Fish-free oil offers new ways to get omega-3 fatty acids

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The central theses

  • DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids that are important to our health, but many Americans do not get the recommended daily allowance.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are naturally found in oily fish. For those who avoid fish products, a newly created genetically modified source of DHA and EPA offers plasma level effects similar to fish oil.
  • A non-fish alternative can help people who do not consume fish enjoy the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.

If you aren’t eating fish, genetically modified plants may be able to help you include omega-3s in your diet, according to a new study...

People avoid fish and fish-based products for reasons such as taste, contamination issues, cost, availability and sustainability. However, fish – especially oily fish like salmon and tuna – is rich in essential omega-3 fatty acids, which offer many health benefits.

Based on a study of nearly 15,000 Americans, many adults in the United States do not get enough omega-3s in their diets...

Researchers have made an oil from a transgenic (genetically modified) plant that produces the most important fatty acids by genetically inserting certain enzymes into plants. The result is a product called C. sativa oil.

The researchers published an update on their novel genetically modified oil in Nutrition Bulletin in December 2020...

As good as fish oil?

The researchers conducted a clinical study to evaluate whether consumption of the C. sativa oil produced plasma levels of the fatty acids similar to those of consumption of fish oil.

In a double-blind cross-over experiment, the researchers gave test meals to a group of healthy people. Some of the meals contained omega-3 fatty acids (450 mg EPA + DHA) from either C. sativa oil and the others used commercial mixed fish oil...

“Based on the study results, C. sativa transgenic oil is as effective as fish oil as an omega-3 supplement in terms of bioavailability, incorporation in blood lipids, and accumulation in plasma lipids,” said Colleen Woods, MS, RDN. registered nutritionist and owner of EdibleEdits.com tells Verywell. “It is also as well tolerated as fish oil and can be tastier.”

Other studies with a similar design have also produced positive results..The new creation could be a welcome alternative to fish and fish oil for people who prefer to avoid these products.

Concerns about GMOs

According to Woods, there is a potential problem with a non-fish DHA and EPA solution for people who are concerned about the unknown long-term effects of consuming genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

However, the National Academies of Science, Technology, and Medicine have failed to find solid evidence that foods made from genetically modified plants are less safe than foods made from non-genetically modified plants...

The Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The human body can synthesize certain nutrients that we need, which means we don’t have to get them from our diet. These nutrients are said to be non-essential as we don’t need to consume them to meet our body’s needs.

Essential nutrients, on the other hand, are nutrients that your body needs to function but cannot produce itself. That means we have to consume them to keep our health.

DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids

There are two omega-3 fatty acids that are critical to health: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The body can synthesize small amounts of these fatty acids, but not enough to meet the body’s needs. That is why we have to consume omega-3 fatty acids in our diet through foods or dietary supplements...

Omega-3s are mostly found in marine springs or fish oil supplements, but some foods, such as eggs, are also fortified with them. Oily fish like salmon and tuna are important food sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

The latest nutritional guidelines for Americans (2020-2025) recommend eating fish two to three times a week to get the benefits of these fatty acids...

DHA and EPA are not technically considered essential, but we need to include them in our diet as the body cannot synthesize enough to meet its needs.

Who Needs Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

We all need omega-3s to help our bodies function, but some groups of people in certain health situations need them even more.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends people with coronary artery disease get about 1 gram of EPA plus DHA omega-3 fatty acids per day..Pregnant women need omega-3 fatty acids to support the development of the brain and eye of the fetus...

Getting enough omega-3s also offers preventative health benefits. “Consuming adequate amounts of DHA and / or EPA is also linked to a reduced risk of depression, migraines, and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes,” Brittany Scanniello, RD, a Colorado registered dietitian told Verywell.

Limited supply, increased demand

There is a need for an alternative source of these fatty acids that offer similar health benefits. The marine sources of EPA and DHA decrease as demand increases, and some people avoid fish or fish products for other reasons.

“EPA and DHA production from seed oils is attractive as a source for fish farm feeding and direct human use because most Americans do not have enough long-chain omega-3s in their diets,” said Tom Brenna, PhD, Professor of human nutrition at a University of Texas at Austin, says Verywell.

One solution for everyone?

If you follow a vegan lifestyle, cannot tolerate fish or fish oil supplements, or have other seafood intake concerns, you can benefit from being able to meet your body’s omega-3 fatty acid needs without fish. However, if you can include fish in your diet, it offers benefits that no pill can match.

“Seafood isn’t just the best source of EPA and DHA, it’s a whole package of essential nutrients, including selenium, iron, zinc, and complete proteins, that help you grow, develop, and maintain good health,” says Brenna.

What this means for you

Omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA, are important to your health. Your body can synthesize some omega-3 fatty acids, but not enough to meet your body’s needs. You need to get them through your diet by consuming oily fish, supplements, and some fortified foods. If you avoid fish and fish products, genetically modified C. sativa oil can be an effective way to get omega-3 fatty acids.

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