Mussel and Fitness

March 1, 2009



On the isolated coast of New Zealand, gnarly brownish-green shells traipse the shore like tiny UFOs. For years, the island's Maori population has scooped up these green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus) scattered along the coastline and eaten them raw as a daily ritual. Slowly, a rumor began circling in New Zealand: Maoris around the coast regularly suffered from fewer bouts of joint discomfort than their neighbors living inland.

Early studies on the effects of these green-lipped mussels were "erratic," according to scientists at Pharmalink International Ltd. (Hong Kong), a manufacturer of green-lipped mussel products, with no consistent results ever determined from testing. One potential explanation was that Maoris ate mussels raw, and processing procedures all but vaporized the mussel's potency. The conclusion was that mussel harvesting would have to be in close proximity to the processing plant.

"New Zealand mussels are just so rare," says Noel Turner, who, with the help of his brother John, founded Moxxor LLC (Aliso Viejo, CA), which also distributes a green-lipped mussel product. "We realized that the antiinflammatory healing properties of the green-lipped mussel seemed to be exponential."

Pharmalink, in 1999, the first major company to incorporate mussel oil in its Lyprinol product, launched around the same time that early research into the green-lipped mussel world was being conducted.

PRENATAL GEL CAPSULE VITAMIN FORTIFIED WITH DHA

LAST DECEMBER, Upsher-Smith Laboratories (Minneapolis) began marketing PreNexa, a DHA-enriched prenatal vitamin for women considering pregnancy, pregnant women, and new mothers who are breastfeeding. DHA, also known as docosahexaenoic acid, is thought to help support fetal and infant development.

"Martek's life'sDHA, the DHA in PreNexa, is derived from a natural plant source grown outside the ocean. It is also the same DHA source used in infant formulas and has been granted GRAS status for use in infant formulas by FDA," said Steve Dubin, CEO of Martek.

PreNexa derives its 265 mg of DHA from microalgae, a direct plant source. In addition, for women with an allergic sensitivity to fish, PreNexa offers healthcare professionals the first single-capsule prenatal vitamin with plant-based DHA.

Developing infants cannot efficiently produce their own DHA, so they must obtain this vital nutrient through the placenta during pregnancy or from an outside source such as breast milk after birth. Mothers continuously lose their omega-3 fatty acid stores during pregnancy. It takes an average of six months to recover from the loss, so a daily source of DHA is recommended by many health experts.

Aside from DHA, PreNexa includes folic acid (1.2 mg), vitamin C (25 mg), vitamin D3 (170 IU), vitamin E (30 IU), iron (30 mg), calcium (160 mg), and vitamin B6 (25 mg). It also contains docusate sodium, a gentle stool softener, as an added benefit for approximately 50 % of pregnant women who suffer from irregularity at some point in their pregnancy.

Lyprinol is a mixture of five main lipid classes, including sterol esters, trigly­cerides, free fatty acids, sterols, and polar lipids. There are about 8–10 different marine sterols in the sterol esters and sterol fractions. It also contains more than 30 different fatty acids that are mixtures of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Moxxor, on the other hand, fuses the antioxidant potential from grape seed with the mussel oil, in what Turner calls a "fantastically unique" jab of omega-3s and antioxidant potency. Moxxor uses sauvignon blanc grapes from New Zealand, which the company claims contain up to twice the levels of polyphenolic antioxidant compounds found in similar seeds grown in other parts of the world.

The seeds, he says, are from grapes grown under a viticulture program, free from genetically modified material, heavy metals, arsenic, and pesticides. The grape seed extract is manufactured using a process with an ethanol and water mixture, and is then freeze-dried to maximize antioxidant activity.

Turner says, "Moxxor's extraction process allows for a higher concentration of DHA and EPA compared with fish oil." Moxxor's Web site claims that concentrations of DHA and EPA will reach levels of 60% and 70%, respectively, compared with about 10% and 5% in natural fish oil.

According to Jeremy Harris, a member of Moxxor's scientific advisory board, "The studies have shown that the oils found in Moxxor are of such a high concentration and natural balance that it would take 247 capsules of salmon oil, for example, to equal just one capsule of Moxxor."

Yet some are skeptical.

"The composition of the mussel oil doesn't justify the claim they're touting," said Tom Brenna, PhD, professor of nutritional sciences at Columbia University (New York City), regarding the product's ORAC capability.

Moxxor's mussel oil claims to be 158 times more effective than fish oil, 247 times more than salmon oil, 316 more than primrose oil, and 3950 more effective than flax oil.

"It's very difficult for me to digest those numbers," Brenna says.

Whatever the case, omega-3s culled from the sea are well known sources of nutrients. When one considers fish, sardines and anchovies, and now mussels, the structures of underwater omega-3s are nothing but intriguing, says Brenna.

"There are lots of strange, fatty acids in underwater omega-3s that are unusual and exciting, but it's not obvious to me how Moxxor got these numbers," Brenna says.

Turner surmises that mussels will catch on with Americans who are looking to increase their omega-3 intake.

If so, perhaps the only problem will be supplying them. As New Zealand mussel grower Jim Broadbent told the BBC (London) 10 years ago: "I really frankly don't know how we would grow enough mussels in New Zealand to meet the demand if this proves to be successful."