The Omega Debate

Which Source of Omega is the Best & Why?

Rakesh Kapoor, PhD
Director of Science and Technology, Bioriginal

To even try and compare different omega fatty acids would be comparing apples and oranges – they’re both fruits, both are very nutritious and beneficial. But to say one is better than the other would make no sense – they should both be enjoyed for optimal health. For the sake of this debate, I will concentrate on the more commonly debated omega: omega-3.

There is a debate about which source of omega-3 fatty acid is better – typically between marine and plant sources – and this debate is often comes to the fact that the conversion of ALA to longer chain fatty acids (EPA and DHA) is slow in the human body. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are mainly ascribed to longer chain fatty acids. At present, we do not understand the differential actions of different fatty acids. Nor do we understand what is the optimal level of different fatty acids and what level constitutes deficiency for optimal functioning of different organs, for healthy life. Research in humans cannot be designed to delineate the effects of individual fatty acids, due to the fact that ALA is converted to EPA and DHA, and DHA is retroconverted to EPA. These fatty acids individually modulate several genes and we do not understand the effects of all these gene products.

Lack of understanding should not be construed as having no effect.

A secondary consideration in this debate is that vegetarian populations do not consume longer chain fatty acids. It is proven that vegetarian populations have much lower incidences of chronic diseases (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammatory diseases and mental health issues like depression, etc.) than meat eaters. These populations have lower levels of longer chain omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells, brain and plasma.

There are benefits from all omega-3 fatty acids, although there is still more research to be done on the specific mechanism of actions. But just like eating a variety of fruits is beneficial for optimal health, we should also be taking a balanced amount of all the fatty acids from a variety of sources to receive the full spectrum of health benefits.