The nutraceutical industry continues to dance to the important beat of a class of essential dietary fats known as omega-3 fatty acids. Fueled by consensus among global experts that omega-3 deficiency is one of the biggest health challenges to the future of humanity (1), the fish oil and flax oil markets have grown considerably during the last decade. Given the increasing pressure on these traditional sources, however, new sources of omega-3s like algae and krill are emerging as alternatives. These new options are allowing omega-3s to extend their presence into the marketplace through supplements, fortified food and beverages as well as pharmaceuticals.
Regardless of source and whether they are consumed in whole food or supplemental form, omega-3s exert their important and essential effects when they are ultimately incorporated into cell membranes (2). Popular and emerging sources provide three main omega-3s; eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Whether a consumer chooses fish, flax, algae and/or krill should not be the real public health issue, as long as they choose a source that is right for them and promotes adequate consumption (3).
Fish and flax oils enjoy a healthy share of the market as they have had a considerable head start over the rest, contributing key omega-3s to the human diet for decades. Although consuming all types of omega-3 fatty acids is important and adds to the body’s overall pool of essential fats, EPA and DHA from marine sources appear to be structurally more essential for cell membrane integrity and exert greater anti-inflammatory effects than ALA found in flax (2).
Although fish- and flax-sourced omega-3s have enticed consumers for many years, algae and krill are two competitors that have impressive sales growth potential because they offer unique attributes and a seemingly more attractive user experience. Like the fish oil and flax companies, algae and krill oil ingredient manufacturers have done all the necessary homework to ensure their oils will resonate with consumers by addressing typical concerns around efficacy, safety and the user experience.
Algae oil is relatively new to the omega-3 industry and provides the long chain omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA. They are produced through highly sustainable means, are a great choice for those seeking vegan sources of omega-3, have been featured in some compelling health studies, and are now produced at a volume that meets the growing market’s needs.
Krill oil supplies a phospholipid form of EPA and DHA, which is unique among marine species and appears to be better utilized by the body compared to traditional sources (4). It also carries the extra benefit of containing astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment known for its potent antioxidant activity that keeps the omega-3 fatty acids in krill naturally fresh and stable (5). Like fish oils, krill oil has been shown to promote cardiovascular health, support a healthy inflammatory response and play key roles in proper cell structure and function (6).
Strangely enough, krill oil’s sustainability platform has been questioned by some key stakeholders in the natural products industry (7) despite the existence of brands approved by rigorous environmental groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) (8). During a time when nearly 40% of consumers are looking for non-fish oil sources of omega-3 (9), krill oil products endorsed by the MSC are a great choice for the consumer who is seeking clinically proven, next generation omega-3 products with an ironclad guarantee of environmental sustainability.
Overall, the evolution of omega-3 sources continues to be shaped by consumers who are demanding that products deliver on their omega-3 promises and are environmentally sustainable. Cannibalization of existing sources will probably not occur because the omega-3 market is growing worldwide, as seen by recent impressive sales growth of krill oil (10), showing that all sources are needed to meet the demand. The next generation of omega-3s are already in the marketplace and will continue to focus on superior bio-efficiency, tailored health benefits for the consumer and ultimately help address the global, pervasive public health crisis of omega-3 deficiency. WF
Christopher Speed, MND APD, is the communications director at OmegaWellness, firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris has helped overhaul health and wellness communication platforms of many prominent food, nutrition and supplement companies to successfully supported sales, marketing and public relations outcomes. He has worked to drive brand awareness and category leadership through evidence based nutritional science and influencer outreach.
Chris founded and launched Minami Nutrition USA, a unique omega-3 supplement line into key North American retail accounts. With minimal marketing budget and during a recession, he helped steer the company to positive growth with significant competitive strength, resulting in its acquisition by Atrium Innovations.
Prior to this he was the Global Director for Food and Nutrition Sciences at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, where he saw first hand the importance of gaining third party support and counsel around nutrient ingredients and basing all communication platforms on the best science possible.
He has a Master of Human Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Sydney, continues his academic work as an Associate Editor of the European Journal of Cancer Prevention and is an adjunct Lecturer at New York University Nutrition School.
Chris is a sought after presenter on the omega-3 industry, the role of supplementation in the prevention and management of disease and illness, biochemistry and metabolism of fatty acids and processing technologies.
As the Communications Director of OmegaWellness, Chris provides a clear and consistent dialogue with key opinion formers in the media, retail and healthcare community. He uses his knowledge of key trends among the changing food, nutrition and supplement landscape to help provide strategic advantage to the rapidly expanding omega-3 market.
(1) Omega-3 Summit http://www.omega3summit.org/pdf/ConsensusStatements.pdf (sourced on July 24, 2012)
(2) Lands, W. (2012) Consequences of Essential Fatty Acids Nutrients. 4, (1338-1357).
(3) Tur JA et al (2012) Dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids: public health risks and benefits.Br J Nutr. 2012 Jun;107 Suppl 2:S23-52.
(4) Schuchart, JP et al (2011) Incorporation of EPA and DHA into plasma phospholipids in response to different omega-3 fatty acid formulations – a comparative bioavailability study of fish oil vs. krill oil. Lipids in Health and Disease 10:145
(5) Takaichi S et al (2003) Fatty acids of astaxanthin esters in krill determined by mild mass spectrometry. Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 136(2):317-22.
(6) Ulven, SM. (2011) Metabolic effects of krill oil are essentially similar to those of fish oil but at lower dose of EPA and DHA, in healthy volunteers. Lipids. 2011 Jan;46(1):37-46
(9) Discovery Research Group (March 12, 2012) Omega-3 Supplement Use Survey.
Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 4/8/13