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EFAs: Essential for Health


Essential fatty acids are important for maintaining several aspects of health. As consumer awareness of their benefits grows, innovation in the category continues to expand.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) play an important role in overall health. The two most important EFAs are omega-3s and omega-6s, both of which cannot be made by the body; they must be consumed regularly, making them an essential part of the diet. However, consumers often do not ingest enough of these nutrients to truly reap their benefits through diet alone, making supplementation an ideal alternative.

The three main omega-3s are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA, according to healthline.com, can be consumed through eating fatty fish at least twice per week, while ALA can be consumed from plant-based sources like seeds and nuts, such as flax seeds and walnuts. Certain amounts of ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA, which are known to be more readily absorbed by the body. As a result, taking supplements can be a great way to ensure that one benefits from these important nutrients.

According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, omega-3 fatty acids “have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.” Additional benefits, as listed by healthline.com, include fighting depression and anxiety; improving eye health; promoting brain health during pregnancy and early life; reducing symptoms of (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD) in children; reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome; fighting inflammation; fighting autoimmune diseases; improving mental disorders; fighting age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease; reducing asthma in children; reducing fat in the liver; improving bone and joint health; alleviating menstrual pain; improving sleep; and improving skin health.

Omega-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) are important as well, and can be found in walnuts, safflower oil, tofu, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, avocado oil, eggs, almonds and cashews, according to healthline.com. Omega-6 fatty acids, according to Mount Sinai Hospital’s website, “help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and maintain the reproductive system.” Mount Sinai also states that omega-6s may be useful for health conditions such as diabetic neuropathy, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, ADHD, breast cancer, eczema, high blood pressure, menopausal symptoms, breast pain, multiple sclerosis (MS), osteoporosis and premenstrual syndrome. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, omega-6s “lower harmful LDL cholesterol and boost protective HDL. They help keep blood sugar in check by improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin.”

According to the National Library of Medicine National Center for Biotechnology Information, in a study titled “The essentials of essential fatty acids,” “Studies have shown that increasing the intake of certain essential fatty acids, either alone or in combination with other fats and compounds, can increase health, help in treating certain diseases, and even improve body composition, mental and physical performance.” As consumers continue learning about the various health benefits of EFAs, the demand for supplements to meet their needs continues to grow.

Trends/Consumer Concerns

Market Watch reported that, according to 360ResearchReports, the essential fatty acids market was “valued at $3937.1 million (U.S.) in 2022 and is expected to reach $6760.6 million (U.S.) by the end of 2028, growing at a [compound annual growth rate (CAGR)] of 7.9 [percent] between 2022 and 2028.” The market is growing based on increasing consumer demand for these important nutrients.

“Krill oil, a natural complex of phospholipids, omega-3 and choline, is becoming an increasingly sought-after option due to the documented benefits it enables for joint, heart, brain, liver, eye and skin health,” said Charlie Ross, senior vice president, HH&N, Aker Biomarine located in Norway. “Healthy aging and cellular health are big categories for our team, and we are seeing a lot of interest around these areas. Healthy cells equal healthy organs and a healthy body, and krill oil benefits are based on delivering positive effects at the cell level.” Aker Biomarine, which has been in business for more than 15 years, specializes in krill products for health benefits.

“We are also seeing an interest in ingredients for sports nutrition from core athletes to active lifestyle consumers,” Ross stated. “There is a lot of play here for krill oil as choline (naturally found in krill oil) is important for proper muscle function, neurotransmitter production and cell signaling in the muscle, the basis for sports nutrition.” As a result, the company is responding to these trends by working with their partners and customers to explore new product concepts and ways to blend ingredients to meet consumer demands.

Another consumer trend is the desire for sustainably sourced ingredients. “There is no question that the health of the planet is as important as, and naturally linked to, the health of an individual,” said Ross. “To that end, it’s essential that companies in the nutraceuticals industry understand where the ingredients used in their products are coming from.” Sustainability, Ross added, is at the core of everything Aker Biomarine does. “It’s up to [those in] the ocean industries like [us] to work methodically and sustainably over time to ensure that we are using this resource responsibly; it’s the only way forward. With various certifications and assessments from third parties, we can say that the krill fishery is one of the most sustainable fisheries.” The allowable catch for krill is less than 1 percent of the biomass, yet the actual catch is only about 0.5-0.6 percent, making Antarctic krill an abundant biomass, according to Ross.

Additionally, “We are seeing more of a proactive and preventative approach to health, especially when it comes to supporting cardiovascular health,” said Ross. “Krill oil can be considered a baseline nutrient supplement intended for overall health and wellbeing, but with its widespread health benefits, it can also be looked at for condition specific roles. And the EPA/DHA found in krill oil can help play a role in delivering heart health benefits from a preventative standpoint,” he concluded.

Andrew Hebard, CEO and founder, Natures Crop International (Winston-Salem, NC), has noticed a couple of trends in the EFA category as well. “Firstly, many marine oils are differentiating themselves by increasing concentrations of EPA and DHA, presumably following the mindset of ‘if a little is good for you, more must be better,” he explained. “Second is the growth in non-marine sources, such as algae and Ahiflower, addressing consumer preference for sustainable, traceable vegan alternatives to fish oil.” Natures Crop International is responding to these trends by promoting its Ahiflower ingredient, building awareness of its health science and versatility.

Some of the main consumer concerns, noted Hebard, include “sustainability, versatility of use, affordability and sensory experience.” The company believes that Ahiflower addresses all of these. “It’s certainly sustainable, in fact it’s regeneratively grown and Natures Crop has recently achieved B Corp certification. It has the greatest versatility of any complete and balanced omega, both in terms of its oxidative stability and its functionality in different supplement, food and beverage categories. It’s got probably the best sensory properties and it’s the most affordable complete and balanced omega,” explained Hebard.

Elaborating on the sustainability trend, Hebard said, “consumers are looking at how EFAs are manufactured and sourced, and whether they come from genetically modified or marine wild-harvested sources which are recognized as having wider sustainability practices.” Furthermore, he continued, “Recent documentary films like “Seaspiracy,” “Artifishal” and “Kiss the Ground” are producing wider consumer awareness and showing how linking personal and planetary wellness in one’s purchasing decisions is fairly crucial.”

Another consumer concern, noted Hebard, is the current economic climate. As a result, value for money has been a major consideration for Natures Crop. “We have done everything possible to keep our oil costs constant and our supply chain ‘interruption free’ against a backdrop of products like fish oil, borage oil and evening primrose oil experiencing significant price and supply chain challenges. We pride ourselves on supplying the highest quality plant based EFAs at the most competitive and reliable pricing.”

For the market in general, according to Hebard, cognition, gut health, immunity and inflammation management (including in topical uses) are all strong categories, but all-around wellness and aging gracefully are also significant market drivers.

EFA Products

“What really sets krill oil apart is that it is naturally rich in phospholipids,” explained Ross. “Our body is composed of trillions of cells and each cell is wrapped in a membrane called the phospholipid bilayer that provides structure, enables nutrient uptake, energy production and countless vital functions that form the basis of life. Krill oil phospholipids ensure superior transport, delivery and integration of omega-3s and choline directly into the cell’s bilayer and this advantage benefits every cell and organ in the body including the heart, liver, muscles and even skin. To that end, Superba Krill Oil helps support healthy cells and a healthy body.”

Elaborating on the benefits of krill oil, Ross stated “Best known for its heart health properties for many years, krill oil continues to grow in the traditional heart health segment, but newer research suggests that krill oil has far reaching benefits beyond heart health. In fact, with its many benefits such as liver, skin, brain, joint, eye and PMS health, there is no question that condition specific SKUs are possible.” While Aker Biomarine’s krill oil is a standalone ingredient, it can be easily blended with other ingredients to make combination products, which are becoming more popular with consumers, according to Ross.

“A recent ‘game changer’ study within the heart health segment shows that krill oil significantly reduces triglyceride levels in the blood—an important measure of heart health,” said Ross. “Furthermore, previous research shows that krill oil is clinically proven to support the three markers of heart health, better than any omega-3 source.” These include that it is clinically proven to lower triglyceride levels in the blood; increase the omega-3 index from 4 percent to 8 percent, which would reduce the risk of fatal coronary heart disease by about 30 percent; and does not increase LDL cholesterol levels (Berge et al, 2014).

Another recent study, Ross shared, investigated the effects of krill oil on osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. Aker Biomarine’s Superba Krill Oil team worked with “the H&H team of our customer partner, Swisse, along with CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, across three clinical trial sites in Australia,” he explained. The six-month clinical trial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, resulted in improvements in knee pain, stiffness and physical function in adults with mild to moderate knee OA (osteoarthritis). Furthermore, “an additional interesting finding in the study was that the participants with the greatest level of inflammation at the start of the study were the ones that had the biggest pain improvement.”

Aker Biomarine’s latest innovation, explained Ross, “is a groundbreaking technology platform, called PL+, utilizing the potential of phospholipids (PLs) as a unique delivery platform to bring new innovation to the nutraceuticals industry.” He explained, “Since phospholipids are both water and fat soluble, they act as an emulsifier and have excellent biocompatibility. By combining PL’s with other ingredients that have lower bioavailability and absorption rates into the body (such as curcumin, CoQ10, CBD, lutein and certain omega sources), we can boost and enhance the uptake of these ingredients up to 25 times, bringing new cost effective and better-quality supplements to market.”

Ahiflower is Natures Crops International’s only EFA ingredient, according to Hebard. He shared that the company’s mission is simply “‘To supply the cleanest, greenest, healthiest plant-derived omegas that consumers just feel good about taking’ to achieve our vision of ‘Improving health and wellness through complete and balanced omega nutrition. Not at the expense of the planet.’”

Because of its health value and its versatility “in everything from supplements to functional foods, from liquid oil to a dry powder, Ahiflower delivers a value proposition that other omega sources struggle the meet,” opined Hebard. “Our focus is to help brand partners formulate Ahiflower into as many products as possible, whether as a high performance enhanced-value carrier oil in dietary supplements or to replace high omega-6 oils such as sunflower and soy in plant-based milks.” The company’s newest Ahiflower product is CoreFX Ahiflower Powder, which “has great versatility for everything from shakes to snack bars, to protein and collagen mixes.”

The most significant “new” omega fatty acid that Natures Crop International has been researching and developing, according to Hebard, is the plant-derived omega-3 called SDA (stearidonic acid) from Ahiflower. “Ever since omega-3 awareness really gained traction in the 1970s (Bang & Dyerberg), the discussion became polarized between plant-based omegas being limited to ALA and fish-based omegas being limited to EPA and DHA,” he explained. “Further, the discussion became exclusively centered around how efficiently (or as we have been led to believe, how inefficiently) humans convert the former to the latter.”

Hebard went on to describe two recent landmark developments that are “recalibrating and reshaping” the omega-3 marketplace. “Firstly, there’s growing evidence that instead of all humans being inefficient converters of plant derived omegas to DHA, we might actually be quite good at making DHA (especially when the plant-based omega-3 is SDA), but only to the extent the body needs,” he described. “Secondly, research is showing that it’s not just about the linear metabolism from ALA to DHA. The nutritional, health and wellness value of plant-derived omegas has been almost exclusively defined as how good of a surrogate they are for DHA, which is a very narrow and far too simplistic metric.”

Recent research performed with SDA from Ahiflower, according to Hebard, “shows that it significantly benefits the management of inflammation, immune function, insulin sensitivity and gut microbiome balance.” The company plans to present this information in more detail soon. For now, however, “Suffice to say that this research is updating the dialogue around omega nutrition and challenging the notion that we must consume only preformed EPA and DHA sources for optimal health and wellness.” NIE

For More Information:

Aker Biomarine, www.akerbiomarine.com
Natures Crop International, www.naturescrop.com

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