Like the little black dress, omega-3 fatty acids never really fall out of fashion. Their hemlines, so to speak, may rise and fall with the times, and they may get nudged to the back of the closet when a buzzier nutrient hits the racks with the fanfare of a flouncy new romper.
But as industry watchers and category insiders know, consumers always return to these fatty-acid classics. Why? Because the science is on omega-3s’ side.
“More than 4,000 studies have demonstrated that EPA and DHA play crucial roles in the healthy functioning of our hearts, eyes, and brains across all life stages,” says Chris Gearheart, director, member communications and engagement, Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED; Salt Lake City, UT). “They also support the health of expecting and nursing mothers and the development of their babies.”
So even in the face of an equivocal study or two—or concerns over sourcing, regulatory setbacks, and the occasional pharma-driven lawsuit—omega-3s retain a sterling reputation that other supplements can only envy. And they retain such a hold on our attention that it’s never too soon to revisit how they’re doing and where they’re headed next.
From Kate Pastor’s vantage, omega-3s are headed toward good things. “Currently, the omega-3 market is stable,” says the senior vice president of Superba North America, Aker BioMarine Antarctic US LLC (Oslo, Norway), “but there’s great potential for growth.”
According to Grand View Research, omega-3s enjoyed an estimated market value of $2.29 billion globally in 2018, with a 7.4% CAGR forecast for 2019 to 2025. And while Grand View wagers that the active pharmaceutical ingredients market drives most of this growth, supplements and functional foods remain North America’s dominant application category.1
Gearheart attributes omega-3 supplements’ modest global growth particularly to consumers in the emerging economies of Southeast Asia, China, and India whose spending power is on the upswing. “This is in contrast to flat to slightly contracted omega-3 supplement demand in more established markets like the U.S. and Europe,” he says.
Taken to Heart
Nevertheless, Gearheart has faith that the flow of supportive science will keep omega-3s’ overall curve moving up and to the right.
The science linking the fatty acids with cardiovascular health still attracts the lion’s share of interest, and Gearheart notes that three major human trials studying EPA, DHA, and cardiovascular outcomes published in the second half of 2018 “effectively double the number of subjects who’ve been studied.”
Results of the ASCEND (A Study of Cardiovascular Events in Diabetes) study published in August 2018—though neutral on balance—demonstrated an 18% statistically significant reduction in vascular death risk among diabetic subjects supplementing with 1 g of omega-3s versus those taking an olive-oil placebo, Gearheart says.2
And while the VITAL (Vitamin D and Omega-3 Trial) study—which Gearheart calls “the first primary prevention trial in healthy subjects”—failed to attain its primary endpoint of reducing major cardiovascular disease risk, it did find a statistically significant 17% reduction in coronary heart disease risk and a 28% reduction in risk for myocardial infarction among subjects receiving the omega-3 drug Omacor plus vitamin D.3
The REDUCE-IT (Reduction of Cardiovascular Events with EPA Intervention Trial) study also looked at the effects of an omega-3 pharmaceutical—Amarin Pharma’s EPA-only Vascepa—on long-term cardiovascular events; recently published findings show that the drug, which delivers 4 g of EPA, reduced the risk of several negative cardiovascular outcomes by a statistically significant 25% or more, depending on the endpoint.4
“Because these three studies strengthen the body of evidence linking omega-3s to positive heart-health outcomes, GOED is working on a paper looking at omega-3 dose response, which we hope to publish this year,” Gearheart says.
That’s not all they’re looking at. The benefits of omega-3s for pregnant women and their babies are also on the organization’s radar, with results of a Cochrane review published in November 2018 proving especially heartening.
The study found that a daily dose of 500-1,000 mg of EPA and DHA for pregnant women decreased the risk of early preterm birth by 42%, preterm birth by 11%, and low birth weight by 10%. “The evidence was so strong that the authors stated ‘no further research is needed’ to be sure of the benefit,” Gearheart notes.5
- Grand View Research. “Omega 3 Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Application (Supplements & Functional Foods, Pet & Animal Feed, Pharmaceuticals, Infant Formulas), By Region (North America, APAC), And Segment Forecasts, 2019 – 2025.” March 2019. Accessed at: www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/omega-3-market
- Bowman L et al., ASCEND Study Collaborative Group. “Effects of n-3 fatty acid supplements in diabetes mellitus.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 379, no. 16 (October 18, 2018): 1540-1550
- Manson JE et al., VITAL Research Group. “Marine n-3 fatty acids and prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 380, no. 1 (January 3, 2019): 23-32
- Bhatt DL et al., REDUCE-IT Investigators. “Effects of icosapent ethyl on total ischemic events: From REDUCE-IT.” Journal of the American College of Cardiology, vol. 73, no. 22 (Jun3 11, 2019): 2791-2802
- Middleton P et al. “Omega-3 fatty acid addition during pregnancy.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Published online November 15, 2018.
- FDA website. “FDA Announces New Qualified Health Claims for EPA and DHA Omega-3 Consumption and the Risk of Hypertension and Coronary Heart Disease.” June 19, 2019. Accessed at: www.fda.gov/food/cfsan-constituent-updates/fda-announces-new-qualified-health-claims-epa-and-dha-omega-3-consumption-and-risk-hypertension-and
- FDA letter. Accessed at: www.fda.gov/media/128043/download?utm_campaign=CFSANCU%20-%20FDA%20Announces%20New%20Qualified%20Health%20Claims%20for%20EPA%20and%20DHA%20Omega-3&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua