Making marine health ingredients better for dietary supplements, food

March 30, 2021
Robby Gardner

Robby Gardner is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, specializing in fresh produce and health food ingredients.

Nutritional Outlook, Nutritional Outlook Vol. 24 No. 2, Volume 24, Issue 2

Enterprising companies and scientific institutions are finding new uses for familiar marine ingredients and in some cases reinventing the raw materials as we know them.

Marine health ingredients are changing. As time passes, enterprising companies and scientific institutions are finding new uses for familiar ingredients and in some cases reinventing the raw materials as we know them. Many years ago, marine health ingredients were limited to what could be caught in the wild seas or farmed on its coasts. Now, many of the ingredients in the marine health category are farmed above ground in closed systems under the bright sun or indoors and in darkness. Other materials are undergoing intense audits of how they are procured and transported.

At the end of the day, all new innovations in the marine health category will only be implemented and sold at scale if consumer demand is high. Let’s peruse some of the latest global offerings, distinct in how they’re manufactured and in the consumers and use cases they appeal to.

Astaxanthin from Yeast

Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant popularly sourced from algae. It gives aquatic animals like salmon and crabs their characteristic red color and has inspired many sports and general health products over the years. However, astaxanthin isn’t only sourced from algae. Astaxanthin can also be found in a particular species of yeast (Phaffia rhodozyma), and one pioneering company is turning this into a successful business.

Using a yeast fermentation technology, NextFerm (Yokneam, Israel) now produces high volumes of yeast-derived astaxanthin for dietary supplements. A key advantage of this astaxanthin is that, unlike astaxanthin sourced from algae, it’s said to be odorless and flavorless. The fishy odor and flavor of many algal astaxanthin ingredients have historically created a barrier to developing astaxanthin products beyond softgels and capsules without the help of masking agents like flavors and fragrances. But an odorless and flavorless astaxanthin provides new opportunities.

NextFerm’s Vice President of Global Marketing Elzaphan Hotam says Purity Products has been using NextFerm’s astaxanthin in an astaxanthin gummy since last fall. Hotam expects similar product launches from other brands very soon.

Mineral-Rich Algae

Icelandic red algae (Lithothamnium spp.) is prized for its natural content of calcium, magnesium, and trace minerals, which the algae absorb in nature from surrounding seawater. When fronds break off of the living organism, they’re collected at the ocean floor by Marigot Ltd. (Cork, Ireland), and the company sells the material under its Aquamin umbrella of health products.

Now, research suggests that a combination product of the aforementioned algae, seawater-derived magnesium, and a pine bark extract (sold commercially as Aquamin-Plus) may perform better than popular glucosamine in osteoarthritic subjects. In a recent study on more than 300 people with mild symptoms of knee osteoarthritis, subjects reported improved physical function and reduced dependence on pain-relieving drugs when supplementing with Aquamin-Plus compared to glucosamine.1

Glucosamine has long been a popular dietary supplement in the joint-health arena, but a plant-based alternative like Aquamin-Plus may appeal to consumers seeking plant-based ingredients—especially if research continues to support the formula’s use.

Aquamin ingredients are sold in the United States through distributing partner Stauber Performance Ingredients (Fullerton, CA). The ingredient used in the aforementioned trial is sold commercially in powder or granulated and ready to tablet.

Gelatin and Collagen Sustainability

Sustainability initiatives are fortunately now a standard part of doing business for many retailers of fish and fish byproducts. But the call for transparency extends beyond fish filets and fish oils into still other fish byproducts, such as collagen and gelatin. In its effort to increase transparency and source ingredients sustainably, Nitta Gelatin NA (Morrisville, NC) is making a push on its corporate social responsibility and sustainable procurement practices. It’s a move that surely other companies are making in the niche category.

Last year, Nitta partnered with the EcoVadis sustainability rating and management platform to better understand how it can make such changes. Nitta sources its fish collagen peptides only from farms that are certified by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certified, which helps to ensure animal welfare and environmental protection measures. In addition, the company is now answering customer demand for wild-caught marine collagen peptides from the North Pacific Ocean.

While collagen and gelatin products have probably been less heavily linked to their animal source compared to, say, a fish oil product, there are plenty of opportunities for manufacturers to promote these marine-sustainability efforts in their bars, bulk powders, and other health products made with collagen and gelatin. In keeping with customer demands, Nitta is actively working on increasing transparency and sustainability of its supply chains not just for fish collagen and gelatin, but for its bovine and porcine ingredients as well.

Chlorella That Isn’t Green

Chlorella (Chlorella vulgaris), a freshwater alga, is replete with vitamins and minerals but also with the green pigment chlorophyll. While green color is often a desired characteristic of health products containing chlorella, this is not always the case. And chlorella also has strong flavor and odor.

What if there were a chlorella devoid of strong color, flavor, and odor? Surely, it would open up new opportunities for chlorella-containing foods and health products.

Portuguese scientists, from academic institutions and the private company Allmicroalgae Natural Products SA (Pataias, Portugal), were able to create two such chlorella strains last year. Their findings are published, and the resulting strains are now scalable products available for purchase from the private company.2

By exposing cells of wild type chlorella to UV light and chemical agents, the scientists were able to develop yellow and white strains of chlorella that were also softer in texture, milder in flavor and odor, and higher in protein than wild chlorella. As chlorophyll content dramatically decreased in each strain, the strains took on pigment of their active xanthophylls: lutein (yellow) and phytoene (colorless).

These breakthroughs in chlorella development were successfully scaled, and the scientists believe they could have ample use in animal feedstocks and human foods and dietary supplements. The random mutagenesis employed to make these strains “…is an interesting cell-modification tool for food applications, as it is not considered a method that generates genetic modified organisms (GMOs),” say the researchers.

Fatty Acids From Fish

The fish oils market is best known for two health-promoting fatty acids in particular: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, fish oil ingredients developer Epax Norway AS (Alesund, Norway) wants the public to know that there are more than 30 different fatty acids that occur naturally in marine oils. Though the vast majority of existing health research has focused on EPA and DHA, Epax is seeking to change that.

With significant funding from the government of Norway, Epax has entered into a research project with the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries, and Aquaculture (NOFIMA) to evaluate some of these other fatty acids. Using cell and animal models, scientists will explore the potential beneficial health effects of these lesser-known fatty acids on health factors such as skin health, eye health, and fertility. Epax and NOFIMA’s first findings are likely to be published later this year, while other projects will continue for this multiyear project.

If outcomes are positive, expect Epax to incorporate these new fatty acids into its upcoming NovusLipid range of fish oil products. Meanwhile, the company continues its work on improving production and analytical methods required to properly scale development of these new fatty acid products.

Recycling Waste

For all of the valuable health ingredients that are procured from ocean environments each year, an unfortunate waste is unavoidable. Repurposing that waste can provide additional revenue streams for ingredient suppliers while benefiting their image of corporate responsibility and protecting the very environments which they rely on for continual resource production. In this spirit, krill ingredients provider Aker BioMarine (Oslo, Norway) has made recycling plastic waste streams an integral part of its pursuit of zero waste.

This past December, Aker announced the creation of a new company called AION that would be dedicated to repurposing plastic waste and biological residues within Aker’s supply network. These waste materials will be recycled into new products and have already found the beginnings of a first value chain. The fast-food giant McDonald’s is now using serving trays made from these recycled ocean plastics. Will other ingredient providers that create substantial waste commit to similar reuse and recycle efforts?

Fucoidan

For centuries, brown seaweeds have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes. In more modern history, two species in particular, wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) and bladder wrack (Fucus vesiculosus), have captivated ingredient processing companies.

Marinova Pty. Ltd. (Cambridge, Australia) and Vesta Nutra (Indianapolis, IN) have spent years examining the contents of these seaweeds, developing a business around their active contents of fucoidan. The compound is found in other sea life, such as sea cucumbers, but seaweeds are a preferred raw material for extracting fucoidan because they are able to renew rapidly and can be procured from clean, uncontaminated waters.

Research suggests a range of potential uses for fucoidan, including for skin health, sports performance, and immune health. Most recently, Marinova published a review of existing science supporting the use of fucoidan against lung damage and viral infections.3 Various research has shown that the ingredient may boost the human immune response, activate certain cells that are important to our immune system, and even dampen allergic responses. The increasing case for fucoidan as an immune-health ingredient comes at a time when immune-health ingredients, especially plant-based ones, are in high demand.

References

  1. Heffernan SM et al. “Mineral rich algae with pine bark improved pain, physical function, and analgesic use in mild-knee osteoarthritis, compared to glucosamine: A randomized, controlled pilot trial.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine. Published online February 19, 2020.
  2. Schüler L et al. “Isolation and characterization of novel Chlorella vulgaris mutants with low chlorophyll and improved protein contents for food applications.” Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. Published online May 19, 2020.
  3. Fitton JH et al. “Fucoidan and lung function: Value in viral infection.” Marine Drugs, vol. 19, no. 1 (December 24, 2020): 4
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