Connye N. Kuratko and Norman Salem Jr.
Certain algae produce long chain omega-3 fatty acids including eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) acids as part of normal metabolism. In nature, these fatty acids enter the food chain and are important nutrients for the health of many animals, including humans. Cultured under specific and tightly controlled conditions, these oils are commercially produced for use in infant formula, foods, beverages, and a variety of supplements. EPA and DHA have long been associated with cardiovascular health. More recently the impact of DHA, as the primary n-3 fatty acid in brain and retinal tissue, has been documented. Within membranes, DHA facilitates cell signaling and serves as a precursor to highly bioactive molecules. Because endogenous production is low, levels of DHA in brain, retina, and other tissues do not reach higher levels unless this preformed fatty acid is included in the diet. Most Westernized diets provide low levels of EPA and DHA, making their use in supplements and fortified foods necessary for optimal health.