Sustainable Sources of Omega-3 Are Needed as Demand Soars 

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The demand for omega-3 is soaring as people learn more about its impressive health benefits, but the supply can’t keep up. Here’s more on the driving factors causing this imbalance, its impact and sustainable solutions that can change the market. 

Benefits of Omega-3s 

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats essential for supporting the body’s several physiological functions from head to toe. It has three main types:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)

EPA and DHA are found in marine life, like seafood and fish, while ALA is derived from plants, like chia seeds. These omega-3s are further divided into short-chain and long-chain.  

EPA and DHA belong to the long-chain omega-3s and ALA is a short-chain fatty acid. 

The difference lies between their sources and structural makeup. Between these options, DHA and EPA are more significant as long-chain fats are readily absorbed to provide health benefits. In contrast, the body still needs to convert ALA into small amounts of EPA or DHA before absorption occurs, which is inefficient. 

Suppose you’re a vegan and rely on plants for omega-3. In this case, you likely won’t get an adequate volume of fatty acids, so supplementation may be needed. Nevertheless, ALA still contributes to achieving healthy levels of good fats in the body. 

Factors Driving the Increased Demand

woman putting oil into a green glass bottle

The global market for omega-3 was worth $2.62 billion in 2023 and will continue to grow at a CAGR rate of 7.9%. Reasons relating to biology, lifestyle and health drive the demand for omega-3s to the roof. 

1. The Body’s Inability to Synthesize It

While the body can make fats from scratch to thrive, it can’t do the same thing with omega-3, making nutrition the only means of derivation. Eating seafood at least twice a week is mainly how people ingest enough healthy fats. 

2. Health Benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that lower your risk of serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease and dementia. These healthful qualities make your heart and brain healthy and elevate the demand for these oils.

3. Increased Awareness 

Consumers are now more aware of the significance of these fatty acids in overall health, increasing the necessity to take them. Online media, educational resources and health professionals have heavily promoted omega-3s to the public, especially older people. 

4. Dietary Restrictions

Vegans, vegetarians and people allergic to seafood and fish turn to plant-based alternatives, such as flaxseeds and chia seeds, raising the demand for non-animal omega-3 sources. 

More Americans are changing their lifestyles through nutrition. However, this positive shift comes with an adverse impact on the marine environment.

Impact of Overconsuming Traditional Omega-3 Sources

fish swimming in the ocean

Consumers heavily rely on sea life as the main source of DHA and EPA, which puts pressure on the marine ecosystem and results in environmental compromises, such as:

  • Overfishing and dwindling fish population 
  • Disruption in marine ecosystems and biodiversity
  • Unsustainable means of using resources
  • Pollution and bycatch 

People will need to catch more fish, disturb marine ecosystems and potentially cause pollution to meet the demand for omega-3s. If these practices continue, a time can come when the ocean runs out of marine life. Sustainable practices must be implemented to preserve what remains of the resources in the environment. 

Sustainable Alternatives

It’s possible to make sustainable omega-3 if everyone does their part in protecting the environment. Little efforts can trigger positive changes. Here are some ideas. 

1. Adding Plant-Based Sources 

You can minimize the strain on marine ecosystems by including flaxseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, algal oil and Brussels sprouts as secondary reservoirs of omega-3 in your diet. They’re also more accessible than fish and seafood. These plants are loaded with ALA and other nutritional profiles, such as protein and fiber, that can boost the functions of the heart, brain and overall well-being.  

2. Exploring Manufactured Omega-3s

With the advances in synthetic biology, it’s now possible to make sustainable omega-3 fatty acids in the lab through biotechnological production. Although most research is still in the early phase, successfully finding a way to synthesize omega-3s using technology can narrow the gap between supply and demand. Here are some options with promising findings. 

Algae-Based Sources

With the right cultivation conditions, microalgae can be an excellent source of sustainable omega-3 fats. The challenge with this procedure is these organisms are susceptible to temperature, salinity, light and other nurturing factors. Careful treatment and optimally controlled cultivation efficiency are crucial for increasing their omega-3 content. 

Wild Bacteria

Research on marine and soil bacteria as sustainable omega-3 sources also shows optimistic results. The growing technology uses advanced precision fermentation to extract healthy oils from these little pockets of bacteria, unlocking the previously inaccessible omega-3s. 

Fungi

Similar to bacteria, fungi also have the potential to be an alternate source of omega-3 oils, specifically DHA, through a controlled fermentation process. Specific types, like Mortierella alpina, have been shown to contain DHA, which can be harvested using technology and processed through various forms. 

Overall, the biotechnological production of sustainable omega-3 using algae, bacteria and fungi is a method with room for improvement. Everyone is hopeful research findings will deliver favorable outcomes.  

Sustainable Practices and Innovations

photo of people catching fishes

Technology has yet to reach a point where biotechnological production is fully enabled, so people continue to cling to marine life for omega-3 reserves. These tips can help reduce the risk to ocean ecosystems. 

1. Implement Responsible Fishing

Sustainable fishing practices, such as capping the number of caught fish at a certain quota to protect their population and using fishing nets with larger mesh to avoid bycatch, will help. Improving fishing practices means the next generations will have enough fish for omega-3s.  

2. Encourage Consumers to Make Sustainable Choices

Consumers have a role in championing sustainable omega-3 sources by making informed buying decisions. Supporting organizations that sell products with environmentally friendly labels and certification is a straightforward way to incorporate sustainability into your diet and make a positive impact.

3. Adopt Sustainable Innovations 

Being receptive to emerging technologies that make sustainable omega-3s can help close the large hole between supply and demand. For example, adopting these alternative sources can protect ocean life and has proven safe to extract omega-3 from algae and fungi. 

Sustainable Omega-3s Can Help Meet Demand

Omega-3s are healthy fats the body requires for everyday functions. The demand for this nutrient is skyrocketing, but there’s a supply shortage as marine life dwindles. 

The most promising solution for sustainable omega-3 is biotechnological production, where fungi, bacteria and algae can be cultivated in a controlled environment to produce healthy oils that can be harvested when the time is right. Consumer choices also matter. By buying omega-3 products from responsible companies, you can be part of the sustainable solution.

  • Beth Rush

    Beth Rush is the green wellness editor at Body+Mind, a health and wellness brand. She covers topics like sustainable agriculture and plant-based recipes. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth!

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