If you are a Vegan, like me, it is hard to admit that we need some supplements of the stuff that is in "meat". Since Humans are originally Omnivores and not Herbivores, it is necessary to investigate this. Science is evolving, as are we!

Are Vegans more intelligent? Not without dha/epa!  

Fish contains lots of mercury
and PCB's. Oceans are being
emptied. Human intelligence
evolved partly thanks to fish
consumption, but now we can
spare them.
Probably most people have read or heard about the vegan couple convicted of starving their child to death in Atlanta, May 2007.
I know that for vegans, certainly vegan parents like me, such tragic events do make them look irresponsible. We have to debate again about our choices and whether our diet meets the needs to stay healthy. To my opinion this debating has a good part: It is very important that vegans do keep on looking critically to their diet and they have to improve it constantly.
I want to go to a part of the article 'Death by Veganism' of the New York Times about DHA:
It is difficult to overstate the importance of DHA, vital as it is for eye and brain development.  
Why are the fatty acids DHA and EPA so important?

The human brain consists of over 60% fat of which essential fatty acids are an integral component. The essential fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are the primary structural fat in both the gray matter of the brain and the retina of the eye, therefore these essential fatty acids are essential for brain and eye development and function.


DHA plus EPA are both considered to have beneficial effects in the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease in particular EPA is converted into a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and is thought to possess beneficial potential in mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, depression and ADHD.


How important is it to take vegetable sources of DHA/EPA?

The most well-known direct source of Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA come from cold-water fish, particularly cod, tuna, salmon, halibut, shark and mackerel. 

Just realize that for every 1-kilo of pure fish oil produced, it takes 500 kilos of fish bodies.

Health recommendations advise increased consumption of oily fish and fish oils within limits, on the grounds that intake is generally low. People urgently need to re-consider their omega-3 resource out of fish (only).

Detailed information can be found in the website Fishing Hurts;

Yet commercial fishers kill hundreds of billions of animals every year—far more than any other industry—and they havevha decimated our ocean ecosystems. In fact, 90 percent of large fish populations have been exterminated in the past 50 years and a recent report published in the academic journal Science, estimates that by the year 2048 our oceans will have been completely over-fished.
Lifeless oceans may encourage growth in the fish-farming industry but the FAO is concerned that even fish farming will not be able to meet the demand for fish, since farmed fish need to be fed 5 pounds of commercially-caught fish for every 1 found of fish flesh they produce.

Fish do not produce omega-3, fish convert the essential fats from algae into these fats and then accumulate them up the food chain. Now we have the opportunity to cut out the middle man and just consume algae based EPA and DHA ourselves...

People also should realize that some types of fish contain high levels of mercury, PCB poly-chlorinated biphenyls), dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Some species of fish may contain significant levels of methyl-mercury, considered one of the more dangerous food contaminants today. (Read more on methyl-mercury health risks)

In general, older, larger predatory fish and marine mammals, such as swordfish and seals, tend to contain the highest levels of these contaminants. PCB and methyl-mercury are believed to have long half-lives in the body and can accumulate in people who consume contaminated fish on a frequent basis.

 
Which are important Vegan sources of Omega-3?


DHA and EPA can be made (in small amounts) from the omega-3 oil alpha-linolenic acid (ALA or LNA) found in large quantities in seeds such as flax, hemp and pumpkin, in moderate amounts in walnuts or in small amounts in soy and green leafy vegetables.

 Only about 3-5% of the ALA consumed becomes either DHA or EPA in HEALTHY individuals. Through a series of enzyme-controlled reactions the body converts this ALA into a number of vital fatty acids including EPA and DHA.

To maximize conversion of DHA/EPA;

   1. Reduce intake of omega-6 fatty acids (mainly from processed foods and omega-6-rich oils such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soy oil and grape seed oil).
   2. Limit intake which inhibit conversion; alcohol, saturated and trans fats (from animal foods and processed foods), smoking, caffeine, viral infections, stress and excess intake of vitamin A and copper.
   3. Include good sources of the nutrients which aid essential fat conversion – zinc, magnesium, calcium, biotin and vitamins B6, B3 and C.
   4. Make most of your fat intake mono unsaturated fats (olives, olive oil, canola oil, avocados, nuts and nut oils).
   5. Include sufficient omega-3 fatty acids in the daily diet (flaxseed, flaxseed oil and hemp seed oil, canola oil, walnuts, green leafy vegetables). For most adults 3-4 grams per day is a reasonable intake.
   6. Eat a nutritious diet - poor intakes of energy, protein and certain vitamins and minerals can reduce conversion.

The process of converting ALA to either DHA or EPA is hindered in various disease states and requires that some people receive a direct source of DHA from their diet or supplementation.

Vegans and Vegetarians have lower blood levels of DHA and EPA due to its virtual absence in foods of plant origin. There are a number of sea vegetables that have some EPA and DHA, but since the amount of fat in seaweed is usually so low, they are NOT reliable sources.

Plant-based DHA/EPA supplements are available!

Vegans and Vegetarians certainly should consider them, especially pregnant women for the baby’s brain and nervous system development and for up growing children (Read more on the importance of DHA for both groups).

There is now an algae-derived oil that has both DHA and EPA, suitable for vegans and vegetarians.

Fish obtain both their DHA and EPA ultimately from the consumption of algae, which is also now more widely available to the public as the only "plant"-based source of DHA and EPA. See below the follwoing links where you can order your vegan source of the essential fatty acids!

Water4life; Omega-3 DHA/EPA vegan capsules
NuTru; Omega-3 in liquid form, they state it is easy to give to children trough their food (yogurt, cereals e.a.),
although our baby didn't like it at all.
Both you can order from VeganEssentials, as where there are other brands available.

Dr. Fuhrmans DHAPurity;   This one actually tastes not bad. You can take it in as a liquid, without the fish-taste-horror (the only one our baby accepts). Fuhrman states that the other oils are "rotten". Very strong statements, to say about your concurrents product, I cannot judge about this. It does taste much much better though, the other ones are cheaper.

Some of these (non-organic) DHA oils might be extracted from the algae with the chemical hexane.
Many (mass market) oils are extracted with hexane, this because it is a very efficient process; extracting 95% of the oil present in the algae/seeds etc.
Apparently hexane is most harmfull for the environment, but consumers are concerned about potential chemical residues, so am I.
I am currently looking further into the possible health risks, if you want to be sure you get hexane-free DHA oil you can get it from;
Spectrum (on which you find more info)
Now-foods(ordered via Vegan Essentials)

If you know other suppliers or info, please link and share it  in the comment-section.


References;
DHA/EPA omega-3 Institute
Fishing Hurts
Foods for life
Monbiot.com
Vegan Health
Vegan Society
Veg Family: Vegan Nutrition with Brenda Davis
Oilgae

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26 reactions: to “ Are Vegans more intelligent? Not without dha/epa!

  • Healthy Oil Guy
    January 18, 2009 at 3:01 PM  

    Thanks for the informative article. Although fish provide some of the highest sources of DHA and EPA, you can use alternate sources. I admit using pharmaceutical-grade fish oil, but I also use krill oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil and coconut oil. This gives me a broad range of fatty acids from a variety of healthy fat sources.

  • Vegan Bodybuilding
    February 5, 2009 at 1:11 PM  

    Good to see people giving out info about both veganism & DHA supplementation. Helping to banish the myth that vegan parents are some form of child abuser is also a good move (damn, that one stupid family)!
    I've been talking over at veganbodybuilding.org about DHA for improving vegan athletes performance for a while now & it finally seems to be sinking it.
    I also know Ryan from veganessentials.com (which you mention) he's not just a seller of vegan products, but one crazily strong guy. Talk to him if you want advice about buying stuff to get in shape!
    Pete

  • Anonymous
    March 2, 2009 at 2:28 PM  

    The Vegetarian & Vegan Foundation's guide Fish-Free for Life looks in depth at many of these issues and reviews the current science. It provides paractial hints, tips and even recipes. Available online from: www.vegetarian.org.uk/guides/fishfish.pdf

  • Anonymous
    May 7, 2009 at 7:01 PM  

    It's a common misconception that you need to acquire DHA/EPA directly from diet.

    While it's true that our bodies don't make a tremendous amount of DHA or EPA from ALA, the fish oil lobby likes to ignore the fact it's because we don't need that much DHA or EPA. We make only as much as we need.

    DHA regulates blood thickness. Too much DHA can cause harmful effects because it makes the blood too thin.

    Similiarly, EPA regulates the formation of blood clots. Too much EPA will lower your ability to form clots.

    People are advised to consult with their doctors before using fish oil if they're on blood pressure medication, anticoagulants, and diabetes medications. You can essentialy make yourself a hemophiliac if you ingest too much of this stuff.

    Elephants make all the EPA and DHA they need and they don't eat fish or seaweed! They get everything they need from their plant-based diets.

  • Blog author
    May 9, 2009 at 11:36 PM  

    It is nice to know that more and more (vegan) people become aware of the importance of DHA in the diet. Apparently there are some rumors going around as if this knowledge is mainly spread by the fish oil lobby.

    A quote from the comment above;'We make only as much as we need.'
    The conversion of ALA is a very intensive and long process for our body resulting eventually in a very small amount of DHA.

    As for the importance of getting enough DHA; I think if you look around on the internet there are plenty of articles to find reflecting the positive results achieved with DHA outweigh. If you do not like to read all these, just have a look at a BBC documentary on this subject;

    Go to the documentary

    The influence of DHA/EPA on the blood thickness, in articles I read, have been received as a positive effect preventing risks of cardiovascular disease. Wondering how much you have to take to make DHA itself a health risk!

  • Ron
    May 21, 2009 at 7:25 AM  

    www.water4.net makes a combo DHA/EPA product. If you want more vegan EPA,check out echium oil: http://www.vegepa.com/vegepa.php?n=vwp12314310931814952214&indi=&ti=

    Regarding getting it from your food, some (many?) people can't convert enough. If you are not taking (enough) DHA and you have dry itchy skin, or anxiety, or elevated triglycerides, it may be that you aren't converting enough from your flax seeds. Women are better converters than men.

  • Anonymous
    August 29, 2009 at 9:50 PM  

    "The influence of DHA/EPA on the blood thickness, in articles I read, have been received as a positive effect preventing risks of cardiovascular disease. Wondering how much you have to take to make DHA itself a health risk."

    Thinning the blood decreases your chance of a heart attack but increases your chance for a stroke.

    Thinning the blood results in a lack of oxygen flow, and lack of oxygen flow to the brain eventually results in a stroke.

  • Igennus Healthcare Nutrition
    April 12, 2010 at 5:21 PM  

    There's a great plant source of healthy EPA. It comes from Echium plant. Supplemen's called Echiomega and is manufactured in UK by Igennus

  • Anonymous
    June 8, 2010 at 7:49 PM  

    Wow, do you work for Igennus by chance? Their Echiomega supplement contains NO EPA. What it does contain is SDA (an Omega-3), which the company refers to on their website as a "precursor to EPA" that "produces up to 5 times more EPA than ALA in flaxseed oil," a pretty wild claim for which, unsurprisingly, no scientific references are offered.

    This next point is not directly related to your above post, but I think it offers a bit of insight into the type of company Igennus is. Another of their products - VegEPA - is not, in fact, vegetarian. The EPA in the product is derived from fish oil! Sure, the capsules (not their contents) are vegetarian, but naming a product "VegEPA" whose primary ingredient is fish oil is like naming a meat burger conveyed on a wheat bun a "VegBurger." WTF?

  • Anonymous
    July 2, 2010 at 4:40 PM  

    It doesn't seem there is a good source of veg EPA around, i take fish oil and to get the same amount of EPA from 1 tsp of my fish oil requires around 16 capsules of most algae based products, a container would last 4 days if i used it in this way (and i would also get an overload of DHA which wouldn't be good). Not very practical or cost effective.

    My wife is vegan, and i would rather use a veg source if possible too, but it just doesn't seem like there is a viable one at the moment.

  • Igennus
    October 1, 2010 at 5:15 PM  

    You are correct in stating that Echiomega contains SDA which is the precursor to EPA and we apologise for the confusion in the post. However the conversion of SDA to EPA is indeed 5 times more efficient than ALA to EPA and this is taken from the 2003 paper published by James et al. As such, echium seed oil is considered a superior source of plant derived omega-3 and a viable vegetarian option to taking fish oil. Not only this, but echium seed oil is gathering much interest as a sustainable and effective oil for raising long chain fatty acid levels, known to be substantially lower in vegetarian and vegan individuals when compared to fish eating individuals.

    In regards to your comment about Vegepa, if you visit the site www.vegepa.com it clearly states it is a pure EPA Omega-3 Fish Oil and makes no claim that it is vegetarian.


    James MJ, Ursin VM, Cleland LG. Metabolism of stearidonic acid in human subjects: comparison with the metabolism of other n-3 fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 77:1140-5.

  • Anonymous
    October 4, 2010 at 12:19 AM  

    As you noted in your article, most people can turn omega 3 into DHA and EPA. I highly recommend chia seed as the most effective, pleasant way to do this. I've tried:

    V-Pure's vegan DHA. Good, but expensive.

    Flaxseed oil. I can't stand the taste, and it bothers my stomach.

    Hemp seed oil: Better, but I'm not really an oils person.

    Kiwi fruit: Yum! But it can be hard to find during certain times of the year. Per cup, it has 74.3 mg of omega 3. UNFORTUNATELY, 1 cup also contains 435 mg of omega 6. On the other hand, kiwi is very high in vitamins C and K.

    Chia seed: Fantastic! I use ground, black and white chia seed in 8 ounces of water with a teaspoon of raw cacao powder and a tablespoon of honey. Stir very well, then let it sit for 5 minutes. Stir again and drink. Very refreshing, and I can feel the benefits almost immediately, which is not the case with the other products I've tried.

    Sacha inchi: I've never used it, though a friend swears by it. Expensive. However, it seems almost as good as chia in terms of the amount of omega 3 that you get, and has the right percentages of omega 6 and 9 oils to complement the 3 oils. It's also higher in protein.

    Here's the chia vs sacha inchi breakdown:

    Sacha Inchi

    Omega 3 (48%), Omega 6 (36%), Omega 9 (9%), and protein (27%)

    Chia

    Omega 3 (61-69%), Omega 6 (20-23%), Omega 9 (7-8%), and protein (19-23%)

    Lastly, you also pointed out that direct DHA and EPA supplementation is recommended for those with certain diseases. One of those is Crohn's Disease, which I have. However, my vegan diet (and avoidance of sodas) has kept my Crohn's from progressing beyond the mild stage (which amazes my doctor). My body is still able to process what I need from omega 3.

    Hope this helps someone!

  • Sarah (Vegan Nutrition Review)
    December 29, 2010 at 2:47 PM  

    Hi Great Blog!

    We did a review of all Veg/Vegan EPA and DHA options and agree that the likes of Flaxseed, Chia, Cranberry Seed are not sufficient.

    Here are our findings:

    ** Echiomega (www.igennus-hn.com) is ok and the science behind the SDA conversion to EPA is correct, but it doesn't contain any DHA. We're not convinced there is enough data to support EPA (via SDA) only supplements. The DHA bit is rather important.

    ** V Pure (www.v-pure.com) is a good product, providing both EPA and DHA but the chance of actually getting some is very slim! They are always out of stock in our experience! Also, a major US company recently confirmed that V Pure's algae oil isn't food approved and is being investigated.

    ** Opti3 (www.opti3omega.com) was launched in 2010 and provides EPA, DHA, SDA and ALA. They've gone for a 'complete omega3' story. Very good product. It actually contains more Echium than Echiomega, as well as the important DHA, EPA and ALA parts!

    ** Pure One (www.pureone-dha.com)goes for high dose and high price. Buy 5 get 1 free isn't exactly a great hook, especially coupled with a Buy 10 get 2 free offer (err, isn't that the same?). Good product though.

    ** DEVA (www.devanutrition.com). Nice products and good price but DHA only. If you're not looking for EPA, this one is fine. It's available in a lot of online retailers inc. Ebay and Amazon.

    All in all, Opti3 Complete Omega gets our vote for 2010. Price-wise it's on the money, especially when compared to the others on dose and what you get. We like the fact they talk about the full omega 3 picture.

    Hope this is useful :-)

  • Becky
    January 2, 2011 at 11:47 AM  

    Hi Sarah

    Great review and nice to see an independent viewpoint on what is available. So many times I try to find veggie omega3 and they are either rubbish PR just fish oil wrapped up in a loose 'natural' story.

    The SDA thing is pretty interesting and I've heard a lot about it this year and converting to EPA. I like the way Opti3 includes this as well, either great science or throwing down the gauntlet by having all corners covered!

  • Mike Pesky
    February 26, 2011 at 4:31 PM  

    So sad to see so many misinformed. We know very little about natural conversion of DHA from EPA and ALA. Highly variable from one individual to the other, male to female, species to species. Although its conversion is very tightly controlled naturally and its is synthesized only when needed, we assume we can simply supplement to avoid health concerns. I would suggest understanding the metabolic fate of these bio-active molecules and their impact on diverse cellular processes. Would you supplement with insulin? Deciding to bypass the Sprecher pathway is foolhardy at best. Do you think the supplement manufacturer understands these issues-guess again.

  • Anonymous
    May 23, 2011 at 8:30 AM  

    The Opti3 product sounds interesting but there's not a whole lot of info about exactly what's in there and how the product is made etc.. how do they extract the oils from the algae, for example? (does it involve heat or chemical solvents?). there's also some weird chemical ingredients in there that sound a bit fishy to me (pun only half intended! lol)

  • Anonymous
    October 4, 2011 at 10:51 PM  

    All this shows is that vegetarianism and veganism is unhealthy and unnatural. There is no reliable source of DHA and EPA in a diet without fish or meat. The only reason why vegetarians and vegans can survive today is because now there is the technology to manufacture these supplements. If people back several 100s - 1000s years ago tried vegetarianism or veganism, they would have died.

    Face it, humans are omnivores and we need meat whether you like it or not.

  • Vital
    October 8, 2011 at 2:19 PM  

    @ Anonymous and all,
    Actually there is at least one ethnic group in India known to live vegan without any health issues from nutritional deficiencies.
    It puzzles me anyway that there don't seem to be any reports about DHA- and/or EPA-deficiencies - at least not untill rather recently - as many people live without any consumption of such fish (-oils), and much less of such algae, apparently without such deficiencies.
    However, while there were always people getting no DHA/EPA in their diet, with the decreased consumption of omega-3 oils it seems likely that there is an issue of omega-3 deficiencies.
    It is known that even the vitamin B12 deficiency in vegans is due to an exaggerated- and in chemical agricultue necessary hygiene, as unwashed organically produced vegetables and fruits apparently provide sufficient amounts of B12 from the bacteria.

  • Anonymous
    August 16, 2012 at 8:48 AM  

    You are fooling yourself if you really believe you can get enough omega 3s with just supplements. That is why veganism is illogical to me. You feed yourself with inferior products and your brain wastes away gradually.

    Eat the fish for goodness sakes. I wouldn't give my family any crap food, why are you?

  • MIke Behrns-Miller
    August 17, 2012 at 5:05 PM  

    Anonymous says "Eat the fish"... and the cholesterol and the mercury and the other toxins... oh and raping the oceans while your at it... please don't act like you've solved the problem with that answer. I'll take the supplement, thanks.

  • MIke Behrns-Miller
    August 17, 2012 at 5:08 PM  

    Dang it, maybe my brain is wasting away... "YOU'RE" not "YOUR", sorry! better find that supplement now, haha... :-)

    Thanks for all the good info on this site, btw.

  • Erin Janus
    May 26, 2016 at 1:15 PM  

    I love the concept of your website. It would be wonderful to see the format of the articles improved a bit, cleaned up, and maybe a good navigation bar at the top or side of your site!

    Here's an article I worked on for a long time listing all the info and major sources of vegan ALA, EPA and DHA: http://erinjanus.com/vegan-sources-of-omega-3/ :)

  • Erin Janus
    May 26, 2016 at 1:16 PM  

    Oh really? There's no reliable source of EPA or DHA on a vegan diet? That's odd.. my research suggests otherwise: http://erinjanus.com/vegan-sources-of-omega-3/

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    March 5, 2017 at 5:19 PM  

    If the fact that a person has become a vegan is his conscious choice, then who are we to judge him.

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    March 23, 2017 at 8:33 PM  

    I think that it should be related rather with their nonconformism than with intelligence as it it. But I am not sure if that correct.

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