Aker BioMarine (Oslo, Norway) debuted promising new pilot-study data at last week’s Natural Products Expo West trade show, examining the benefits of the company’s Superba Boost krill oil concentrate for recovery of triathletes following high-intensity exercise. This study is part of the company’s current strategy to appeal to younger consumers by pointing out krill oil’s benefits for sports nutrition and active lifestyles. Based on promising results from the pilot study, the company announced at the show that it has also established a research initiative to follow a professionally run triathlon team and study the effects of krill-oil supplementation in those athletes.
The pilot study was conducted in 50 triathletes competing in the 2017 Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon in Norway. Before and after the race, researchers measured the athletes’ Omega-3 Index, which is a test that reveals the percentage of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids present in a person’s blood cells. According to Aker BioMarine, a person’s Omega-3 Index can indicate whether a person may be at higher risk for adverse health conditions like poor cardiovascular health.
A normal, recommended Omega-3 Index level is 8%, says Aker BioMarine. The study’s researchers said that they noted a “severe” drop in omega-3 levels, and particularly in the fatty acid DHA, below the 8% recommended level in the athletes during the athletes’ recovery period (the five weeks following the triathlon).
Noting this drop in omega-3 following the high-intensity triathlon, the researchers gave subjects a high dose (4 g) of Aker BioMarine’s Superba Boost krill oil concentrate daily for 30 days. According to researchers, the krill oil supplement restored the athletes’ stores of DHA to pre-race levels, significantly raising their Omega-3 Index back to the 8% level.
Researchers said that restoring omega-3 levels is important for athletes. Study leader Andreas Berg Storsve, PhD, who is also director of R&D at Aker BioMarine, said, “We also found that athletes with higher omega-3 levels recovered faster after the race.”
Aker BioMarine notes that krill oil’s phospholipid omega-3 structure means it delivers omega-3 fatty acids to the body in a more bioavailable way, compared to fish oil’s triglyceride omega-3 form. Storsve pointed out that the phospholipid structure provides some key benefits for helping athletes stay healthy during the post-exercise recovery period.
“We know that high-intensity training has an impact on immune function and inflammation, making athletes especially vulnerable to illness and infections. This has a direct impact on the athletes’ physical recovery and performance,” he said. “Phospholipid-bound omega-3 fatty acids found in krill oil, particularly DHA and EPA, are highly anti-inflammatory and have been shown to strengthen markers of immune function following maximal exercise. Krill oil consumption may therefore help to reduce the risk of infection and circumvent training disruptions in athletes.”
Discussing the study at Expo West, Matts Johansen, CEO, Aker BioMarine, said, “In the body’s recovery state, it will take the omega-3s from your cells and use it for recovery. This puts your body in a very vulnerable situation after these types of exercises because, for the body to recover from that, it empties its omega-3 reserves.” He said that, in the study, athletes who had an Omega-3 Index of 8% or above “were able to come back to training much faster than those whose Omega-3 Index level was below 8%, which is very important to athletes, who want to get back into training as quickly as possible."
In addition to being the first study to look at the effect of krill oil on athletic recovery, Johansen said this pilot study is the first to show that the Omega-3 Index may be the “second-best predictor” of a triathlete’s performance ability. During the bicycling leg of the study, researchers examined various factors of athletic performance, including “how much you trained, how much you’ve been injured, how much you’ve been sick, and how much talent you had” going into the event, Johansen said. They found that the Omega-3 Index, the athletes’ level of omega-3s, was a more important predictor of performance ability than factors such as pre-race injuries, illness, and early-life fitness level. The only predictor more important than Omega-3 Index was “exercise volume,” or the amount of training athletes had. “According to Dr. Storsve, this can be a game-changer for the top athletes,” the company noted in a press release.
Johansen said that these pilot-study results were so promising and statistically significant that the company will be embarking on further krill-oil sports nutrition research in 2018. Notably, the company announced at Natural Products Expo West that it will be carrying out research on the effects of krill oil in a professional triathlon team. Described by the company as “part professionally run triathlon team, part clinical field study,” Team Pure Science will comprise elite, professional triathletes such as 2016 Norseman winner Kari Flottorp Lingsom and former World Ironman Champion Hans Christian Tungesvik. Researchers will supplement the athletes with Superba Boost krill-oil concentrate and study its effects.
“During the 2018 Norseman, we will be testing for specific biomarkers of inflammation and immune responses as well as the effects of choline, which is a central component of krill oil, on performance and recovery,” said Storsve in a press release. “By doing so, we will get a more complete understanding of the nutritional factors that help athletes optimize their performance.”
“The results so far suggest that krill oil can have a real impact in the world of sports,” Storsve added. Johansen said that Aker BioMarine plans to get the results of this study published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Sports Nutrition Is a Pathway to Younger Customers
At Natural Products Expo West, Johansen told Nutritional Outlook that Aker BioMarine is targeting the sports-nutrition category as a way to market krill oil supplements to a younger customer base. Currently, he said, krill oil is being used in limited capacity in sports nutrition formulations.
Johansen said that while younger consumers don’t always appreciate the cardiovascular benefits associated with krill oil, they may be more apt to take krill oil for sports nutrition. “Our focus in the last couple of years is how can we develop science and products that are relevant to young people. Young people don’t care about heart attacks or pain in their joints”—which, along with eye and cognitive health, are benefits associated with krill oil. “For young people, [the concern] is more about how you can perform better."
In addition to the current research in triathletes, Aker’s krill oil supplements are also being studied in an ongoing 18-month study in U.S. Army Rangers to look at the benefits of krill oil on endurance and performance in the field. Johansen said this study should be finished in the beginning of 2019.
Expanding into sports nutrition and the younger market is part of the company’s larger strategy to grow the overall market share of krill oil in the much larger omega-3 category. With the company’s recent acquisitions of the krill oil supply businesses of its competitors Frutarom/Enzymotec and Neptune Technologies & Bioressources Inc. behind it, Johansen said the company is now turning its attention to educating the industry as well as consumers about the benefits and advantages of krill-oil omega-3.
One of the goals is to continue to educate consumers about the importance of measuring their omega-3 levels via the Omega-3 Index, and to that end, Johansen said that the first commercial, at-home tests for testing Omega-3 Index levels will be available on the market to consumers in the U.S. this year. The test already went commercial in Australia last year, where Johansen said it’s already “made pretty good traction.” In fact, Aker BioMarine is encouraging krill-oil product marketers to package the Omega-3 Index test in tangent with their dietary supplement. “[Our customers can] bundle it together with their krill oil product, and then you can then guarantee to increase [consumers’] omega-3 index” once they take the supplement, Johansen said.
And even though the company, through its acquisitions, has now become the world’s largest krill-oil supplier, Johansen said there is still much more work to do to grow the krill-oil market. “I think it’s important to say that even if we are the leader in the krill-oil space, we’re still competing in the much larger omega-3 category, and we have only a small part of that segment, so that’s really where our focus is—to become a bigger, more important player in the overall omega-3 category.”