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Special edition: New indications, new sources for omega-3s

By Hank Schultz , 29-Nov-2013
Last updated on 29-Nov-2013 at 17:07 GMT

Omega-3s are one of the best researched areas of nutraceutical science, and as a class of ingredients, one of the biggest sellers, too.  So it’s no surprise that the category is a hotbed of news. In this special edition, NutraIngredients-USA wraps up some of the latest research in some new indications beyond heart health,  and new business developments in this thriving sector.

ADHD support study

A recent Austrialian study found that increasing the levels of DHA and EPA omega-3s in red blood cells by dietary supplementation may improve attention, literacy, and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Decreasing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids was also seen to improve the same measures in the children, report researchers in the Journal of Attention Disorders .

The children were randomly assigned to receive EPA-rich fish oil supplements, DHA-rich fish oil supplements, or safflower oil (control) for four months. While no direct improvements between the interventions and literacy, cognition, or parent-reported behavior were reported, the researchers did observe an effect for higher red blood cell levels of the omega-3s.

For more on the study, click here .

Good for older folks, too

While omega-3s are shown to benefit children, they have potential benefits for older consumers, too. Supplements of omega-3s may slow cellular ageing in older people with mild cognitive impairment, according to results of a recent pilot randomized clinical trial.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) was associated with reduced shortening of telomeres, DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes that shorten as cells replicate and age,  report researchers from Australia in Nutrition .

“Although underpowered to detect significant differences between treatment groups, this study provides interesting pilot data that indicates telomere shortening may be modified by nutritional means over a six month period,” the authors wrote.

“Specifically, increasing n-3 PUFA intake via supplementation may attenuate telomere shortening that occurs with age. These data build on current epidemiological evidence and recent reports linking increased marine n-3 PUFA with decreased telomere attrition.”

For more on this study, click here .

EPA from algae

Qualitas Health, an algae producer based in Israel with production facilities in West Texas, is bringing to market an EPA-only algal oil ingredient with unique chemical properties.

The company’s algal oil, derived from a salt water, photosynthetic algae species, is rich in phospholipids and glycolipids and compares favorably with krill oil, according a bioavailability study conducted by the company.  Although this study has been criticized by krill oil competitors, the company defends the study’s design and conclusions.

EPA only products have a place in the market for indications of mood support, according to company spokesmand David Hart.

More more on Qualitas and its ingredient, click here .

EPA, the depression fighter

The science behind EPA as a standalone product has focused on mood support. “The best data we’ve got (for standalone EPA) is in the area of depression.  It looks that in the studies that tended to be more favorable, the product had more EPA than DHA,” said William Harris, PhD, an omega 3s researcher at the University of South Dakota.

In a meta analysis published in 2009 the author analyzed data from 28 studies and concluded that EPA was likely more responsible for positive depression outcomes than EPA. Another meta analysis from 2011 that looked at 15 trials with 916 total participants concluded that omega 3 supplements in which EPA accounted for 60% or more of total omega 3s were the most effective for depression. Supplements with a lower ratio of EPA to DHA were judged to be ineffective. The range of ‘excess’ EPA doses ranged from 200 mg to 2,200 mg.

A recent study featured 81 participants with mild to moderate depression who received 1g/day of either EPA, DHA or a placebo for 12 weeks.  Results were significantly better in the EPA group, and six patients in this group showed a 50% or greater improvement in their scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, whereas none of the DHA group did. “Overall, these data suggest greater efficacy of EPA compared to DHA or placebo as an adjunctive treatment in mild-to-moderate depression. However, further, randomized controlled trials are needed to support these findings,” the authors concluded.

For more on the EPA-only story, click here .

From “Made in USA” to “sustainable choice”

Ohio-based fish oil supplier Organic Technologies is expanding its distribution into Europe.  But instead of trading on the “made in USA” angle that plays well for its AlaskOmega ingredients domestically and elsewhere in the world, the company plans to rely on its sustainability bona fides.

The company has announced an exclusive distribution agreement with Bioriginal Europe/Asia B.V. for its line of AlaskOmega Omega-3 fish oil nutritional ingredients for sale into European and related countries. AlaskOmega is a broad Omega-3 ingredient line consisting of natural wild Alaskan fish oils, ethyl ester (EE) concentrates, and triglyceride (TG) concentrates.

“I think that our main unique selling point in Europe is the MSC certification for our concentrates,” Dan Wiley, vice president of Organic Technologies told NutraIngrendients-USA. “The US is not so popular in Europe.”

For more on Organic Technologies, click here . 

Supply concerns

AlaskOmega is sourced from the Alaskan pollock fishery.  But most of the world’s supply of omega-3s comes from the anchovy fishery off Peru, where recent quota restrictions continue to send shock waves through the market. This has had an effect on store shelves, according to Royal DSM, one of the world’s biggest suppliers.  Could that create a bigger opening for alternative, higher-priced sources such as krill?  It’s too early to say for sure, but krill oil suppliers are optimistic.

Before the start of the last fishing season earlier in 2013 the Peruvian government cut the quota by 34% based on fish population measures. The quota has since been raised, but that supply blip is making its way through the system to the detriment of companies like DSM, which, having absorbed Ocean Nutrition Canada, is now of the world’s biggest fish oil suppliers.

“Last year the winter fishing season in Peru was very low harvest, which led to very strong increases in prices, which we then and other players in the value chain passed on to the final end consumer,” said Rolf Dieter Schwab, chief financial officer of DSM during an earnings call with analysts recently. “We saw that the consumers did not like that at all and reduced basically their off take from the shelf and changed their buying behavior at least for now.”

For more on this story, click here .