalgae can produce this long and complex long chain fatty acids. Fish merely consume the fatty acids produced by the microalgae that thive very deep in the ocean at the base of the marine food chain.
Today technology makes it possible for us to produce significant amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, in particular DHA, the longest and most complex of the long chain fatty acids cost effectively and in a commercially viable manner. It is now possible to access large sources o DHA. This natural DHA is extracted and purified from ocean dwelling single cell microalgae. It normally undergoes a process of microencapsulation to prolong its life and make it more stable.
There are many benefits to this :
1) Vegetarian source
DHA coming from micro-algae is non-fish derived. This is good news for vegetarians, who do not consume fish the most common source of ready to consume DHA. Many studies have shown that vegetarians have lower levels of DHA in their plasma. While for a long time, we had not properly established the value of DHA, new evidence seems to indicate that it is linked to brain function and may even have a role in cardiovascular disease. DHA may also have a direct influence on intelligence as a flurry of new studies seem to suggest.
Also, vegetarian mothers tend to have lower plasma levels of DHA. This is especially so in the critical breast feeding period. Again, higher levels of DHA both in maternal plasma and breast milk may be critical for the proper and optimal development for the infant. Thus, supplementation with algae derived DHA may indeed be the answer to so many DHA deprived vegetarians.
On March 17th, 1998, the radio programme, Arctic Science Journeys began like this:
"High in the Arctic, hundreds of miles north of Alaska almost but not quite near the North Pole you would expect to see a stark white landscape set against a brillant blue sky. But, instead, a layer of soot hangs in the air." Climatologists and other experts, call this gray layer "Arctic Haze". It seems that winds carry soot form coal burning plants and factories in Eastern Europeand Russia into the Arctic. Unfortunately, along with the soot, the winds also carry contaminants, such as mercury and lead into the far North.
Harold Welch, a research scientist with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, describes a terrifying picture. Contaminants like DDT, toxophene and PCBs, have made their way into the high-Arctic food chain.
Welch was quoted on a programme entitled "Top Of The World Pollution", which was narrated by Robert Hannon: "The upper 200 metres of the Arctic ocean, is the biggest resevoir, I think, in the world, for toxic materials. You have to understand that these pesticides evaporate quickly. So if you spray them in a field in India, for example, they are transported by the atmosphere to the Pole. That is one of the ways, they grasshopper their way into the Arctic Ocean."
And this was blatantly exposed in a independent analysis in June 1995 study by Greenpeace an environmental organisation. They made an analysis of 22 brands of fish oil randomly collected from American healthshop shelves. The sample were obtained from Norway, Japan, England, Iceland and Germany. 21 of the 22 brands failed! They were found to contain high levels of hazardous contaminants, specifically the organochlorine pesticides, DDT and lindane, and PCBs. The report concluded that "anyone taking a therapeutic dose would reach 80% of the U.S. FDA mandated maximum levels of these contaminants."
This is the new nightmare scenario: Toxic chemicals enter bodies of water from industrial dumping in rivers and runoff from contaminated land. These pollutants are carried by oceanic and atmospheric currents to far away ocean regions like the Arctic. Fish pick up the toxins via the food chain (zooplankton, for example) and their livers concentrate these toxic residues.
In fact, The Lancet in Volume 355 on 27th May this year published a study "High fish specific dioxin concentrations in Finland". The authors of the study, H Kiviranta, T. vartianen, M. verta, JT Tuomisto and J Tousmisto, noted that the dioxin concentrations in a population that frequently eat fish from the Baltic Seas are comparable to those seen in inhabitants of Seveso, Italy, after accidental release of this dioxin toxin in 1976. The variation of the cotamination was similar to the fish species consumed.
2) Pure DHA source
Fish oil comes with another essential fatty acid called eicospentanoic acid (EPA). There has been some concern that high EPA levels may compete with DHA at sites in the central nervous system. The EPA is not efficient as DHA in fullfilling such roles. There has also been some concern about the effects of EPA in infants and young children who may not have the proper conversion enzymes.
The concept today is to go for fish oils that have a higher DHA:EPA ratios. This makes tuna fish oil an excellent oil for brain function, pregnancy and breastfeeding as it has the similar ratios by that of the human brain as well as breastmilk. Even better is DHA derived from micro-algae as it is pure DHA will almost no EPA. This is why algae derived DHA has found its way into infant formulas in more than 60 countries worldwide.