Climate Change Could Drive Omega-3 Shortages

Image: Jonny Armstrong/USGS

The developing human brain needs a molecule called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA which is an omega-3 fatty acid. However, as Scientific American recently reported, a new study “predicts that by 2100, increasing water temperatures brought on by a warming planet could result in 96 percent of the world’s population not having access to an omega-3 fatty acid crucial to brain health and function.”

  • Omega-3 is the most common fatty acid in the mammalian brain and plays a key role in the survival and function of our neural cells, especially during the organ’s development. Data suggest that not having enough of the compound may increase the risk of conditions such as depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and impair cognition in people with early dementia.
  • The human body cannot make DHA and by far the most abundant and effective source of it is fish and supplements made from fish.

What’s the Issue: Fish obtain DHA by consuming algae. The authors of a new study predict that rising temperatures could disrupt algal DHA production and lead to a 10 to 58% reduction in the availability of the compound, depending on the geographic region.

Who Gets Hit The Hardest: The nations that will be affected most by a DHA shortage are mainly in East and Southeast Asia: China, Japan, and Indonesia. In addition, most African countries will also experience shortages. However, those nations with smaller populations and thriving fishing industries like Norway, Chile, and New Zealand will likely maintain access to adequate omega-3s.

Why This Matters: The IPCC report that was released this week warns us that we must quickly prioritize protecting our oceans from the effects of climate change. Experts believe that oceans are key to feeding a  projected human population of 10 billion people by 2050. However, just like fruits and vegetables are becoming less nutritious we must contend with a similar problem happening to seafood–a decrease in supply and deteriorating quality of what’s left.

Go Deeper: Climate change is already affecting our food supply but a new study has revealed that droughts could affect some 60% of global wheat fields by the end of the century.



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