How Global Warming Can Impact Omega-3 Availability, According to Experts
People often relate climate change to things like natural disasters and melting icebergs. The hard reality is global warming also affects the food chain. It’s specifically affecting fish through declines in global DHA availability, which also impacts the health of human populations.
This is everything you should know about the changes in the seafood industry to better understand how to support your nutrition.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are natural nutrients in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, anchovies and herring. People need this type of fat to form and support their cell membranes, promoting cell functioning and overall physical health.
A diet low in omega-3s also leads to mood changes like aggression and impulsivity. It also prevents people from enjoying other health benefits of fatty acids like decreased joint pain, improved heart health, and naturally moisturized skin.
Where Do They Come From?
Fatty or oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids due to their diet. When they eat food sources like plankton, algae, and smaller fish, their bodies absorb the omega-3s in their prey. The fatty acids are stored in fish tissues to support their cellular functionality.
When humans eat fish, they digest the fatty acids in the tissue. Cooking methods change how much of the fat is available, but not so significantly that the food loses all of its omega-3 content. High temperatures make fatty acids dissolve because their membranes fall apart. Enough remains after brief cooking methods to ensure the fish is still a healthy omega-3 source for humans.
How Does Climate Change Affect Fish?
Climate change is warming the oceans. Heat affects omega-3s by changing the diet of fish in warm-water regions. These are the primary factors affecting fish populations and ultimately changing how people can rely on them for omega-3 fatty acids.
It Changes Phytoplankton Composition
The microscopic organisms known as phytoplankton live in upper ocean waters and rely on sunlight for food. They’re the primary food source for many aquatic organisms, including fatty fish. Their size makes them easily digestible for fish species and their abundant availability sustains them as a reliable food source.
However, rising temperatures threaten the nutritional quality of the phytoplankton. Research shows they can’t regulate their biochemical production processes in consistently warmer water. Without effective biochemical production, they can’t create their typical amount of nutrients like omega-3s. The phytoplankton become less of a well-rounded food source for fish, supplying aquatic creatures with fewer omega-3s.
Phytoplanktons Alter Standard Fish Diets
When phytoplankton produce fewer fatty acids, fish who eat them get fewer omega-3s in their diet. The fatty acids must come from environmental conditions such as diet because fish can’t naturally create this nutrient independently.
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the primary component in omega-3 fatty acids. It supports both fish and human health through cell membranes, but declines in global DHA availability are becoming more prominent. Phytoplankton can’t make it efficiently because they’re too warm. Fish don’t get as much omega-3s from their phytoplankton diet and humans can’t access the DHA in omega-3s from the fish they consume.
It’s a significant concern for fish and human populations who can’t create omega-3s on their own. Both need to get it through their diets. As climate change worsens, phytoplankton are becoming a less reliable source of this essential nutrient.
Fish Populations Shrink Due to Changing Temperatures
There’s also the issue of shrinking fish populations to consider when learning why global warming affects omega-3 availability. Existing fish are already getting less fatty-acid intake from their diet, but their population sizes are shrinking too.
Climate change is shrinking fish size and reproductive abilities by altering their food sources like phytoplankton. If fish don’t have the nutrients they need to stay healthy enough to reproduce, continued declines in fish populations will change how humans rely on them as a food source.
The same research shows how fish populations need more time to replace themselves than before ocean waters began warming. It creates a continual decrease in population sizes. There are fewer fish to support global communities, leading to nutrient depletion in humans and a lack of omega-3 intake.
Heat affects omega-3 fatty acids by changing how they come to be. The phytoplankton making them and the fish digesting them both get fewer fatty acids as warm waters alter their food sources. It leads back to humans who need fish for their primary omega-3 intake.
Can People Find Omega-3s Elsewhere?
Omega-3 fatty acids are present in plant seeds like mustard seeds and sunflower seeds. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends getting omega-3s from multiple sources for a more varied diet. However, it may be easier for people to access the fatty acids from seafood sources because fish is relatively budget-friendly, accessible, and doubles as a protein source. Seed products may be more challenging to find in products of similar sizes due to their more complicated manufacturing processes.
Understand Existing Declines in Global DHA Availability
Less fatty acid availability in fish is a pressing concern for people. The nutrient primarily comes from seafood, but that will change as climate change worsens. It affects fish and their food sources, ultimately leading to human nutrient deficiencies. It’s something to consider as the world battles global warming and the numerous effects caused by rising atmospheric temperatures.