EFAs continue to be a mainstay in the natural products industry in more ways than one.
Perhaps it’s obvious to some, but EFAs (essential fatty acids) are indeed essential. According to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute, “Linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and α-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, are considered essential fatty acids because they cannot be synthesized by humans. The long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can be synthesized from ALA, but due to low conversion efficiency, it is recommended to consume foods rich in EPA and DHA.”
So, in other words, EFAs must be consumed via either diet or dietary supplements.
Given the importance of EFAs, ingredient manufacturers and suppliers are continuing to find innovative ways to implement them in finished products, so that ultimately, consumers can ingest the various benefits that this category offers.
Generally speaking, customers are changing their EFA preferences. Research into the benefits that the different types of EFAs offer have played a role into influencing their decision.
“Consumers continue to embrace all types of EFA products. Overall, consumer preference is slowly shifting from basic 18/12 fish oil concentrate to higher concentration omega-3 formats, with obvious benefit being smaller dosage size/less dosage/day and/or increased dose in the same size softgel,” explained Edward Shneyvas, vice president, research and development and innovation, California-based Best Formulations, a contract manufacturer and private labeler of EFA products. “This is due in part to consumers being more educated about omega-3 benefits, but also because the cost of higher concentration EFAs have come down over the past several years.
“Consumers are also embracing various phospholipid-bound EFAs due to additional perceived benefits. Higher-absorption EFA formulations didn’t seem to gain much traction in the marketplace, possibly due to a significantly higher price point. Lastly, new health benefit areas, including beauty, brain and eye health benefits of certain EFAs are becoming more widely popular with consumers.”
Chris Gearheart, director of member communications & engagement with The Global Organization for EPA & DHA Omega-3s (GOED) in Utah, noted that a plethora of EFA sources are coming to light.
“While the majority of EPA and DHA omega-3 supplements on store shelves are sourced from Peruvian anchovy,” Gearheart said, “there are many new and diverse sources that have been developed recently. In particular, the algae market has seen many new entries for both DHA- and EPA-based offerings. While algae products are typically more expensive than fish oil supplements, as these companies reach production economies of scale, these ingredients are likely to become more of a mainstream option. Other up-and-coming sources include herring roe, calanus, green-shelled mussel and squid.
“Additionally, the development of EPA and DHA concentrates has had a big impact on that the omega-3 category. More and more consumers understand the value of getting more EPA and DHA in smaller capsules or liquid doses and are willing to pay a premium for the convenience. In fact, the concentrated oil category increased the most in demand at the raw material level—an 8.1 percent increase in 2018 to U.S. $485.5 million.”
And when creating these products for consumers, manufacturers need to aim for full transparency.
“Quality EFA products are no longer just enough to win over consumers these days. Consumers across the globe want products that are sustainable and produced by companies and brands that are not only transparent, but that align with their value systems and moral compasses,” explained Anca Vislie, marketing manager, Norway-based Aker BioMarine Antarctic AS, makers of Superba Krill, a branded form of krill oil. “This shift has been taking place for a while now but is becoming more and more relevant in today’s market. From the transparency of products across supply chains, to the transparency of business relationships, honesty and accountability are crucial to the nutraceuticals industry. Customers and consumers alike see sustainability, traceability and transparency as important areas for EFAs.” Alongside transparency, it is essential that quality and standards are up to par.
“One of the main concerns from a formulation/manufacturing standpoint is product quality and stability,” Shneyvas said. “Proper formulation and manufacturing techniques are absolutely essential for EFA-containing products to reduce EFA oxidation over the shelf-life of the product. EFAs, due to their chemical structure, are very prone to oxidation. As consumers are looking for cleaner, more sustainable options, many manufacturers are looking at sustainability features and certifications, which provide some differentiation in a crowded marketplace.”
Globally, EFA usage is falling short.
“Despite the fact that omega-3s are one of the most recognized nutrients on the shelves—a recent DSM consumer survey found that 71 percent of consumers are familiar with omega-3 supplements1—when it comes to usage, omega-3s fall short,” said Sonia Hartunian-Sowa, director of nutrition, science and advocacy, DSM North America (New Jersey), a company that specializes in solutions for nutrition, health and sustainable living. “In fact, 96 percent of the world’s population falls below the optimal range of omega-3 intake.2 This awareness-behavior gap can be explained by a number of factors that contribute to purchase barriers, which are therefore key concerns that omega-3 manufacturers today must address in order to appeal to consumers.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic that the world is currently facing, the market for EFAs continues to be quite positive.
“Epax is a leading supplier of highly concentrated EPA/DHA oils, a category which, due to its vast amount of scientific documentation, has enjoyed a steady growth over the last few decades,” said Sarah Christianslund, product marketing manager, Epax Norway AS, which is distributed by California-based Stauber in North America. “We expect the growth to continue, even with the current uncertainties. A COVID-19 study conducted by FMCG Gurus in May, shows that globally, 77 percent of consumers plan to take a more proactive approach to health due to COVID-19, and of these 77 percent, 30 percent plan to increase their intake of omega-3.”
Shneyvas was in agreement.
“Prior to coronavirus,” he said, “we were seeing perhaps low to mid-single digit growth for the essential fatty acid category. With coronavirus, we’ve noticed an uptick in interest as some of the omega-3 suppliers are communicating the immune-enhancing benefits in the midst of increased consumer interest in immune-enhancing products. We anticipate the EFA market to stay strong fueled by consumers’ heightened desire to stay healthy.”
And in the immediate future, this growth is expected to continue.
“According to GOED’s annual ‘Ingredient Market Report,’ the EPA and DHA omega-3 ingredient space has seen moderate growth over the past several years, and reached a 111,210 metric ton, U.S. $1.37 billion market in 2018,” Gearheart pointed out. “Due to a quickly expanding middle class in Asian markets that are buying more supplements, infant formula, and pet foods, GOED projects growth for the category through 2021 of 3-5 percent globally, despite flat growth or slight contraction within the category’s largest markets, the U.S. and Europe.”
Beyond the expected health benefits, DSM is specifically interested in how EFAs impact immunity and inflammation.
“In addition to the wealth of research dedicated to the role of EFAs like omega-3s in cardiovascular, brain and visual health, there is a growing body of evidence that supports a new wave of omega-3 health benefits including immune support, sports performance, quality of sleep and positive mood. With immunity now a top health priority for consumers of all ages, research on how EPA and DHA can support the function of the immune system is particularly interesting,” Hartunian-Sowa said. “EPA and DHA have been shown to play important roles in modulating inflammation.3 EPA and DHA present at the site of inflammation are enzymatically converted to specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) known as resolvins, protectins, and maresins. These molecules, along with others, function together to coordinate the resolution of inflammation and support healing.4,5 Due to these anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 fatty acids may therefore be useful in helping to modulate inflammation in a number of disorders with an inflammatory component.
“For consumers looking to lead a more active lifestyle, EPA and DHA can play a role in sports performance by helping to support muscle recovery and decrease muscle soreness after exercise.6-8 Further reports show that omega-3 may also improve cardio-respiratory fitness,9,10 which can aid in an overall great workout session,” she continued. “… these omega-3 health benefits are not necessarily front-of-mind for existing consumers, suggesting it’s time to reframe how we talk to consumers about omega-3s, and demonstrate how they support some of the biggest health and wellness priorities people have today.”
Aker BioMarine has been conducting studies revolving around krill oil and how it can intersect other segments, including heart health.
“Superba Krill is one of the most researched krill oil brands on the market with several studies documenting its efficiency in raising the Omega-3 Index in the body,” Vislie said. “To that end, the Aker BioMarine science team is currently working on new and exciting research projects to investigate the effects of krill oil across various health areas. Often marketed in traditional heart health categories, krill oil is making its way into new segments due its multiple health benefits.”
She also added that “The science team at Aker BioMarine recently completed a study on krill oil and choline. Choline, an essential nutrient that supports vital organs such as the heart and liver, needs to be obtained from our diet, or through krill oil/other supplements; choline is naturally found in krill oil. Our study results found that krill oil is a safe, effective and well-tolerated way to boost your necessary intake levels of choline. Furthermore, Aker BioMarine is currently looking at krill oil’s role in sports nutrition as well as skin health.” Similarly, Gearheart referenced a study that displayed cardiovascular benefits as it relates to omega-3s.
“Last October, a meta-analysis was published that linked omega-3s to a reduced risk of myocardial infarction, coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease (as well as death from coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease). The study author was also the lead investigator for the VITAL (VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL) study, the first primary prevention study (published in November 2018), which looked at 25,000 patients for a variety of health outcomes and showed positive outcomes as well. GOED is in the process of publishing a paper that corroborates these results.”
Further, Gearheart added that when it comes to EFAs, research in this regard has evolved—there are a plethora of studies are available to the public.
“The total number of studies on EPA and DHA has increased steadily since the 1980s—currently, there are more than 41,000 studies published papers and more than 4,000 human trials on the compounds. Yet experts believe we are still in the infancy of understanding all the potential ways EPA and DHA omega-3s can impact human health. Thus far, the body of evidence has shown the strongest science for heart health, brain health, eye health and prenatal/maternal health.”
The research is continuing its expansion, and omega-7s are even garnering more attention.
“Research into EFAs has evolved significantly over the years,” Shneyvas pointed out. “Historically, the bulk of the research has been conducted on triglyceride or ethyl ester forms of DHA for infant health benefits, combination DHA and EPA for various heart health-related benefits and to a lesser extent, EPA. Plant-derived EFAs research lagged behind marine-derived EFAs. Lately, we are seeing EFA research evolving in various directions, including new health benefits, higher doses of traditional omega-3 fatty acids and forms, phospholipid-bonded EFAs, and EFA complexed with other nutrients. Also, research is evolving into less common omega-3s, like SDA (stearidonic acid) and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid), as well as plant derived EFAs, including omega-7s, which are relatively new to the marketplace.”
In the end, the public is now able to get a greater sense of all that EFAs have to offer.
“Whilst EPA/DHA oils have been subject to extensive scientific attention since the 1980s,” Christianslund concluded, “we are happy to see that also other fats enjoy a more balanced discussion these days, with a focus on understanding the pros and cons of the nutritional value of the different sources of EFAs rather than believing that ‘fat is fat.’” NIE
1 DSM consumer insights survey 2019.
2 Murphy et al. Suboptimal plasma Long-chain N-3 Concentrations are Common Among Adults in the United States, NHANES 2003-2004. Nutrients, vol. 7, no.12, pg. 10282-10289, 2015.
3 Gutierrez S et al. Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells. Intl J Mol Sci., vol. 20, no. 20, pg. 5028, 2019.
4 Calder, P.C. et al. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System is an Important Factor to Protect Against Viral Infections. Nutrients., vol. 12 no. 1181, 2020.
5 Basil, M. C. and Levy, B. D. Specialized Pro-resolving Mediators: Endogenous Regulators of Infection and Inflammation. Nature Reviews, Immunology, vol. 16, no. 1, pg. 51-67, 2016.
6 Tsuchiya et al. Supplementation of Eicosapentaenoic Acid-rich Fish Oil Attenuates Muscle Stiffness After Eccentric Contractions Of Human Elbow Flexors. Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 16, no. 19, 2019.
7 Philpott et al. Applications of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation for Sport Performance. Res Sports Med., vol. 27, no. 2, pg. 219-237, 2019.
8 Philpott et al. Adding Fish Oil Whey Protein, Leucine and Carbohydrate Over a Six-week Supplementation Period Attenuates Muscle Soreness Following Eccentric Exercise in Competitive Soccer Players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab., vol. 28, no 1, pg. 26-36, 2018.
9 Buckley et al. Preliminary effects and Acceptability of a Co-produced Physical Activity Referral Intervention. Health Education Journal, vol. 78, no. 8, pg. 869-884, 2019.
10 Hingley et al. DHA-rich Fist Oil Increases the Omega-3 Index and Lowers the Oxygen Cost of Physiologically Stressful Cycling in Trained Individuals. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab., vol. 27, no. 4, 2017.
For More Information:
Aker BioMarine Antarctic AS., www.superbakrill.com
Best Formulations, www.bestformulations.com
Epax Norway AS, www.epax.com
Stauber USA, www.stauberusa.com