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With a focus on sustainability, suppliers continue to improve purity and bio availability of efficacious marine-sourced omega-3s. Part I of NIE’s EFA series.

Fish oil supplements have shown double-digit growth over the past few years, making omegas one of the most sought-after supplements on the market today. Baby Boomers continue to drive this category’s popularity, but other age segments have started to show increasing interest, spurring even more growth.“The global market revenue for marine and algae EPA/DHA omega-3 ingredients market in 2011 was $1,806.8 million,” said Gunilla Traberg, head of marketing at Norway-based Epax AS. “And the market is likely to grow at approximately 12 percent annually until 2016.” 

Traberg said the main driving force behind this growth is the large amount of clinical work and studies substantiating the benefits of omegas. “There are more than 23,000 published papers and 2,500 human clinical trials,” she said.

“This scientific research has led to increased awareness of omegas as even more data shows the importance of this ingredient for all life stages.” The high demand for fish oil supplements is no surprise, as there seems to be no end to the benefits provided by the oil’s essential fatty acids (EFAs).

“EFAs are fatty acids that humans and other animals must ingest because the body requires them for good health, but cannot synthesize them,” said Ernesto Hernandez, PhD, director of process development at Texas-based Omega Protein Corporation. “Evidence shows that long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, like EPA (eicosapentanoic acid), DPA (docosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) play important roles in heart health, brain health, child and infant development, inflammation and other functions.” 

Steve Dillingham, regional director, North America at New Jersey-based GC Rieber Oils, Inc., agreed. “It is well known and supported that EFAs are good for certain health applications, such as EPA for heart health, and DHA for prenatal and childhood development, brain and eye health,” he said.

Sustainably Sourced 

Such growth and high demand in the omega supplement industry has put a lot of pressure on companies to harvest fish in a sustainable way. The global production of fish oil is close to one million tons, but that total is finite, said Hernandez. “This precious supply fills many market needs, but will need to evolve to focus on human consumption,” he said. “This will mean less supply going to aquaculture and more moving into food, beverage, supplement and pharmaceutical applications.” 

Ingredient suppliers are addressing the potential problem of over-fishing with well-managed sustainability programs.“Today, most omega-3-supplying fisheries are managed in a sustainable manner and the supporting methods of monitoring and enforcement are getting increasingly dependable and strong,” said Epax’s Traberg.

Many companies are looking to include Friend of the Sea certification on their products to ensure consumers that the oil was sustainably sourced.Friend of the Sea is a non-profit, nongovernmental organization that focuses on the conservation of marine habitats and re-sources. The organization has assessed more than 10 million metric tons of wild-catch and 500,000 metric tons of farmed products, according to Hernandez, whose company sources fish from the menhaden fishery for Cyvex Nutrition Inc. Friend of the Sea Has certified the menhaden fishery as sustainable.

Epax harvests its fish from the cold waters of the Humbolt current off the coasts of Peru and Chile. The company follows its own EcoVision programs for responsible harvesting, including Friend of the Sea certification, as well as IFFO RS certification, said Traberg.


A recent consumer poll revealed that people value omega supplements that are sustainably sourced, but also safe, according to Traberg. Epax provides the most clinically researched omega-3 ingredients, and the company offers scientifically based formulas with various product information in both print and web formats to show consumers they are safe, she added.

In order to ensure quality and safety, Cyvex Nutrition’s OmegaActiv and OmegaPure fish oils are produced through a vertically integrated supply chain, from company-owned fishing vessels to a state-of-the-art refinery, giving Omega Protein Corporation control over every step of production.

“Omega Protein harvests menhaden in U.S. waters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts,” said Hernandez. “These fisheries are closely checked by federal and local governmental agencies that conduct regular stock assessments and continually monitor and protect the sustainability of the menhaden population.” There are also laws to limit the nature of contaminants contained in runoff to which the menhaden population may be exposed.

“In addition, our analytical laboratory has been certified by the American Oil Chemists Society for analysis of marine oils and AOCS/GOED analysis for EPA and DHA,” Hernandez added.

Bioavailability & Delivery Innovations 

Many ingredient suppliers are addressing the growing consumer concern over efficacy and bioavailability, as that can differ among commonly used concentrated fish oil supplements. In response, GC Rieber is focusing on producing omega-3 concentrates in the natural TG (triglyercide) form, which studies have shown increases bioavailability in the body. “We offer two grades of TG concentrates, including a premium line containing a minimum of 90 percent TG,” said Dillingham. “There are studies supporting the increased stability and bioavailability of omega-3 in the natural TG form over the EE (ethyl ester) form.” 

GC Rieber has also recently developed a 90 percent omega-3 concentrate high in DHA, called VivoMega 70 DHA Ultra. “This innovative product is concentrated to Ultra DHA levels using a patented enzymatic approach, providing a minimum of 650 mg/g DHA, 50 mg/g EPA and total omega-3 of 820 mg/g in TG form,” said Dillingham.“We are promoting this product to formulators looking to reduce capsule size while still being able to deliver clinically relevant amounts of DHA, or those looking for the added flexibility to include additional ingredients into a high DHA formula, without having to increase capsule size.” 

Sometimes production methods can increase bioavailability, but the source of the oil also plays a major role.Omega Protein uses the menhaden fish because it contains significantly higher DPA levels when compared to typical fish sources such as sardines and anchovies, said Hernandez, citing a recent study that showed the EFAs from menhaden are highly bioavailable. “A European study published in Lipids reported that the omega-3 fatty acids in menhaden oil are more bioavailable than those in corn oil, butter or cod liver oil,” he said. “This distinctive feature of menhaden oil was explained by the very favorable (highly digestible) distribution of fatty acids on the glycerol backbone of the triglycerides.” 

Omega Protein is also working to make Cyvex’s EFAs more bioavailable through the preparation of concentrates, which would mean the same amount of omega-3 fatty acids could be consumed with a lower dosage. “We also have developed emulsions that make our omega-3s more bioavailable by increasing surface area of our products, which makes their absorption more efficient,” said Hernandez.

Allowing for flexibility in its product offerings, manufacturers can use Cyvex’s omega-3s in different forms—as straight oil stabilized with the company’s proprietary blend of antioxidants, or as an emulsion, Hernandez explained.“Straight oil can be used directly to prepare products like gel capsules or it can be blended with other oils to prepare foods like baked goods. Our omega-3 fish oil can also be made into emulsions that can be added to food products like salad dressings and other liquid foods such as milk and beverages,” he said.

Omega Protein has also innovated an antioxidant blend that allows the oil to be used directly in food products. “We have developed new micro- and nanoemulsions that make our omega-3 fatty acids mixable in products like waterbased and dairy-based beverages,” said Hernandez, noting that the company is in the process of scaling up production of dry microencapsulated omega-3s that will stabilize products further and will also be a more convenient way to deliver omega-3s to a wider variety of foods and supplements.

Ensuring Shelf Life 

Ingredient suppliers are addressing Taste and shelf-life concerns that are often associated with fish oil supplements.GC Rieber molecularly distills and deodorizes its omega-3 concentrates to obtain purity and oxidative parameter levels, said Dillingham. “This helps to ensure the desired sensory characteristics of our VivoMega omega- 3 concentrate products.” 

Hernandez offered that effective refining, purification and deodorization of the fish oil will result in an oil that is colorless and flavorless. “Addition of a very efficient antioxidant system allows for the protection of the omega-3 fatty acids, preserving bioactivity and allowing for a longer shelf life,” he said.

And according to Traberg, starting with the best possible material and careful handling throughout production will result in an end product that is palatable to the consumer. For example, Epax uses closed systems and stores the oil under a blanket of nitrogen to ensure minimal exposure to oxygen, she added.

Addressing Concerns 

The recent study titled “Plasma Phospholipid Fatty Acids and Prostate Cancer Risk in the SELECT Trial,” published July 10 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, suggested that too much fish oil could be linked to an increased prostate cancer risk.The natural products industry has stepped forward to offer its unanimous condemnation.

According to a press release from Florida-based Life Extension, the study used data from a clinical trial on vitamin E and selenium supplementation for cancer prevention, and added on a single blood test for omega-3 at baseline to determine whether there was an association between plasma levels of omega-3 fatty acids and incidence of prostate cancer. The press release stated: “Not mentioned or discussed by the media was that only one blood test for omega-3 fatty acids was conducted at baseline while study subjects were followed for six years’ time (and in another very small group up to nine years’ time).” 

Life Extension, along with many other companies, associations, bloggers and nutritionists have refuted this study, poking holes in its methodology and adding that such a drastic conclusion could lead to consumers being afraid of omega fish oil supplements.

“This study is a good example of poor science and should never have been published,” said Epax’s Traberg.“It is full of methodological flaws and the authors have drawn unfounded conclusions.”

Hernandez agreed: The study was not designed to look specifically at the relationship between omega-3 fatty acid intake and prostate cancer,h he said. The intake of fish oil for the study group was not reported, and the method in which blood plasma levels were measured is not a good index of long-term intake.

Hernandez added that the study’s conclusion does not take into account the immense scientific evidence amassed over decades and supported by the World Health Organization, American Heart Association and other reputable research organizations regarding the health benefits of marine omega-3 fatty acids, including their ability to reduce the risk of cancer. 

The feature article, EFAs Part II: Plant based, will run in the October issue of Nutrition Industry Executive magazine.

Extra! Extra!

Visit www.niemagazine.com to read more industry reactions to the fish oil/prostate cancer study.


Cyvex Nutrition, Inc., (888) 992-9839 

Epax AS, +47 24 13 19 21 

GC Rieber Oils, Inc., (973) 509-4666

The “New” Omega-3

It’s well known that EPA, a long chain omega-3 predominantly found in oily fish, is beneficial for supporting a healthy inflammation response as well as managing and reducing the risk of heart disease.And DHA, predominantly found in oily fish and algal oil, is important for brain growth and vision development of the unborn baby, as well as helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.“DHA also comprises 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the brain and 60 percent of the PUFAs in the retina,” said Omega Protein Corporation’s Hernandez .

But there is a “new” omega-3 fatty acid called DPA that has recently been recognized for its significance in human health, Hernandez explained, adding that DPA is structurally similar to DHA, but with one less double bond. “We tend to store twice the amount of DPA in our blood as EPA, and about half as much DPA as DHA,” he said. “Several studies have reported blood levels of DPA to be equally or more predictive of cardiovascular health than EPA and DHA.Yet, DPA is often ignored when we talk about omega-3s.” 

While DHA and EPA offer fuller bodies of research, DPA studies are gaining ground, and have shown that the compound may play a significant role when it comes to cardiovascular, neurological and cognitive health.“For example, the Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard, one of the largest and longest investigations ever conducted, showed that higher plasma concentrations of DPA were predictive of cardiovascular health,” Hernandez said.

A separate large epidemiological trial showed that dietary intake of DPA was related to elasticity of the arteries in adults, a major factor of heart health. An animal study conducted by Australian researchers showed that young (and aged) rats that were fed a diet enriched with DPA performed better in a water maze test than those fed the control diet. Also, Australian researchers recently presented and published results of a human study on DPA supplementation, which highlighted the unique physiological function of the compound, according to Hernandez.

CRN Suggestions for Codex Proposed Standard for Fish Oils

In a letter sent earlier this year to Secretariat, Codex Alimentarius Commission, Joint WHO/FAO Food Standards Programme and Malaysian Secretariat for CCFO, Food Safety and Quality Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Douglas MacKay, ND, and Vice President of Scientific & International Affairs James C. Griffiths, PhD, DABT, summarized CRN’s recommendations on the proposed draft standard for fish oils.

In addition to recommending the process steps for concentrated oils be removed from section 2.5, and requesting a more in-depth review of the data used to ensure scientific validity, CRN offered the following suggestions on behalf of the industry:

• Incorporating realistic oxidation parameters for flavored fish oils.

• That the issue of additives used in fish oils be differed to the Codex Committee on Food Additives.

• That the issue of contaminants in fish oils be deferred to the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods.

• That the issue of analytical methods be deferred to the Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling.

For more information, visit ftp://ftp.fao.org/codex/meetings/ccfo/ccfo23/fo23_03e.pdf or www.crnusa.com.

Non-GMO Project