Consumer awareness is demanding the EFA supplement market make positive changes.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) have swum far and swiftly upstream since the days of “fish burp” fish oils in huge soft gels. If people couldn’t stomach fish (as many people don’t like eating it), they were unlikely to obtain the health benefits of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), found abundantly in the fatty oils of common cold-water fish.
But the science just kept coming—continued announcements and excitable news stories of how consuming fish three times a week (or taking fish oil pills) was a great habit to potentially keep heart attacks at bay, and to improve brain and eye health. Who wouldn’t want these health benefits?
So, industry charged along to satisfy multiple consumers’ preferences, eg., EFA-enhanced butters, fruit chews and now many plant sources for the growing number of vegan and plant-food lovers.
It’s such an opportune time to formulate EFA products, as the category has seen a spirited evolution in the past three to five years, and it’s an evolution of science and product development that doesn’t seem to have a slowing down or cessation point: this is because human clinical trials continue to examine, reveal and validate EFA impact on a host of biological functions that consumers are seeking to improve potential active longevity.
Sid Hulse, vice president, product development, New Jersey-based PLT Health Solutions asserted he is seeing intensifying interest in the area of algal DHA—“which we note is growing at three times the rate of marine/fish omega-3s.” He added that there is a “considerable” movement away from formulating with omega-3s derived from fish to algal sources of omega-3s. This shift is not so much driven by the strengthening vegan and plant-based market (for non-animal sources of ingestibles), but, he noted, also for sustainability. This is becoming more of a market-driving concern when considering marine animal-based EFA products, Hulse pointed out, and it is related to worry surrounding the contamination in oceans, specifically heavy metals, pesticides and plastics that are hazardous to marine life.
Omega-3 sales have rebounded over the past few years, observed Kate Pastor, senior vice president, Superba Sales America, Aker BioMarine Antarctic US, LLC (New Jersey), and recently the market is growing and gaining momentum. “Consumers are becoming more concerned, as well as educated about clean labels, transparency, sustainability, quality seals and much more,” she said. “These demands are forcing brands, retailers, manufacturers and ingredient suppliers to make positive changes. Today’s consumers are changing the landscape by insisting on transparency, understanding the source of their products and how these products come to market. They want to know about the farmer, the fisherman and the complete value chain.”
In agreement is Andrew Rice, director of product & brand strategy, Missouri-based Stratum Nutrition, who noted that the EFA market, which was until recently predominately sourced through marine sources (eg, fish, krill), “has seen a slight shift toward plant-based omega-3 options.”
He added, “Considering today’s growing awareness among consumers about the health benefits of EFA-based products and the concern for sustainability, the market has evolved and is flourishing with more choices to likely satisfy consumers’ dietary and lifestyle needs.”
A recent survey conducted by Stratum Nutrition found that 55 percent of consumers are “source conscious” and would switch sources based on taste, smell and environmental drivers; meanwhile, 71 percent of consumers said they would rather purchase a “complete and balanced omega” than to be concerned about specific EPA & DHA amounts.
As we dawn on 2020, Richard Kozlenko, PhD, science advisor, California-based GCI Nutrients noted that he sees an emergence of what he called the more complex fatty acid endpoint compounds such as palmytolethanolamide (PEA), OEA, DHA and EPA—“which are not so much EFA in their more basic forms and definitions, although these of course remain crucial for the de novo synthesis of cannabinoids, the flexibility, integrity of cellular membrane function, immune health and multiple other physiological roles. Though the body can synthesize these from EFAs to a certain level, research is mounting, showing that extra levels beyond in novo synthesis is offering therapeutic benefits from anti-diabetic effects, antiinflammation, to a stronger synergistic support of the endocannabinoid system, such as with PEA.”
Looking ahead to 2020, asserted Rice, the EFA product market will most likely be characterized by its growth. Due to the rise in plant-based diets, next year is expected to bring significant increases in sales, he predicted, especially for companies that have a plant-based, EFA ingredient in their product.
South Dakota-based OmegaQuant Analytics’ Omega-3 Index test is expected to continue to grow the fastest (among other test kits) since, according to co-developer and president William S. Harris, PhD, it is the test with the greatest depth of research—currently 265 papers total. “The Omega-3 Index has been featured in some of the largest clinical trials in the world, including the Framingham Heart Study and the Women’s Health Initiative, both of which included thousands of subjects. An Omega-3 Index of 8 to 12 percent is considered optimal, while anything below that is considered undesirable. Studies have shown that having an Omega-3 Index of 4 percent or below can put you at 90 percent higher risk of sudden cardiac death.”
OmegaQuant also provides several related comprehensive tests that include the Omega-3 Index and other fatty acids or ratios. The “Plus” test adds in the omega-6/omega-3 ratio, the AA/EPA ratio and the Trans Fat Index (a measure of the trans fatty acid levels in the membrane). The “Complete” test adds a full set of 24 fatty acids—saturated, monounsaturated, omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated and trans fatty acids. OmegaQuant’s Prenatal DHA test measures a pregnant woman’s red blood cell DHA levels (a validated marker of risk for pre-term birth) as well as a Mother’s Milk DHA test that measures DHA in a drop of breast milk; the goal is to ensure higher numbers.
As consumers are more into “knowing their numbers,” such as A1C, cholesterol, and more, they will be much more open to adding their omega-3 EFA levels to this personalized numbers list. That said, Harris explained that one of OmegaQuant’s biggest challenges is getting brands to realize the power of encouraging consumers to get Omega-3 Index tested, to discern if they have insufficient levels of omega-3 EFAs. “Once the consumer knows this, it’s much easier to sell an EFA product to fix the deficiency.”
It’s worth reiterating and therefore emphasizing that today’s EFA ingredient market is no longer merely “fish oils.” There are choices that are as equally as effective in promoting health, and by that virtue of differentiation, provides exciting opportunities for novel R&D for attractive products.
New Zealand-based Waitaki Biosciences PernaTec Oil is extracted from New Zealand native greenshell mussels (Perna canaliculus). These native shellfish contain naturally high levels of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, “but many people however are unaware that greenshell mussels also contain high levels of phospholipids, metabolites of which are important in several cell signaling systems,” explained Sales Manager Sue Finderup. “Omega-3 fatty acids that are part of marine phospholipid molecules are known to be more stable and resistant to oxidation than those that are from other biological sources and are also likely to be better absorbed,” she added.
C02 extraction is the standard method for obtaining these oils from the mussel, but Waitaki utilizes a food-grade ethanol extraction technology, which, pointed out Finderup, ensures that virtually all the oil is extracted from the mussel including the biologically important phospholipids. “In contrast,” she said, “C02 extracted oils have no appreciable phospholipid content.”
Waitake’s focus with PernaTec Oil is for anti-inflammatory actives for joint care applications. But “we also notice a surge in interest from pet care companies looking to continue the recent trend of incorporating premium human-grade nutraceutical ingredients in their products,” said Finderup.
Aker BioMarine’s flagship product is Superba, followed by Superba 2 and Superba Boost, from krill oil, which contains EPA and DHA mainly in the form of phospholipids, according to Pastor. “And since phospholipids are structurally different than omega-3 triglycerides, this difference dictates how EPA and DHA enter into the body. The body immediately recognizes phospholipid omega-3s and incorporates them into the cells before carrying them to the tissues and organs that need them the most, such as the heart, brain and much more,” she explained.
According to Pastor, Aker BioMarine is venturing into new territories for health applications for its Superba line. News is forthcoming in 2020 from a clinical human study on omega-3 EFA levels in individuals with lupus. In 2014, the Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) approached Aker BioMarine to investigate how krill oil could positively impact the lupus population, specifically those seeking out natural supplements. “As a result, Aker BioMarine and LRA commenced a lupus clinical trial to assess the ability of a specific krill oil formulation to replenish the omega-3 dietary deficiency suspected in patients with generalized lupus,” she reported.
Two other emerging areas for krill—specifically Superba—are skin/beauty and sports nutrition.
Aker BioMarine has conducted pilot data and smaller trials showing that omega-3s and phospholipids are important for optimal skin function and protection; three trials on skin showed improved skin elasticity and hydration, correlating with a heightened omega-3 index. “Edible beauty (beauty-from-within) is trending, which means there are huge opportunities for krill in the skin industry,” Pastor commented.
The Pure Science Research Program was launched by Aker BioMarine to focus on omega-3 impact on sports and fitness. For example, Pastor pointed out, high-intensity training impacts immune function and generates excess inflammation, increasing athletes’ susceptibility to infections, illness and impacts performance and recovery. “Aker BioMarine has set out to examine the effects of krill oil omega-3s on athletic performance and recovery,” she noted.
When DHA may be the preferred EFA in your formulation, PLT’s élantria is both fish-based and algal-based. “Currently we are seeing the greatest interest in our algal DHA,” said Hulse, adding that élantria algal DHA was the first algal DHA in the United States to be certified non-GMO (genetically modified organism) by the Non-GMO Verification Project.
The base material for élantria algal DHA is Schizochytrium found in marine coastal habitats, Hulse described. The algae are grown in closed systems with very strict quality control over water, temperature, light and nutrients. The food for these algae is also non-GMO—which, he emphasized, is an important distinction when considering non-GMO options as some use GMO feedstocks. Élantria is the result of a patented natural enzymatic method that uses water, and no chemical solvents.
Another distinction is stability, as algal oil’s DHA is known to easily oxidate, which impacts both nutritional and organoleptic properties of the finished product. “The higher the concentration of DHA, the more susceptible the ingredient will be to oxidation,” Hulse said.
“The élantria Quality Silver process—which both inhibits the onset of oxidation and prevents the oxidative cascade—looks to address the myriad interlocking factors that influence oxidation from cultivation to shelf,” he elaborated. “These include external factors such as oxygen, temperature and light; as well as internal factors, that can be a part of the consumer product formulating process: the starting level of oxidation, the fatty acids composition of the final formulation, how much water is introduced via things like emulsions, soft gelling or capsuling. It is also affected by metals present in ingredients introduced to the finished formulation. In all these areas, it is critical to delay the onset of oxidation—since once oxidation starts—it keeps on going (a phenomenon known as the oxidative cascade).”
Plant-based derivatives are now also easily available—and versatile. For example, Ahiflower oil is now entering into food and beverage applications alongside use as a complete and balanced omega-3-6-9 dietary supplement, according to Greg Cumberford, director of science and regulatory at Canada-based Nature’s Crops International (NCI).
According to Cumberford, Ahiflower oil has two peer-reviewed published human clinical trials with a third publication forthcoming in 2020. He reported that the first human clinical trial showed that Ahiflower oil converts metabolically to longer-chain omega-3 fatty acids up to four times more efficiently than flaxseed oil, while the second showed that Ahiflower oil’s higher conversion efficiency occurs even at low daily intake levels. This study also demonstrated that Ahiflower oil consumption stimulates the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response via IL-10 upregulation, for example, after strenuous exercise or immune challenge.
“Ahiflower oil is the richest-available combined source of stearidonic acid (SDA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA),” Cumberford said. “Importantly, recent research involving these fatty acids continues to show that our bodies are fully capable of utilizing plant-based precursor fatty acids like ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), SDA and GLA to optimum effect.”
He related that a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown that dietary DHA intake does not retro-convert to EPA at meaningful levels, but dietary EPA does metabolize onwards to DHA in significant levels. “This same study, using carbon isotope ratios to distinguished supplemental EPA and DHA from their metabolized forms, indicated that the normal adult human body may only metabolize microgram levels of supplemental DHA per day at best,” he explained. “The researchers could not correlate supplemental DHA intake with metabolized DHA in the human subjects.”
Cumberland provided several examples of recent published science supporting Ahiflower oil’s full-spectrum approach:
• In a peer-reviewed 2017 article published in Lipids, various cell signaling measures comparing SDA to DHA were taken. In three different induced cellular inflammation models, the authors observed that SDA is “as effective as DHA against inflammatory response” in the cell models they studied. “This is key because Ahiflower oil is the richest dietary source of omega-3 SDA,” Cumberford said.
• In a 2017 study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, the authors looked at the associations between circulating omega-3 fatty acid levels and fluid intelligence (adaptive problem-solving) and particular brain structures known to be impacted by cognitive decline (using MRI scans) in healthy seniors. All omega-3 fatty acid levels from ALA to DHA were evaluated and correlated to MRI scan results in study subjects’ brain regions known as the frontoparietal cortex, the first part of the brain to show loss of integrity and mass in age-related cognitive decline. “The authors found that circulating ALA and SDA, but not EPA and DHA, predicted fluid intelligence performance and frontoparietal cortex integrity in healthy seniors,” he reported.
Cumberford revealed that further studies will focus on the health-promoting activities of SDA and GLA, including brain, heart, joint and immune support benefits.
More than Just Health
Sustainability, asserted Rice, “is a goal for the 21st century. To accomplish it in the EFA market, he believes that brands face a challenge to create sustainable packaging that meets the desired need of their consumers. Not only do CPG (consumer packaged good) brands need to focus on sustainability of what goes into their finished product, but also how their finished product is packaged. Another issue is the concern for contamination in the oceans from years of dumping heavy metals, plastic and pesticides. “This concern has influenced the rise in plant-based options for today’s conscientious consumer,” he commented.
Waitaki now has one of the largest capacity nutraceutical extraction plants in Australasia with the ability to produce exceptionally high volumes of oil to meet an ever-increasing market demand, according to Finderup. “Further, our extraction technology is very efficient, ensuring that we make the very most of our raw material supply by extracting as much of the available oil as possible.”
Waitaki has also met the requirements of CEMARS (Certified Emissions Measurements and Reduction Scheme) in 2013, maintaining this certification year on year since then, she added.
NCI ensures Ahiflower oil remains fully traceable, regenerative, and scalable to meet rising global demand. “Because Ahiflower is an annual crop grown in cooler temperate zones, growth in its supply base can scale easily to meet growing global consumer demand,” Cumberford explained. Global supply of Ahiflower oilseed is enhanced by the plant’s ability to be successfully cultivated in the southern hemisphere as well. “Each acre of Ahiflower crop has as much oil as 100,000 sardines, so as consumers and practitioners switch from wild marine omega sources, it can play a fairly strong role in reducing pressure on forage fish and krill populations that form the base of the food chain for a wide range of ocean life,” he elaborated.
Marine-based suppliers are rising to the challenge of solving future sustainability of the origins of their ingredients. For example, élantria DHA, made from food-grade Mauritian-sourced tuna is a co-product from the canning of tuna for European consumers, Hulse explained. “The species used in the production of this fish oil is not over-fished and not endangered in any way,” he assured. “Fishing are drawn from mercury-free waters in remote areas of the Indian Ocean—far from industry—averting contamination. Also, elantria is IFFO RS and Friend of the Sea certified.”
Aker BioMarine’s Superba krill oil products are Non-GMO Project Verified. “This certification adds another layer of transparency to our supply chain,” Pastor commented. “Furthermore, Superba Krill Oil is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) as being sustainable and 100 percent traceable. Our fully transparent value chain stretches from sustainable krill harvesting in Antarctic waters through its Montevideo logistics hub, Houston production plant and all the way to customers around the world,” she added.
There are numerous sources and suppliers of quality, science-backed, sustainable EFA ingredients that can serve as the basis for products for overall or specific health goals. NIE
For More Information:
Aker Biomarine Antarctic US, LLC, www.akerbiomarine.com
GCI Nutrients, www.gcinutrients.com
Natures Crops International, www.ahiflower.com
OmegaQuant Analytics, LLC, www.omegaquant.com
PLT Health Solutions, Inc., www.plthealth.com
Stratum Nutrition, www.stratumnutrition.com
Waitaki Biosciences, www.waitakibio.com