According to a new report published by Transparency Market Research, marine oils, particularly the fish oil market, is expected to hit $1.7 billion by 2018 (1). Global awareness of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids was stated as the primary driver for the growth in this market. However, as consumers become more knowledgeable about the supplements they buy and where they come from, sustainability and transparency have also grown to become critical points with shoppers. Could these rising trends put this number in jeopardy?
While it may seem as if the demand for sustainability and transparency popped up over- night, in actuality, it has been building up over the years. For some, the demand started with the popularity of retailers like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, with the increase of manufacturers receiving and labeling their products as fair trade and organic, and for others it may have started when in 2015, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman opened an investigation of supplement industry practices. The investigation claimed that supplements sold at four major retailers contained only a few botanicals listed in the ingredients label and instead contained more fillers and contaminants, according to tests conducted with DNA barcoding. While there has been debate about whether DNA barcoding is a reliable method with which to test these products, it grabbed not only the media’s attention, but consumer attention as well.
Research from Label Insight’s 2017 Ingredients Confusion study has revealed 68% of individuals participating believed it was extremely important to consider the ingredients in a product before deciding to purchase (2). In addition, a recent study from Nielsen stated millennials are indeed willing to pay more for products and services that are sustainable and or coming from an environmentally and socially responsible company (3). If shoppers are willing to pay more, then why are only select companies being certified and labeling their products accordingly?
A rising concern “facing domestic contract manufacturers is the fact that emerging countries like India and China provide low cost products that meet cGMPs,” states Steve Holtby, president & CEO of Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. based in Commerce, CA. “It becomes more difficult to compete on unit cost with contract manufacturers based in countries where operating costs are a fraction of those faced by contract manufacturers based in North America. Unscrupulous manufacturers will purchase and import finished products — like fish oil softgels — from international manufacturers and re-package them as domestic product.” Due to these particular practices, Holtby believes companies that operate with integrity and transparency, in turn, have a difficult time remaining competitive.
For its part, Soft Gel Technologies, Inc., has obtained Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) registration through NSF’s Dietary Supplement Certification program, registration with the Natural Products Association (NPA/UL), and has been certified by NSF’s Athletic Banned Substances program to ensure all processes are current and exceed standard regulations in the industry. Besides looking for a company that holds these practices, Holtby suggests looking for companies that “perform regular audits of a contract manufacturer with whom they do business. Look at the batch records, raw materials certificates of analysis, and most importantly, make sure they are doing all the testing required by the GMPs.”
Because the United States does not have governmental fish oil quality standards, Denise John, education manager at Nordic Naturals, based in Watsonville, CA, suggests looking for companies that adhere to the European Pharmacopoeia Standard (EPS), the voluntary standards set by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) and the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3 (GOED), which Nordic Naturals adheres to. With these standards, there is a guarantee of “quality products by setting maximum allowances on peroxides, heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs,” states John. In addition, John encourages retailers “to request a Certificate of Analysis for each product and make these readily available so customers can verify they are getting the purest and freshest oil.”
In order to focus on sustainability, traceability and accountability, Bluebonnet Nutrition Corp., Sugar Land, TX, utilizes Epax — a worldwide supplier of patented, ultra-pure, highly concentrated, marine-based omega-3 fatty acids — for clean fish oil products, as well as Epax’s newly incorporated program known as EcoVision.
One particular reason retailers and shoppers should look out for companies working with the new Epax program
Eco-Vision, is due to the strict standards. “Any new crude fish oil supplier to the Epax omega-3 concentrate brand must adhere to the strict FMC procurement standards and unalterable specification requirements to be a business partner,” states Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, Sr. director of research & development/national educator at Bluebonnet Nutrition. “This includes compliance to 3rd party certifications by FOS (Friend of the Sea: Sustainable Seafood Products Certifications), IFFO RS or MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) for sustainable traceable origin.” In terms of sustainability, MacDonald explains, Epax’s EcoVision program ensures fishing is regulated by obtaining crude fish oil for omega-3 concentrates mainly from South America, which is through an alliance and long-term agreement with Peruvian supplier Austral Group S.A.A. The sustainability of Peru’s anchovy fisheries and marine ecosystem is assessed by stringent compliance regulations and fishing guidelines, which is managed by the Ministry of Production, who are informed and advised by the marine research institute IMARPE.
Industrial landings are subject to 24 hours/day and seven days/week monitoring by independent inspectors. Fishing is also permitted only outside spawning seasons and if juveniles are present in a catch, fishing is halted. To prevent a bycatch — capturing of animals that are not the target species — Peruvian authorities established a 5% bycatch limit, a minimum mesh size of ½ inch or 13 mm, and a particular net weave that is designed to target a specific anchovy school. Epax facilities have also implemented cleaning systems and production processes that help to minimize pollution and reduce water consumption and energy expenditures.
Because FOS requires proof of traceability to become certified, since 2012, Epax has required all of its supply be a FOD-certified crude oil source. “Through their partnership with guaranteed source providers, and their traceability processes, [Epax] can identify the species and source of their raw materials,” adds MacDonald. Epax’s processing plant for omega-3 concentrates also uses 100% of raw materials. “Starting with the highest quality crude fish oil, the oil is gently refined, purified and concentrated,” states MacDonald. “Any oil that is not used for Epax omega-3, such as marine fats with no nutritional value, is used for biofuel and fertilizer products.” The processing facility, which is located in Norway, is surrounded by homes and is also environmentally friendly to minimize any impact on the local residents. Epax accomplishes this in a variety of ways, including:
• IFFO RS Compliant Facility
• ISO 14001 (Certification of environmental safety management system)
• EHS (Environmental health and safety engineering)
• Eco-heating (excess energy from the manufacturing plant heats the offices)
• Recycling and reuse of solid waste
• REACH compliance (under the EU 1907/2006 directive)
• Systems for reduced energy use and environmentally-friendly processing
Aside from sustainability and traceability, MacDonald has noticed over the years, more movement away from the one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and instead an embrace towards a personalized approach which considers an individual’s unique nutritional needs. Specifically, MacDonald speaks of addressing one’s age, diet, gender, and lifestyle differences, as well as products that address specific structure/function applications becoming a top priority for shoppers.
At Aker BioMarine, a leading krill oil supplier and manufacturer, a personalized nutritional approach was launched with The Omega-3 Index Project. The project enables consumers to test their omega-3 levels — at the same time raising awareness of insufficient omega-3 levels — then helps to create a regimen that works for them.
Keep in mind, there is no set standard for how much omega-3 one should consume in a day. Various health organizations have released expert opinions on a daily dosage, but they all vary. Overall, there is a minimum recommendation of 250-500 mg of EPA and DHA (combined) for healthy adults. Higher amounts are often recommended for those with a particular health condition. However, in measuring one’s omega-3 index, the optimal figure is >8%, while <4% is considered deficient. North America on average is <4% while countries like Greenland, whose diets are rich in fish and therefore omega-3s sit at the high end above 8% (4).
“Because of growing information about environmental toxins there is [also an] anxiety about eating fish,” states Holtby. He explains that the high mercury content and toxic levels of lead are why the purity of fish oil supplements should be a top priority in educating consumers about the variance of quality in fish oil. “It’s [also] important to know the source and the manufacturer to ensure that quality control steps are in place to guarantee a high-quality fish oil product,” states Holtby. “Poor quality fish oil does not function in the body as well as high quality fish oil most likely because it is oxidized and contains little omega-3 (which is why the price is low).” However, there is some good news. Recently, GOED tested 50 of the top omega-3 products that retailers are selling. During the test, oxidation and EPA/DHA content was measured and the GOED found high compliance. “In our tests, 96% met typical vegetable oil limits for oxidation, and only one out of 42 products contained less than 90% of the EPA+DHA claimed on the label (8 products did not make label claims)” says Ellen Schutt, GOED communications director.
Of course, the purification process to remove heavy metals, dioxins, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other elements allows consumers to safely benefit from marine oil supplements. One filtering method, which Soft Gel Technologies, Inc. uses, is molecular distillation — a form of deodorization that removes elements such as man-made pollutants and oxidized components. Like Soft Gel, says Sky Garmon, marketing associate at Jarrow Formulas, based in Los Angeles, CA, her firm uses molecular distillation as well as a specialized and proprietary technology called Multi Stage Oil extraction, which was developed by Enzymotec to extract high quality oil and organoleptic properties.
No matter where or how a fish from the ocean is obtained, to guarantee purity and safety, testing will be required. Cheryl Myers, chief of education and scientific affairs at EuroPharma, Inc., Green Bay, WI, states, “All ocean fish have some level of contamination. One should never count on the location of the fish harvest as a guarantee of purity. I have seen claims of this nature — caught in the fresh Antarctic waters, harvested from the North Atlantic, netted in pristine areas off the coast of South America, etc.” In addition, Myers explains, with extraction there is the risk of altering the EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids to a point where “they are no longer bioidentical to what is in the fish or what is in the human body. Studies have shown that human cells utilize DHA and EPA far more efficiently and effectively when they are in the bioidentical form.” That is why EuroPharma has opted for the Vectorization process, which uses only cold water, freeze drying and enzymes to process and result in omega-3s in their bioidentical form.
For those more interested in krill oil, Katrin Berntsen, director of communication, Aker BioMarine, states, “Since krill live at the bottom of the food chain, it limits their ability to accumulate heavy metals.” But since there is no guarantee, Aker BioMarine utilizes and has developed a technology called Flexitech, in which “phospholipids in krill oil are extracted and purified with ethanol and water only — there is no chemical modification. Flexitech relies solely on low temperatures and efficient fractionation methods, which remove unwanted salts.”
More shoppers are also turning to krill oil because of its sustainability. While krill can be found in all oceans, krill found in the Antarctic is the most abundant. The biomass of krill found in the Antarctic is managed by 25 countries, which is referred to as the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and was established in 1982 by an international convention. The CCAMLR manage krill fishery, they monitor krill stock, develop research programs to help conservation measures, and micromanage if there are any concerns regarding krill population during harvesting season. In addition, Antarctic krill range between 170 million to 740 million tons and have an annual reproductive rate of several hundred million tons (5). From 1990 until 2009, the annual krill harvest was 120,000 tons per year, but now the annual catch rate has increased to over 200,000 tons (6). The current precautionary catch limit is at 8.6 million tons (6).
Freshness is also critical for any supplement. “The primary reason people resist taking fish oil is fear of unpleasant taste and aftertaste,” states John. Since freshness is measured by a peroxide value, which is a measure of oxidation, then “oxidation not only influences the taste and aftertaste of the fish oil, but it also impacts efficacy. [The concern is] that during the by-product process, the oil is not immediately protected from oxidation as it is in the direct process,” states Holtby. He suggests, at all times, keeping fresh oil in an oxygen-free environment, as well as manufacturing with low temperatures to maintain the oil’s freshness.
Potency is another top priority since, depending on one’s needs, it will determine how much of omega-3, omega-6, DHA, etc. will be needed. “To understand how much EPA and DHA [for example] is provided in the product you must read the amounts of EPA and DHA on the back of the label not the total omega-3 count on the front,” John states as a tip.
As stated before, marine oils are on track to reach a value of $1.7 billion in 2018, due to the global awareness of the importance of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids because they are vital to one’s health, but cannot be made within the body. Omega-3s are needed for cell membranes that affect the functions of cell receptors, to bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function, and hormones that regulate blood clotting, inflammation, contraction and relaxation of artery walls (7). Particularly, omega-3s are beneficial to the heart — reducing blood pressure and heart rates and improving blood vessel functions. They are also “vital for the retina of the human eye and the nervous system,” states MacDonald. “Fetuses require omega-3 fatty acids to facilitate the development of retinal tissue, the brain and the central nervous system. Any lack of omega-3 fatty acids, especially during the last trimester of pregnancy or the first six months after birth, will reduce a child’s chances for optimal eye and brain tissue development.” Fish oil contains two omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is commonly associated with helping the heart in lowering the risk of heart disease, while DHA is commonly associated with helping with the growth and function of the brain.
Like fish oil, krill oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, PUFAs, EPA and DHA. “However, these omega-3 fats in krill oil are found in a double chain phospholipid structure, not the triglyceride form,” states Holtby. “Phospholipids are liposomes that deliver the fatty acids directly to the body’s cells, making them more absorbable (the fats in human cell walls are in the phospholipid form).” Krill oil is used for the same reasons as fish oil, but unlike fish oil, krill oil does not cause a fishy burp or aftertaste. Holtby adds, “Krill oil [naturally] contains astaxanthin — an antioxidant — as well as vitamin E, vitamin A, vitamin D and canthaxanthin, another potent antioxidant.”
Omega-6, like omega-3, is an essential fatty acid needed for one’s brain function, growth and development. Because omega-6 is a type of PUFA, the fatty acid can help stimulate and maintain the reproductive system, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and stimulate skin and hair growth (8).
Today shoppers receive as much as 14 to 25 times more omega-6 than omega-3, since omega-6 is abundant in cooking oils such as canola, corn, soybean, sunflower and more. With this overabundance, inflammation is often increased. While some experts are inconsistent with a standard recommendation, most researchers agree with an optimal omega ratio between 2:1 to 4:1(9).
Omega-7 fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids that can be found in select fish, such as salmon and anchovy, as well as oils such as sea buckthorn oil, olive oil and macadamia oil. Of the several omega-7 fatty acids, palmitoleic acid is the one gaining public consciousness for heart health and the digestive system. Though there are few studies, researchers are studying and have found omega-7 to be helpful in balancing the level of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), to boost the level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), to balance the level of triglycerides, to support the level of C-Reactive protein (an inflammatory marker), to improve the body’s response to insulin, for help with weight loss, to improve skin, nail, hair and dryness, and lastly to prevent gastrointestinal issues such as acidity, constipation and ulcers. WF
1.) Transparency Market Research, “Global Fish Oil Market – Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, trends and Forecase, 2012 – 2018,”available at https://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/pressrelease/fish-oil.htm, accessed October 27, 2017.
2.) Label Insight, “2017 Label Insight Ingredient Confusion Study,” available at https://www.labelinsight.com/ingredient-confusion-study, accessed October 27, 2017.
3.) Nielsen, “The Sustainability Imperative,” available at https://www.nielsen.com/content/dam/nielsenglobal/dk/docs/global-sustainability-report-oct-2015.pdf, accessed October 27, 2017.
4.) Harvard T.H. Chan, “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution,” available at https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/omega-3-fats/, accessed October 27, 2017.
5.) University of Maryland Medical Center, “Omega-6 fatty acids,” available at http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega6-fatty-acids, accessed October 27, 2017.
6). Joseph, Mercola, “Do You Know Why krill Is Your Best and Most Sustainable Source of Omega-3 Fat?” July 21, 2009, available at https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/07/21/krill-sustainability.aspx, accessed October 27, 2017.
7.) Kinzey, Douglas & Watters, George & Reiss, Christian. (2013). Effects of Recruitment variability and natural mortality on generalised yield model projections and the CCAMLR decision rules for Antarctic krill. CCAMLR science journal of the Scientific Committee and the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. 20. 81-96. Available at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268744478_Effects_of_Recruitment_variability_and_natural_mortality_on_generalised_yield_model_projections_and_the_CCAMLR_decision_rules_for_Antarctic_krill, Accessed October 27, 2017.
8.) University of Maryland Medical Center, “Omega-6 fatty acids,” available at http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega6-fatty-acids, accessed October 27, 2017.
Published in WholeFoods Magazine December 2017