2014 outlook for omega-3s: More positive science backing but also continued fallout from prostate cancer study

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid, Adam ismail

2014 outlook for omega-3s: More positive science backing but also continued fallout from prostate cancer study
The coming year will see renewed challenges for the omega-3s sector, an industry leader said.  Among the challenges will be new attacks from the medical community as well as a continuing depression of the US market as a consequence of the publication of a negative study connected to prostate cancer risk.

But there are big upsides, too, said Adam Ismail, executive director of the Global Organization of EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).  Ismail sat down with NutraIngredients-USA on the what the year ahead holds for the fish oil, krill oil and algal sources of omega-3s.

Chief among the good news, Ismail said, is the steadily increasing scientific underpinning for the ingredients’ benefits.  This backing has reached the point that the organization on behalf of industry has submitted an application to FDA for a new health claim.

“I think there is going to be continued recognition in the science behind the omega-3s,”​ Ismail said.

“We have submitted a health claim in the US for blood pressure reduction, which is a benefit that has not been as well as known about omega-3s but has been studied at length.  Hopefully we will get some recognition around that this year,” ​he said.

Ismail also said he expects more favorable meta analyses to come out backing the ingredients’ benefits.

“I think there are going to be more meta analyses that look that the totality of evidence,”​ Ismail said.

Prostate cancer hit

Unlike, in other words, the meta analysis that came out in July in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that linked high omega-3 levels in the blood with an increased risk of prostate cancer.  That news send a shock wave through the omega-3s market in the US, significantly depressing sales.  And that sales drop is expected to persist well into 2014, Ismail said.

“We estimate the sales loss at 11% from just that one study.  And the people we lost seem to have been some of the most committed users,”​ he said.  Demand had already started to flatten out in 2012 in North America, especially for 18:12 EPA to DHA ratio products, Ismail said, with that trend continuing into 2013.  But the prostate cancer blip was the first absolute actual decline of its sort, he said.

Experts were quick to step up to question that study’s conclusions and methodology​.  Criticisms included the way the study flies in the face of many years of epidemiological research, showing counties with high per-capita fish consumption have low rates of prostate cancer.  Experts also cited the way the authors parsed their data, with the patients grouped in the “high” group for omega-3 blood levels showing values that were only a tiny bit different from other groups (and all being with what is considered normal ranges).  But most damning of all, the data was gaterhed in such a way that there was no way to tell whether supplements had been used or not.  All in all, with so many variable not controlled for, critics said the meta analysis did not do what a meta analysis is supposed to.

“When you do a meta analysis is you are trying to isolate one factor across many studies,”​ Ismail said.  The widespread criticism of this study (which Ismail hastened to point out comes not just from GOED but from many interested parties in the scientific community) will hopefully lead to better designed meta analyses in the future, he said.

Nevertheless, industry stakeholders should brace for more attacks in the future, Ismail said.

“I do think the industry will continue to be attacked form a scientific perspective.  I think there are too many competing interests out there and there are too many people out there looking to tear down the golden child,”​ he said.

Supply side

On the supply end, Ismail said 2014 will be the year of new sources of supply coming on to the market and filling up heretofore vacant nooks and crannies.

“I think we are finally going to start to see some of the algae sources starting to produce

The thing that’s unique about them is that they are all niche products. They are not trying to take on the 30% EPA DHA oils.  They are trying to create high value niches, so we are going to learn a lot about how much you can segment the omega-3s market in the coming year.  The question is how big is that high value end of market, and how crowded will it get before it grows to support all these new players?”​ Ismail said.

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1 comment

...looking to tear down the golden child"

Posted by David Stone,

"...looking to tear down the golden child"? How is this sort of conspiracy paranoia appropriate here? Surely medical researchers have no interest whatsoever in the sales of EPA/DHA. That's not their game. What they are interested in knowing is whether taking a concentrated supplement of marine omega-3 oil might cause health-related problems. This is perfectly legit and SHOULD be looked into. These supplements are not the equivalent of eating fish and nutritional supplements in general are not automatically safe and friendly simply because they contain nutrients.

And characterizing such medical research as "attacks" is absurd, IMO.

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