Despite overhang from iffy research conclusions and attendant mass media frenzies, the industry boldly forges ahead with innovative products and new education initiatives.
As noted in the November/December 2015 issue of Nutrition Industry Executive magazine, essential fatty acids (EFAs) are among the most popular and broadly used ingredients for supplements and food fortification.
This is no surprise, of course, since, aside from traditional use throughout human history, the nutritional essentiality of alpha linolenic acid (ALA)—the precursor of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—was established at the University of Minnesota Medical School in 1929. In 1982, the first reported case of omega-3 deficiency in humans was reported, although the foundation for which was laid by earlier examples in infants and adults dating back to 1969.
As to studies backing up EFAs, an extensive 2015 review of research studies over the last 40 years by Karsten Weylandt and colleagues observed that, “the animal and in-vitro data have been remarkably consistent in showing health benefits, particularly through mechanisms dampening inflammation and proliferation in different tissues,” which have detailed the protective effects of omega-3s in “diseases ranging from cardiac arrhythmia and inflammatory conditions,” including atherosclerosis, arthritis and cancer.
While EFAs enjoy support by consumers, public health agencies and medical bodies, omega-3 fats, in particular, have been challenged over the last several years regarding claims of efficacy and supposed problems with oxidation.
Regarding claims in a meta-analysis published in 2012, the authors’ conclusions that fish oil capsules offered “no benefit” for heart patients were, in turn, subsequently questioned by other experts due to the statistical sleight of hand used to arrive at this.
As to oxidation, a 2015 study from New Zealand alleged that fish oil supplements were found to be “heavily oxidized.” However, the methods of analysis used and conclusions arrived at were refuted by the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) in a white paper issued in November 2015.
According to the white paper, “A number of consumer groups, organizations that issue product quality seals, and academic groups have published data on levels of oxidation in omega-3 oils.” The GOED-CRN paper concluded: “Overall, this data shows that commercially available omega-3 supplements are low in oxidation.”
Omegas: A Question of Balance
Diets of our Paleolithic ancestors and turn-of-the-century Greelandic Inuit boasted a super-healthy ratio of 1:1 omega-6 seed to omega-3 fats, whereas the standard Western diet today can range to a ratio of 20:1. How did we get here and can we get back to such a diet?
Becky Wright, marketing and communications director for Norway-based Aker BioMarine AS believes that the imbalance is a nutritional problem across the world. “Our bodies only need a small amount of omega-6 fats to support their role in the body, making it crucial that we balance them with omega-3s,” noted Wright. “We can actually put our bodies at risk of cardiovascular and inflammatory issues if we consume too much omega-6s and not enough omega-3s—in fact, omega-3 deficiency is a growing issue affecting the population across the globe.”
Hugh Welsh, president of DSM North America in New Jersey, agreed that omega-6 overconsumption is the culprit. “In recent years, there has been a massive increase in the consumption of omega-6 oils, primarily from soybean and corn oil, because of their availability and low cost—this increased consumption has shifted the balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in our diets,” Welsh pointed out.
“Because linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, utilize the same enzymes, very large intakes of omega-6 create competition,” Welsh continued. “Enough competition to change the flux of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids through these pathways, and the different number of double bonds in these fatty acids, changes the shape (and inflammatory activity) of the metabolites.”
Welsh noted that the leukotrienes, thromboxanes, prostaglandins and other metabolites created from omega-6 fatty acids are more pro-inflammatory than are those derived from omega-3 fatty acids.
John Minatelli, senior vice president of Florida-based Valensa International, said, “The ideal ratio of membrane bound omega-6 to omega-3 dietary fat is generally recognized today to be 4:1, favoring a slightly elevated membrane bound concentration of arachidonic acid, which is incorporated into all cellular membranes bound to phospholipids.”
The problem, noted Minatelli, truly is the imbalance, and how that impacts inflammation in the body. “Inflammation is an integral part of the normal host response to infection or injury, however when omega-6 to omega-3 ratios are excessive, production of extremely potent arachidonic acid derived pro-inflammatory cytokines—also referred to as inflammatory prostaglandins, thromboxanes, leukotrienes and adhesion molecules—are suspected to increase the risk of developing a chronic disease state.”
“This is why the American diet, which is very rich in vegetable oil-based linoleic acid (principally from soy and corn oils), has been associated with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, excessive heart disease and other conditions characterized by a chronic pro-inflammatory state,” Minatelli added.
Minatelli also pointed out that, unless there is an adequate and balancing intake of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids—either as ALA from seeds or EPA and DHA from fish oils, getting a handle on the chronic pro-inflammatory American diet would be nigh near impossible to achieve.
“Add to this the amount of processed food Americans eat, which has been stripped of natural antioxidants and other healthy ingredients and you have a prescription for an unhealthy diet,” Minatelli said.
The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, is “an excellent example of a balanced essential fatty acid diet since olive oil, which is essentially devoid of LA, and which includes grains already delivering a 1:1 mixture of LA and ALA and also more dietary fish, which are abundant in EPA and DHA, all leading to a significant reduction in heart disease mortality,” according to Minatelli.
A Marine Story
Now that we have looked at what fats need to be decreased, what EFAs should consumers seek out? What about the relative nutritional benefits of krill, cod-liver, conventional DHA/EPA extracts, perilla, chia and flax oils?
“Not all omega-3s are created equal,” observed Aker BioMarine’s Wright. “There are many benefits associated with EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in Superba Krill Oil and other marine omega-3 options.”
Added Wright, “With krill in particular, its fatty acids are largely bound to phospholipids, which are integral to the body’s cells and cell membranes—due to this biological advantage, our bodies immediately recognize phospholipid-bound omega-3s and incorporate them into the cells, feeding the places that need them the most, including the heart, brain and joints.”
Other omega-3 sources, specifically those in triglyceride form, must go through a conversion process before they can be taken up by our cells and used by our bodies.
While its largest massmarket product, FlexPro MD, employs among other active ingredients, krill oil, which delivers phospholipid-bound EPA and DHA, Valensa has been involved in supercritical CO2 extraction of seed oils (Verilla Perilla seed oil and ChiaGold/Tresalbio chia seed oils) that are rich in ALA, in an effort to bring, according to the company, “high quality, stabilized high ratio ALA:LA oils to the marketplace.”
“Our reasoning is simple,” observed Valensa’s Minatelli. “Let’s fight the excessive American dietary consumption of LA with stable seed oils rich in ALA—a more recent development is the company’s emerging algae-based production of oils rich in glycolipid- and phospholipid-bound EPA and DHA, which would be renewable sources of these health-critical fatty acids rather than relying on fish or krill-oil sourcing.”
Verilla Perilla seed oil has an ALA:LA ratio of 6:1, “representing one of the highest ALA:LA seed oil contents on the planet and it offers provides unprecedented room temperature shelf stability over expeller-pressed oils,” Minatelli said.
“The expeller-pressed oils, while they have a favorable 3:1 ratio of ALA:LA, are terribly unstable and, without refinement, have a rather sharp grassy taste—this issue was easily overcome by partial fractionation of the CO2 extract during the extraction and separation process.”
Valensa uses a patented Deep Extract process that additionally extracts other phytonutrients that “will increase the health benefits, functionality and stability of the omega-3 oils,” said Minatelli. “Further, we also stabilize the omega-3 oils, like chia seed oil and Perilla seed oil, with our O2B botanical stabilization package which increases both shelf space and ‘pantry life’ of these superior oils.”
“We believe that each product has its own positioning in the marketplace and we continue to educate our customers and consumers on health benefits of omega-3s,” Minatelli added. “For example, Verilla Perilla seed oil has a better omega 3:omega 6 ratio than do chia seed oil and flax seed oil. However, flax and chia enjoy better consumer awareness.”
Quality Is As Quality Does
With EFAs, as much or moreso than any other super-category, quality is paramount, and the companies we spoke to are making significant investments in order to deliver on this mantra.
DSM, for example, has invested in a new process technology called 3C technology. “This radically efficient process technology delivers highly-concentrated (up to 85 percent) and customizable combinations of EPA and DHA for both pharmaceutical and dietary supplement applications, while providing peace of mind through a consistent supply chain,” pointed out Tobe Cohen, vice president of DSM Human Nutrition.
“MEG-3 Ultra, the first new [DSM] product line produced with 3C Technology is next generation, ultra-pure, high potency EPA plus DHA combinations with greater nutritional precision,” Cohen added. “DSM has kicked off the ‘Modern Movement Forward’ marketing campaign to inspire category change through 3C technology—this new technology truly makes the oversized pills of traditional fish oil with low EPA and DHA omega-3 content a thing of the past.”
Aker BioMarine AS has also been making investments in its products and process technologies.
“We developed a new patented technology platform called Flexitech which is helping drive more innovation in the krill market specifically and the omega-3 market overall,” said Wright. “Earlier this year, Aker BioMarine launched Superba 2, the next generation of Superba Krill Oil—on the heels of that, we recently introduced our first krill oil concentrate, called Superba Boost, to the U.S. market; Superba Boost contains a significantly higher concentration of key actives, including phospholipids, omega-3s EPA/DHA and choline.”
Minatelli points to product quality as a major differentiator for Valensa. “Our ChiaGold and Tresalbio chia seed extract can easily replace the highly unstable expeller pressed flax seed oil consumed in the market today which, by the way, is merely a byproduct of making linseed oil for furniture finishing due to flax oils’ terrible instability; this is why it is commonly marketed in refrigerated bottles with very limited expiration dates, added Minatelli. In terms of recognition, “We also recently obtained substantial equivalence under EFSA [the European Food Safety Authority] for our ChiaGold chia seed oil in the E.U.”
Purity and taste are also important factors, and some companies are working hard to raise the bar.
“In terms of taste, Aker’s new Flexitech platform allows for the removal of the salts in krill oil, which can lead to off odors and taste,” said Wright. “The process does not involve any form of high temperature treatment, such as molecular distillation, nor does it involve the use of other solvents besides ethanol and water; it relies solely on low temperature and efficient fractionation methods that remove unwanted salts and other polar constituents.”
According to DSM’s Welsh, “The top consumer barriers to greater omega-3 supplementation are related to potency, purity and taste—DSM adheres to the most stringent quality parameters and exceeds industry standards so that the consumer experience is positive.”
EFAs: The Education Boat is Moving
One area of intense category focus recently has been in the area of education; given the recent massmedia (mis)reporting on omega-3s, it perhaps couldn’t come at a better time.
“Aker BioMarine just launched The Omega-3 Index Project in an effort to bring more awareness to the ramifications of low omega-3 EPA/DHA levels,” said Wright. “The project encourages consumers to regularly measure their omega-3 levels using a nutritional tool called the Omega-3 Index Test—it also encourages consumers to know what their options are for increasing their levels, specifically omega-3-rich seafood as well as dietary supplements that contain EPA and DHA like krill oil, algal oil and fish oil.”
Aker formed The Omega-3 Index Project in conjunction with Dr. Bill Harris, a co-inventor of the Omega-3 Index test. Used to assess cardiovascular and overall health, the Omega-3 Index test is geared to help consumers and health practitioners identify, correct and maintain healthy levels of omega-3s EPA/DHA, while reducing the risk of chronic disease.
“We hope to roll out [the Project] globally in 2017,” added Wright. “According to a study published in the May 2016 issue of Progress in Lipid Research, the low EPA/DHA status of consumers globally is staggering and deserves attention—consumers need to know (1) what their omega-3 index level is; (2) what their omega-3 index level means; and (3) the solutions available to raise their levels should they need to.”
DSM launched the Know Your Ω campaign at this year’s American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Family Medicine Experience (FMX) annual meeting. “Know Your Ω recognizes the vital role that health care practitioners play in addressing the vast inadequacy of omega-3 intake among the U.S. population,” said Welsh.
“A large and growing body of evidence shows that insufficient levels of omega-3 EPA and DHA may be associated with serious health complications for many Americans,” said Michael McBurney, PhD, vice president of science, communications and advocacy for DSM Nutritional Products.
Know Your Ω is “a resource that educates doctors on the dangers associated with omega-3 deficiency and supports omega-3 recommendation to help protect patients from cardiovascular disease and other health risks.” NIE
For More Information:
Aker BioMarine AS, www.akerbiomarine.com
DSM North America, www.dsm.com
Valensa International, (877) 876-8872