British vegetarians and vegans have lower but stable plasma concentrations of omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) compared to their meat-eating compatriots, and the length of time a consumer adheres to a vegetarian diet has no impact on omega-3 levels, finds a new study from the University of Oxford.
The research, published in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 82, No. 2, 327-334, suggests that when animal foods are wholly excluded from the diet, the endogenous production of EPA (eicosapentaeoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) results in low but constant plasma concentrations of these fatty acids.
The protective effects of omega-3 against heart disease and cancers, have been well documented, with additional growing evidence suggesting omega-3 fatty acids could help the brain development of young children, as well as fighting the onset of Alzheimer's.
In this latest study researchers at Oxford University and King's College London compared plasma fatty acid composition in 196 meat-eaters, 231 vegetarians and 232 vegan men in the UK.
They examined whether the proportions of eicosapentaenoic acid, docosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid were related to the period of time the consumer adhered to the diet, or the subjects' duration of adherence to their diets, or to the proportions of plasma linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid.
While proportions of plasma EPA and DHA were lower in the vegetarians and vegans than in the meat eaters, there was no significant difference among the vegetarians and vegans after examining the length of time the men had followed the diet - from between one to 20 years.
"Plasma EPA, DPA, and DHA proportions were not significantly associated with the duration of time since the subjects became vegetarian or vegan," report the researchers.
Adding that for the vegetarians and the vegans, plasma DHA was inversely correlated with plasma LA.
In 2004 the booming European omega-3 market was worth $194 million, according to Frost & Sullivan data, accounting for 28 per cent of global volumes. Growth is forecast to come in at strong rates of 8 per cent on average to 2010.