Omega-3 bioavailability boosted by gel emulsion: Study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Omega-3 bioavailability boosted by gel emulsion: Study

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid

The bioavailability of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 may be boosted by delivering them in a solid emulsified gel, according to new research.

The new pilot study, published in the European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology,​ suggests that over a 40 percent increase in bioavailability from omega-3 rich fish oils EPA and DHA can be obtained by using a solid gelled emulsion compared to soft gel capsules.

“These results suggest that improved bioavailability of EPA and DHA may be achieved by incorporating emulsified TAG ​[triacylglycerol] fish oil in a gel matrix prior to oral ingestion,” ​said the researchers, led by Ingvild Haug a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

“This study presents a new type of vehicle for the delivery of PUFAs ​[polyunsaturated fatty acids]. The vehicles are soft and chewable with the possibility of adding flavours, sweeteners and colour, and this makes the vehicles ideal for delivery of PUFAs to consumers having problems swallowing large capsules or cod liver oil,”​ said the researchers.

Commenting independently on the research, Harry Rice, PhD, V.P regulatory & scientific affairs for the omega-3 trade association GOED (Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s) told NutraIngredients that the vehicle technology studied is interesting and could be commercially promising. However, he noted that the results should be considered preliminary at best because the research data was from a pilot study.


Omega-3 has been suggested to be beneficial in the treatment of many disorders, including cardiovascular diseases​, joint pains and inflammation associated with arthritis​, mood disorders​, metabolic syndrome​, Parkinson’s disease​, and neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease​.

In addition to this omega-3 rich oils have been found to boost satiety and aid weight loss​, and play a role in male fertility​, gum disease​, and eye health​.

However the ingestion of omega-3 oil via conventional preparations is not always well liked or welcomed by consumers, due to fishy tastes and a tendency to produce an unpleasant reflux.

“Since oils have a lower density than gastric juice the burst of capsules containing omega-3 oils in the stomach may result in concentration of lipids in the upper layers of the gastric juice and may cause such reflux … Development of new oral vehicles with improved acceptability for the consumers would therefore be highly beneficial,” ​said the researchers.

The new study compared the short-term bioavailability from a single dose administration of EPA and DHA from a triacylglycerol rich fish oil – released from either a traditional soft gel capsules or from a gel matrix containing emulsified oil (gelled emulsion).

Study details

The researchers tested the bioavailability of the gelled emulsion vehicle versus the traditional soft gel capsule by measuring in vivo blood plasma EPA and DHA levels after ingestion. The authors tested three formulations of omega-3 fish oil: EPA alone, DHA alone, and an EPA plus DHA mixture.

They noted that both the soft capsule and the gelled emulsion formulations contained the same amount of the same TAG fish oils, supplied by Napro Pharma AS, Norway.

Total bioavailability was found to be significantly higher for EPA, and EPA plus DHA delivered by the gelled emulsions compared to the soft gel capsule, however overall bioavailability for DHA was not significantly higher for the gelled emulsion group.

Haug and her colleagues also reported that the time until the maximum concentration of for EPA, and EPA plus DHA was significantly quicker for the gelled emulsion than for the capsule.

They said that the results indicate that the bioavailability trend may be in favour of the gelled emulsion treatment, but noted that a higher powered study is needed to confirm improved bioavailability of both EPA and DHA from the gelled emulsion.


“From the experiments of the emulsion stability in this study it is tempting to assume that the oil released from the gelled emulsions also could have been more extensively emulsified … in vivo compared to oil released from soft gel capsules,”​ said the researchers.

However they noted that further analysis must be performed to determine whether the dissolution of the gelled emulsion results in a stable emulsion in vivo.

“It should be kept in mind that the results from this study only reveal the short-term absorption of EPA and DHA from a single dose … To be able to conclude regarding the long-term absorption and incorporation of EPA and DHA from the gelled emulsions a more thorough study should be performed,” ​explained Haug and co workers.

GOED’s Dr Rice added that whilst pilot studies such as this are very important to the scientific method, “the results shouldn’t be used to formulate definitive conclusions.”

Rather, “if the results indicate that the question is worth pursuing, then future studies should be designed and conducted.”

Source: European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/ejlt.201000450
“Bioavailability of EPA and DHA delivered by gelled emulsions and soft gel capsules”
Authors: I.J. Haug, L.B. Sagmo, D. Zeiss, I.C. Olsen, K.I. Draget, T. Seternes

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