Plant-based omega-3 oils, including flax and chia, have a skeleton in the closet, that being the very low ratio at which ALA, the primary long-chain fatty acid contained in these sources, is converted to EPA, one of the two omega-3s (along with DHA) that has the most evidence for efficacy. This ratio is usually quoted as something like 3% to 6%, with some evidence of slightly higher conversion ratios for vegetarians.
SDA is one of the steps by which the body converts ALA into EPA. And it is a huge step up, with a far more gentle climb from there to the desired end product, EPA. So having a plant source that already has high levels of SDA is a big benefit, said Greg Cumberford, general manager of TCI’s Ahiflower Division. NutraIngredients-USA spoke with Cumberford at the Expo West trade show in Anaheim, CA recently.
“SDA is the metabolic product of the conversion of ALA in the body. SDA converts to EPA at ratio of 30% to 35%. Direct consumption of SDA is therefore far more efficient than consuming large amounts of ALA. Our specification is for an 18% to 20% SDA content in Ahiflower oil, which is the largest SDA content of any non GM plant source such as echium, black currant seed or hemp,” Cumberford said.
Another key benefit of this new source—which is a strain of the species Buglossoides arvensis—from a labeling perspective is that TCI developed the crop, which has been mostly seen as a weed species associated with conventional cereal grain production up to now, via conventional plant breeding techniques, so Ahiflower can fit into non-GMO positioning. Its closest current potential competitor is a genetically modified soybean variety. TCI currently grows the crop entirely in the UK. A potential organic variety would have to wait for an assessment of whether the market would be willing to bear the price premium that the lower yields would mandate, Cumberford said.