On Monday, we reported on findings from a study from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), which reported that the conversion of the plant-based omega-3 ALA to the long-chain EPA and DHA may be increased in vegans and vegetarians who do not eat fish.
The results indicate that when people do not consume adequate levels of EPA and DHA, like vegans and non-fish-eating vegetarians, their bodies respond by increasing the conversion levels of ALA to EPA.
“The implications of this study are that, if conversion of plant-based sources of n-3 PUFAs were found to occur in intervention studies, and were sufficient to maintain health, it could have significant consequences for public health recommendations and for preservation of the wild fish supply,” wrote the researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
However, Harry Rice, PhD, V.P., regulatory & scientific affairs for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) said that the results “should be used to generate hypotheses rather than dictate public health recommendations.
“Given that findings from previous research suggest the existence of a higher conversion of ALA to EPA and subsequently DHA in certain diet-habit groups, I don't consider the present findings to be novel,” he added. “To further our knowledge in this area, a well-controlled intervention study needs to be conducted.”
The EPIC scientists also stated that the supply of wild fish is “under threat and supplies are compromised”. The study’s findings would have added importance, therefore, “if the maintenance of adequate n-3 PUFA status via conversion of plant-derived ALA was possible this could reduce the requirements for fish and help preserve the fish supply”, they added.
However, GOED’s Rice said that he supported the need for more research in the area of ALA conversion to the long-chain omega-3s, he did not agree with the EPIC scientists’ claims that this should be done because “...the supply of wild fish is dwindling and efforts to conserve the fish supply are needed”.
“While the supply of fish may not meet our future needs, this does not mean that the fish supply is dwindling. Among other measures, catch limits help preserve the fish population,” he added.
Adam Ismail, GOED’s executive director concurred, noting: “The study does not account for where EPA and DHA oils currently come from nor where they will come from in the future.
“Seafood sustainability and fish oil sustainability are often confused, but they are actually often distinct fisheries and are managed quite differently. Even the fish oil sources that do come from seafood fisheries are managed differently than the general seafood stocks, because oil manufacturers need stable sources of supply so they go to great lengths to find long-term sources.
“Also, never mind that the novel algae, yeast and plant sources that are starting to come to market will be able to augment any supply gaps for EPA and DHA,” added Ismail.