Emerging sources and technologies for omega-3, omega-6 and healthy fats:
We didn’t need to add butter to coffee to demonstrate the importance of fats as energy in the diet, but maybe it helped. The concept that there are healthy fats other than omega-3’s and 6’s may present a challenge to market growth. Fortunately, the quality problems that plagued the sector for years have moved on. We no longer need to worry how to clean up fish oil, and make it taste like key lime pie. But where to go from here?
Hopefully the benefits of omega-3’s will continue to be found from the hundreds of clinical studies in progress. But no dietary ingredient exists in a vacuum, and there are ways to further optimize omega-3’s beyond the old standbys. For example, phospholipids naturally present in krill oil have been shown to increase the absorption of DHA, allowing for a lower dose substantiated for phospholipid-rich krill oil. This is nature’s way of optimizing absorption. Both phospholipids and omega-3 are stored in cell membranes, where they serve similar roles. It is reasonable to think there might be a benefit to consuming both together, beyond the increased bioavailability. Are there better optimized combinations of phospholipids and cofactors which closer represent the nutrient profile of salmon, and may be even more beneficial? Perhaps.
Meanwhile, man continues to create products based on nature, inspired by milk emulsions and small intestine micelles, developing ways that (at least theoretically) increase the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients. But some caution is to be given with the re-emergence of New Dietary Ingredient guidance. If NDI’s are to be taken literally, any dietary ingredient having a different composition than one marketed before 1994 requires a notification to FDA. So, it’s probably a good idea to start putting together the safety assessments that will be required for omega-3 ingredients and technologies that were not around before 1994.
Back to the clinicals. In addition to the hundreds already published, there are more than 250 clinical trials listed on clinicaltrials.gov for omega-3, which are just getting started. You name the health condition and it’s probably represented. Add on the current study conducted by the U.S. Army, to determine if krill oil improves cognitive performance of soldiers. Out of all the supplements (and likely drugs) possible for a study like this, omega-3’s were selected. With all this interest, there must be some evidence that the stuff works.
For product development, in case a high-quality omega-3 source is not sexy enough on it’s own, the literature is abound with examples of combinations of omegas with other nutrients. DHA with EPA and GLA have led to improvements in multiple studies on people with cognitive impairment. Look for the cannabis craze to result in combinations of hemp seed oil, rich in both omega-6, to be balanced with omega-3 sources like flax and krill. And stearidonic acid (18:4 n-3) from echium and Buglossoides arvensis may be a cofactor to help improve absorption of DHA and other omega-3’s.
Combinations of omega-3 with ingredients that are not necessarily fat soluble may be trending. In a 2014 placebo-controlled study, a probiotic blend and omega-3 combination increased HDL and lowered insulin resistance better than either alone. The addition of Vitamin E and C to DHA has been researched in clinical trials, and several studies have observed the benefits of statins with omega-3. Omega-3 blood levels may also affect whether B-vitamins can slow the brain’s decline during aging. And their addition with Vitamin D has been shown to improve symptoms in people with mental illness. So there is some basis to believe omega-3’s are able to potentiate the effects of both water-soluble and fat-soluble nutrients, likely in different ways.
Our understanding of the relationships between PUFA, fat metabolism and inflammation has created many connections with pathways regulated by other nutrients. Thinking in terms of focused nutrition, a combination of omega-3’s with other sources of healthy fats such as MCT, at a certain dose and balance could provide optimal brain nutrition for certain people. The addition of other cofactors along the arachidonic acid and inflammatory pathways, in addition to mediators along the endocannabinoid pathways may provide systemic support for the pathways which rely on a steady stream of fatty acids as signaling molecules.
New sources of omega-3 are likely to pop up as they always have. Perilla, new types of microalgae, and plants like canola bred to produce greater amounts of omega fatty acids are in the pipeline. And a few consumer product categories are starting to emerge as opportunities for fortification with omega-3. Meal replacement powders and liquids are beginning to see omegas being added successfully, benefitting from new powdering and emulsion technologies. The infusion of omega-3 into food products like eggs, chickens and even prepared foods has been achieved through integration of DHA-rich algae or flaxseed into animal feed. Thanks to long-term and growing interest, the omega-3 rich products of today don’t look or taste anything like grandmother’s cod liver oil, but are just as healthy.
By: Blake Ebersole
First published in Natural Products Insider, October 2016