Update May 2020

May, 2020

Fish oil is so much more than omega3!

Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids are experiencing a growing demand in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. People want to boost their immunity systems and fish oil capsules are highly sought-after, although no robust data have emerged yet. Treatments containing fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids being trialed on COVID-19 patients are starting to make the headlines and this doesn’t come as a surprise considering the range of benefits that fish oil offers.

However, when it comes to boosting immunity against coronavirus, hasty conclusions shouldn’t be drawn right now: there is still “an insufficient body of scientific literature to connect EPA/DHA to benefits of either positive general or viral immunity outcomes in a healthy population”, as GOED, The Global Organization for EPA and DHA, underlines.

Fish oil is already highly recognised for its benefits, both for animals and humans, based not only on its high levels of omega-3 fatty acids but also on the vitamins A and D that it contains. “The omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have beneficial effects in a range of human pathologies including cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, and important roles in neural development and function” says Professor Douglas Tocher in the article that he wrote for IFFO. It is recommended that healthy adults consume a minimum of 250–500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day as part of a healthy diet. Beyond these, the benefits of using fish oil include a dietary source of energy and essential for overall good health and optimal growth. Fish oil also greatly enhances palatability of the feed – which is vital at the early stages of the fish growth.

Fish and seafood are the main sources of EPA and DHA but there is a gap: a recent study led by Helen Ann Hamilton, Ph.D., has highlighted the current human nutritional supply of EPA and DHA, which is estimated to be only 30% of the demand. Aquaculture, as the biggest user and supplier of EPA and DHA, has driven the research into new sources (microalgal biomasses and oil, and genetically modified oilseed crops). Each product may play a role, but the key point is that EPA and DHA are the main source of these long chain omega-3s at the current time. Plant-sourced shorter chain omega-3s (usually alpha-linoleic acid, ALA) are different and do not confer the same health benefits: the human body can convert ALA to EPA, but the process is inefficient (less than 5%). Marine microalgae is potentially the most important marine ingredient for supplementing fish oil supply, but as with all production processes there are environmental impacts from these processes (production is based on the use of vegetable substrates containing sugars, often sugar cane or corn, and the process requires energy inputs), that also need to be accounted for.

Petter M Johannessen

Public Website

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