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Robby Gardner is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, specializing in fresh produce and health food ingredients.
New marine sources and new omega fatty acids are changing the omega market as we know it.
There’s a great many nutritious creatures in our oceans, but sustainability and changing marketing messages now influence which ones are harvested. Take krill: this whale food is now the fastest-growing segment of the omega-3 market. Krill doesn’t just appear in healthier supply than other marine animals; its added benefit of nutritional astaxanthin, and a potentially preferable carrier system, makes it all the more marketable.
Natural resources and fresh ideas are bound to give us more options like krill oil. The latest ingredients will keep the omega-3 market exciting while, hopefully, improving its value to consumer health and its balance with nature. From new uses for old fish to “new” omega-3 fatty acids, manufacturers have several new options. Let’s start fishing.
In light of the now pricey and hard-to-source Alaska salmon oil, Alaska pollock oil may be the next best thing. Alaska pollock has typical fish oil nutrition (omega-3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D), but, much like salmon and krill, pollock can also contain astaxanthin.
Astaxanthin is an antioxidant derived from (and often sold as) red algae. It gives krill, crabs, and lobsters their red color. If pollock are eating krill-which they often do-their processed oils can contain this red color and astaxanthin. But here’s a careful warning: not all pollock oil contains astaxanthin.
“It really depends on what the fish are eating,” says Dan Wiley, vice president of nutrition and health for Organic Technologies (Coshocton, OH), supplier of AlaskOmega wild red pollock oil. “This is why we’ve developed some unique and proprietary processing techniques to ensure that our wild red pollock oil preserves naturally present astaxanthin, as well as the natural vitamin A and D content.” Wiley’s company doesn’t increase astaxanthin levels with added algae or yeast-derived astaxanthin-just what’s found naturally in the fish oil.
Pollock can yield astaxanthin levels similar to what naturally occurs in salmon-and label claims are possible-but the concentration is lower than in krill. Still, a 1000-mg softgel of this pollock oil yields 2-5 mcg of astaxanthin.
Recent scientific data suggests that the Alaska pollock is a sustainable fish stock. Of the more than eight million tons of Alaska pollock estimated to be swimming in the Eastern Bering Sea in 2012, fisheries reeled in just 15% of it. The total catch fell well short of numbers established for overfishing. Organic Technologies also takes sustainability a step further with certification from the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), ensuring that only pollock, and not some other fish source, is present in the final product.
Krill oil suppliers like to educate customers on the “phospholipid advantage”-a notion that krill omega-3s are more readily bioavailable than fish omega-3s because they are bound by phospholipids, not fats. But it turns out that some fish omega-3s are bound to phospholipids, too. Enzymotec (Migdal HaEmeq), Israel, supplier of K-Real krill oil and other phospholipid-based ingredients, now has a comparable fish-derived, omega-3–based product called Omega-PC. The company says its ingredient is sourced exclusively from sustainable Norwegian fisheries.
“There are a few indications that other companies have been offering omega-3–bound phospholipids from sources that are not krill,” says Volkan Eren, Enzymotec vice president of operations, “yet none of these have similar profile or benefits.”
The phospholipid argument is still contested in omega-3 circles, but Enzymotec says that a growing body of evidence does show that phospholipid-bound omega-3s can reach key organs, such as the brain and liver, at higher concentrations than fat-bound omega-3s. “Consequently, they have a significantly better impact on health risk factors, such as the omega-3 index,” says Eren. “We’ve seen this in animals, and we’ve seen this in healthy people.”
Enzymotec recently performed its own study on omega-3–bound phospholipids versus omega-3–equivalent, triglyceride-bound fish oil. The phospholipid-bound product gave subjects a twofold increase in the omega-3 index score and significantly higher concentrations of omega-3s in red blood cells.
Shrimp doesn’t quite share the health halo of fish, and this may be because of how the crustacean is usually consumed: people eat the meat, not the head, shell, or tail. But one company, Solutions4CO2 (S4CO2; Toronto), is repurposing all of that supposed waste.
“Merely eating shrimp meat is not going to provide the consumer with much in the way of omega-3,” says S4CO2 corporate development manager Dil Vashi. “The omega-3 is actually found in the shrimp oil, which is primarily in the head of the shrimp, in order to protect the shrimp’s brain.”
Instead of running a reduction shrimp fishery that would turn catch directly into shrimp oil, Vashi’s company partners with Quinlan Brothers Ltd., a Canadian processor of shrimp and other seafood, to convert Quinlan’s shrimp waste stream into omega-3–rich shrimp oil. By way of supercritical CO2 extraction, a value-added product is made of materials that would normally be destined for landfills.
The MSC-certified, omega-3 shrimp oil provides omega-3 EPA, omega-3 DHA, and even traces of astaxanthin. S4CO2 is just entering the shrimp oil business, but the company is already exploring similar uses of other waste products in Quinlan’s large marine processing business.
Omega-3 research has, for the most part, spurred business with three omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA. Still, some suppliers aren’t convinced that these are the only important fatty acids. Cyvex Nutrition Inc. (Irvine, CA) has distinguished itself from the omega-3 market with menhaden fish oil rich in docosapentaenoic acid (DPA).
Menhaden are forage fish that offer up more DPA than other commonly consumed fish. Where standard fish oils, such as sardine or anchovy, usually bear less than 1% DPA, Cyvex can manufacture a menhaden fish oil with as much as 10% DPA. And it can be used in dietary supplements and foods.
It’s too early to say precisely why DPA is so important to human health, but early signs from published studies are worth attention. In April, Harvard researchers implicated DPA in a conclusion that higher omega-3 blood levels are associated with lower risks of congestive heart failure. Other studies suggest that DPA might reduce blood clots and support endothelial cell migration, which is important for the development of new blood vessels.
What’s perhaps more convincing of DPA’s potential importance is that this fatty acid, like EPA and DHA, is quite present in human blood already. Cyvex data indicates that DPA represents about one-third of the long-chain omega-3s in human blood.
It will take time for customers to get used to the new name, but omega-7 products based on palmitoleic acid are already becoming a reality. The lesser-known fatty acid is found in macadamia nuts, sea buckthorn, and, perhaps most preferably, in anchovy.
In the last year, Tersus Pharmaceuticals (Highland Heights, OH) has reported on two successful clinical trials on its new Provinal omega-7 anchovy oil. Unlike macadamia and sea buckthorn ingredients, this purified omega-7 is nearly void of palmitic acid, a proinflammatory fatty acid found alongside palmitoleic acid in nature. And unlike omega-3s, palmitioleic acid may lower all human lipid levels and C-reactive protein (CRP).
The two human clinicals suggest that a dose of as little as 420 mg of Provinal (210 mg of palmitoleic acid) can lower LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides-all while drastically lowering inflammatory CRP levels and raising HDL cholesterol. Tersus says the improvements are comparable to, if not better than, results shown in trials on pharma-grade omega-3s such as Lovaza and Vascepa, which require 4-g servings.
Research continues to support CRP, not just lipids, as an additional indicator of heart risk. If an ongoing Provinal study on high-CRP subjects proves successful, the case for this omega-7 will be even more convincing. Tersus is expecting results in July; in the meantime, the company is working on new patents and global customers. The North American distributor for Provinal is Anderson Global Group (Irvine, CA).