Diet: Vegan omega-3 fatty acids from microalgae

Diet: Vegan omega-3 fatty acids from microalgae

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Omega-3 fatty acids from microalgae

It is scientifically well proven that omega-3 fatty acids have a positive effect on human health. Fish is considered a particularly good source of these substances. But on the one hand there are many people who do not consume animal products and on the other hand fish production and fishing are also an environmental burden. An alternative, vegan source for the healthy omega-3 fatty acids could be microalgae.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential substances for human nutrition. So they are vital and cannot be made by the body itself. Fish in particular is considered a good source of omega-3. But there is also a plant-friendly, more environmentally friendly alternative: microalgae. This is shown by a new study by researchers from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).

Nutrients for human consumption

As the MLU writes in a current announcement, microalgae have been the focus of research for several decades - initially as a raw material for alternative fuels, but more recently as a source of nutrients for human nutrition.

They are mainly produced in open ponds in Asia. However, these pose a risk of possible contamination. In addition, some types of algae can be better cultivated in closed systems, in so-called photobioreactors.

"We wanted to find out whether microalgae, which are produced in Germany in photobioreactors, could be a more environmentally friendly source of important nutrients than fish," explains Susann Schade from the Institute of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences at the MLU. So far, this method of production has often only been compared with cultivation in ponds and has often performed worse due to higher environmental pollution.

"How high these environmental impacts in algae production are for human nutrition has hardly been investigated, especially not under the climatic conditions that prevail in Germany," said Schade.

Significant environmental pollution

In their study recently published in the journal "Journal of Applied Phycology", the researchers therefore developed a model to determine the site-specific environmental effects.

“Among other things, we compared the CO2 balance of nutrients from microalgae and fish. We also analyzed how much both food sources promote acidification or excessive nutrient levels in water, ”explains Dr. Toni Meier, head of the nutriCARD innovation office at the MLU.

The scientists were able to show that microalgae cultivation generally causes comparable environmental costs to that of fish production. "However, if one relates the environmental effects to the available amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, fish from aquaculture in particular do worse," explains Schade.

According to the experts, the advantage of algae cultivation is the low land use, even sterile soils can be used. In contrast, both open ponds and forage cultivation for aquaculture require very large areas.

The fish species, particularly popular in Germany, such as salmon and pangasius, mostly come from aquacultures and are therefore associated with considerable environmental pollution. But the Alaska pollock from wild catch also shows worse values ​​than the microalgae for all environmental indicators.

Considerable relief for the oceans

“Microalgae should not and cannot completely replace fish as food. But if microalgae established themselves as food, we would have an additional excellent, environmentally friendly source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, ”said Meier.

The algae are already used as food supplements in powder or tablet form and as an additive to foods such as pasta or muesli. On the one hand, this could narrow the existing gap in the global supply of omega-3 fatty acids and, on the other hand, it would mean a significant relief for the world's oceans. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU): Nutrients from microalgae: an environmentally friendly alternative to fish, (accessed: 07.07.2020), Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU)
  • Schade S., Stangl G.I., Meier T .: Distinct microalgae species for food — part 2: comparative life cycle assessment of microalgae and fish for eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and protein; in: Journal of Applied Phycology, (published: 07.07.2020), Journal of Applied Phycology

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