A recent statistic unveiled by Discovery Research Group highlights the need for a growing number of consumers to be vigilant about their omega-3 supplement preferences. This investigation into consumer behavior around omega-3 intake revealed that as many as 40% of consumers are looking for non-fish oil sources to meet their current supplement needs (1).
Avoidance of fish oil sources stems from a range of consumer concerns around sustainability, “fishy” repeat, capsule size, preference for plant-based forms and the search for newer choices. This statistic may seem unlikely to shape the future of public health, but for this significant consumer subset unwilling to take fish oil, choosing the right omega-3 substitute is very important (1).
Experts continue to warn public health officials that omega-3 deficiency is one of the biggest health challenges to the future of humanity (2). Popular and emerging sources provide three main omega-3s: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Although consuming all types of omega-3s is important and adds to the body’s overall pool of essential fats, EPA and DHA from marine sources appear to exert greater anti-inflammatory effects and are structurally more important than ALA, which is found in plants (3,4).
Despite this, many consumers choose ALA-rich omega-3 products in the hopes their bodies will convert them to EPA and DHA. The problem with this is Westernized diets contain very high levels of competing omega-6 fats, which turn off the enzyme responsible for converting ALA to EPA and DHA (4,5,6). Although plant-based ALA supplements like flax and borage oils can be an important part of a heart healthy diet, they are unable to confer the significant benefits of marine-sourced EPA and DHA (6).
Meanwhile, a variety of plant, marine, yeast and fungal omega-3 sources exist, but remain in their infancy until production and marketing can roll them out in a competitive manner (7,8).
Algal oil, a marine omega-3 source that provides EPA and DHA, is a great choice for those seeking vegan options and has also been featured in some compelling clinical studies and is now produced at a volume that meets the growing market’s needs (7,8). However, this source is also expensive, which is an important consideration for certain consumers.
Krill oil supplies a phospholipid form of EPA and DHA, which appears to be better utilized by the body than traditional marine omega-3 sources such as fish oil (9). Krill is also appealing to health-seeking consumers because it provides astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment that has significant antioxidant capabilities (10). Like fish oil, krill oil has been clinically shown to promote cardiovascular health, support a healthy inflammatory response, and play key roles in proper cell structure and function (11).
In addition to the innate health benefits associated with krill and algae, next generation omega-3 products need to provide an ironclad guarantee of sustainability. In other words, they must prove that certification is based on the most rigorous benchmarks developed by independent environmental and fishery experts, where the entire production process is overseen by auditors to show that best practices are actually being followed (12). Experts in the sustainability field agree that the Marine Stewardship Council (13,14,15) provides such reassurance by operating in a transparent manner with regard to its auditing process.
As the percentage of consumers looking for non-fish oil sources of omega-3s increases, there remain very few choices that will satisfy current demands for a reflux-free, sustainable, traceable option. Although fish oil may continue to be a driving force in the natural food space, it is being challenged by other sources of omega-3s that are clinically proven, safe and highly sustainable. Unfortunately, very few brands can tout all of these product qualities and consumers should be urged to seek them out, so that future generations can ultimately address the global, pervasive public health crisis of omega-3 deficiency. WF
(1) Discovery Research Group (March 12, 2012) Omega-3 Supplement Use Survey.
(2) Omega-3 Summit http://www.omega3summit.org/pdf/ConsensusStatements.pdf
(3) Lands, W. (2012) Consequences of Essential Fatty Acids Nutrients. 4, (1338-1357).
(4) 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
(5) Gibson, RA et al (2013) Docosahexaenoic acid synthesis from alpha-linolenic acid is inhibited by diets high in polyunsaturated fatty acids Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 88,139–146,
(6) Brenna, JT et al (2009) a-Linolenic acid supplementation and conversion to n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in humans. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids 80, 85–91
(9) 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
(10) 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.
(11) 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
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.
Posted on WholeFoods Magazine Online, 12/2/13