Vitamins, when not produced synthetically, come from things like oranges, potatoes and corn. You know, stuff that grows from the ground. Minerals come from rocks—literally, from the ground itself.
But Earth is three-quarters water, so it’s natural that many nutritional ingredients come from the bounty of the waters, as well. Here are a few of the healthful ingredients in supplements that come from the sea, a category of ingredients called aquaceuticals.
A type of algae called deep-green spirulina may well be the original “pond scum,” but today it’s mostly grown and harvested in commercial-style lap pools 10 yards wide and hundreds of yards long.
Astaxanthin (a carotenoid cocktail from the Haematococcus pluvialis algae) is also usually produced alongside spirulina in this way, though also in closed tanks. These are nutrient-dense powerhouses, which studies suggest can help improve everything from immunity and stamina to blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.
Despite what you may have heard, the tiny, shrimp-like food for whales is sustainably harvested (only 0.3 percent of the allowable population is taken every year). It has fish oil’s EPA and DHA, plus astaxanthin and phospholipids that increase the body’s absorption of the omegas.
Three early human studies set krill apart from fish oil. One found 1–3 grams per day of krill oil was better than 1 gram of fish oil that contained 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA (which is a standard, non-concentrated dose in fish oil) at lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Another head-to-head study comparing 2 grams of either krill or fish oil found the krill better ameliorated PMS symptoms.
A third study looking at 300 mg of krill against a placebo found the krill better eased arthritis symptoms within two weeks.
They’re not just a yummy app to pair with a gin and tonic. These New Zealand mussels also battle arthritis. One study used 520 mg of green-lipped mussel extract twice daily for eight weeks. Patients reported improved joint function and pain relief.
Fish oil: The Sea's Powerhouse Aquaceutical?
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA come from fish oil, usually from farmed anchovies and sardines off the west coast of South America or menhaden from the Gulf of Mexico. Some boutique brands source fish oil from salmon around Norway or Alaska.
The dose for EPA and DHA varies widely depending on what you’re looking to do. For example, the American Heart Association recommends people with a history of heart disease take 1 gram per day of fish oil. This is based off studies showing this much fish oil for a year improves the chances of avoiding cardiac death, sudden death and heart attacks.
Meanwhile, the fish oil pharmaceutical Lovaza is used to treat elevated triglyceride levels, which can up your odds of heart disease. Its daily dose is 1,860 mg of EPA and 1,500 mg of DHA. For depression, EPA seems to be more important than DHA with one study finding an effective dose to be 1,200 mg per day of EPA plus 900 mg per day of DHA.
We hear plenty about the health benefits of omega-3s—and for good reason. More than 23,000 medical or scientific articles have been published on them, and nearly 3,000 articles have focused on their effect on people.
“As dietary fats go, the omega-3s are without question the healthiest, and they have no negatives,” says Ron Hunninghake, MD, chief medical officer of the nonprofit Riordan Clinic in Wichita, Kansas. “They have so many benefits to body and mind, and yet most people don’t get enough of them.”
The term omega-3 refers to the fats’ chemical structure, and the principal dietary omega-3s are EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Most supplements contain both, but in varying ratios. There’s also growing interest in DPA (docosapentaenoic acid), which is found in fish oil supplements but not usually listed on the label.
Although the term omega-3 is practically synonymous with fish oils, vegetarian sources of DHA and EPA are also available, but at lower doses.
Omega-3 fish oils are mild blood thinners and reduce the risk of erratic heartbeats called arrhythmias. Some research has shown that they can slow the heart rate and improve blood vessel flexibility. A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at more than 45,000 people. The key finding: High blood levels of fish-source EPA and DHA lowered the risk of fatal heart attack by 20 to 22 percent. The researchers noted that high DHA and DPA seemed to have the greatest benefits.
Inflammation underlies arthritis, gingivitis, allergic rhinitis and other “-itis” diseases. Luckily, EPA and DHA are the building blocks of three powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, namely prostaglandin E3, resolvins and protectins. Diets high in grain-sourced cooking oils, such as corn oil, suppress EPA and DHA, but taking omega-3s restores a balance and reduces inflammation.
A new study suggests that DHA may have slightly stronger anti-inflammatory effects when compared with EPA, but it’s important to take both.
Not just a condition of seniors, dry eyes can affect computer users and people who wear contact lenses. Symptoms include stinging, a lack of tears to maintain a moist surface on the eyes, blurred vision and damage to the eyes. Several recent studies have found that dry eyes reflect an omega-3 deficiency, which can be corrected by taking supplements.
Omega-3s are essential for normal brain development in utero and early in life, but we need them throughout life, too. Natalie Parletta, PhD, of the University of South Australia, says they help “oil the brain.” Japanese researchers just reported that high levels of omega-3s, particularly DHA, can reduce the risk of depression by up to 45 percent. Numerous studies have also found omega-3s valuable in treating severe depression, post–traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, impulse control and hyperactivity.
Omega-3s can slow age-related cognitive decline. A study by Chicago researchers found that high omega-3 intake slowed mental decline in seniors, especially those with a gene that boosts the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A study at the University of South Dakota found that women with high blood levels of EPA and DHA had larger brain sizes and less age-related brain shrinkage.
Staying healthy is more important than ever. Making up for nutrient gaps in our diets through wise choices in supplements can be essential to your best health. At BetsyHealth, we strive to help you find the right products for your nutritional needs. We've been doing it since 1993. Thank you for shopping local and helping to keep our community strong.
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BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes. It is not designed to treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before taking a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, or if you take prescription or over-the-counter medications. For example, many supplements from the sea also thin blood.