A world of opportunity: how plant-based omega-3s can help to shape a healthy, sustainable future for all

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for overall health and well-being. However, despite the widespread and accepted health benefits of omega-3s, it is estimated that less than 20% of the world’s population consumes the recommended daily intake of 250 mg/d.1 Cosimo Palumbo, Dietary Supplement Segment Lead, DSM Nutritional Products, reports

Not only does this mean that a significant number of people are missing out on the health benefits that these nutrients offer, it also increases their vulnerability towards a number of illnesses, including non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular disease (CVD).

A variety of factors contributes to the low compliance levels of omega-3 supplements, including large capsule size, fishy smell/aftertaste and/or lack of awareness of omega-3 deficiency. More recently, though, limited vegetarian options and sustainability concerns are also having an impact on the consumption of omega-3s.

To overcome these barriers, we look at the opportunities for innovation in the omega-3 market to support a healthier, more sustainable future.

Omega-3s: rethinking the benefits

EPA and DHA have unique roles and functions in the body; combined, however, they work together to promote holistic health throughout life. More than 40,000 published studies have researched EPA and DHA, with many reporting positive results.

DHA, for example, is well-known to promote optimal growth and development during the first 1000 days of life — between the onset of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday — laying the foundation for a healthy childhood, adolescence and adulthood.2

As we age, omega-3s are proven to provide more specific health benefits, with current scientific studies emphasising their supportive role in heart, brain and eye health.3,4 Findings show that DHA is critical for its role in normal brain function, including attention and learning, cognitive health, memory support and even the reduction of symptoms associated with some mood disorders.

In addition, studies investigating the link between omega-3s and heart health have concluded that it is so strong that an “omega-3 index” blood test has been developed to measure the levels of EPA and DHA in the blood to determine if an individual is at risk of cardiovascular disease.

When it comes to eye health, omega-3s help to maintain good vision throughout life and futureproof against potential visual impairment. But, as new research emerges in different areas of human health, there’s an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the effects of nutritional lipids beyond their benefits for eye, heart and brain health, including their role in immunity.

Immune health has become a top health priority for consumers. Omega-3s, namely DHA, support the development of the immune system in early life. In adulthood, it is the anti-inflammatory properties of EPA and DHA that positively impact the immune system.

For example, EPA and DHA modulate inflammation and boost immunity by enhancing the function of immune cells.5 When the immune system is activated, EPA and DHA are converted into specialised mediators that work together to resolve inflammation and promote healing.6

Research also demonstrates that omega-3s reduce the risk, impact and length of infection in children, whereas inadequate status can contribute to reduced resistance against disease and infection.7–9

Rising demand for plant-based and sustainable solutions

Fish are a well-known and popular source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, overfishing and other environmental issues, such as climate change, mean that there will not be enough fish in the ocean to support the nutritional needs of the growing population.10,11

Already, oceans and wild fisheries are operating at full capacity and there are increasing concerns for the future quality and availability of food, while consumer attitudes towards global environmental issues are also driving demand for more sustainable ingredients and products on the market.

The rise in flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets is also having an impact on the omega-3 market. In a recent DSM survey, 62% of consumers surveyed said that they would prefer a plant-based source of omega-3s.

It is therefore important for the nutrition industry to identify viable and sustainable alternative sources of omega-3, both to appeal to health and environmentally conscious consumers and also protect our planet and oceans.

Finding the white space in a sea of opportunity

Plant-based omega-3s, such as those from algae-sources, are an attractive option for the nutrition industry, supporting the health of people and also protecting the planet’s natural resources. But with the majority of consumers associating omega-3s with fish oil, there is some work to be done to educate people about natural algal sources.

Some consumers also think that omega-3s derived from algae do not offer the same benefits that fish oils do. So, it is important to remind consumers that algal omega-3s provide the same equivalent health benefits as fish oil, meaning individuals that follow a vegetarian or vegan diet do not have to compromise.

In fact, fish themselves get their omega-3 content by eating microalgae in the ocean; therefore, algae are considered to be the primary source of these essential fatty acids.

DSM’s life’sOMEGA is a unique, 100% plant-based alternative to fish oil containing a minimum of 500 mg/d of EPA and DHA (with a combination of 150 mg/d EPA and 300 mg/d DHA minimum). The first and only commercially available plant-based omega-3 to deliver the health benefits of EPA and DHA in a single source, life’sOMEGA helps to attract a new generation of omega-3 consumers.

Let’s dive in together

With sustainability rising up the global agenda and growing demand for plant-based products, new opportunities are opening up for dietary supplement manufacturers to deliver innovative omega-3 solutions that address evolving consumer preferences.

DSM’s life’sOMEGA ingredient and broad expert services support producers at every stage of product innovation so that new solutions fulfilling nutritional needs while positively impacting the global environment are brought to market faster.

References

  1. K. Stark, et al., “Global Survey of the Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Docosahexaenoic Acid and Eicosapentaenoic Acid in the Blood Stream of Healthy Adults,” Progress in Lipid Research 63, 132–152 (2016).
  2. . Koletzko, et al., “Current Information and Asian Perspectives on Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Pregnancy, Lactation and Infancy: Systematic Review and Practice Recommendations from an Early Nutrition Academy Workshop,” Ann. Nutr. Metab. 65(10), 49–80 (2014).
  3. A. Richardson, et al., “Docosahexaenoic Acid for Reading, Cognition and Behavior in Children Aged 7-9 Years: A Randomized Controlled Trial (The DOLAB Study),” PLoS One 7(9), e43909 (2012).
  4. G. Querques, et al., “Retina and Omega-3,” J. Nutr. Metab. 2011 (2011): doi: 10.1155/2011/748361.
  5. S. Gutierrez, et al., “Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Immune Cells,” Int. J. Mol. Sci. 20(20): doi: 10.3390/ijms20205028 (2019).
  6. P.C. Calder, et al., “Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections,” Nutrients 12(4), 1181 (2020).
  7. L. Malan, et al., “n–3 Long-chain PUFAs Reduce Respiratory Morbidity Caused by Iron Supplementation in Iron-Deficient South African Schoolchildren: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Intervention,” Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 101(3), 668–679 (2015).
  8. L.M. Minns, et al., “Toddler Formula Supplemented with Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Improves DHA Status and Respiratory Health in a Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial of US Children Less Than 3 Years of Age,” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA) 82(4–6), 287–293 (2010).
  9. A. Thienprasert, et al., “Fish Oil N-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids Selectively Affect Plasma Cytokines and Decrease Illness in Thai Schoolchildren: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Intervention Trial,” The Journal of Pediatrics 154(3), 391–395 (2009).
  10. www.fao.org/3/i9540en/i9540en.pdf.
  11. S. Maggini, et al., “Immune Function and Micronutrient Requirements Change Over the Life Course,” Nutrients 10(1531), 1–27 (2018).
  12. Companies