Essential fatty acids (EFAs), omega-3s—including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—and -6s, are one of the most widely known and widely researched categories in the natural products space. Omega-3s have an incredible well of research supporting their use for brain and heart health, joint health, a few emerging areas such as skin health, exercise recovery and resolvins/protectins, plus many more health perks. However, the omega-3s market has taken a few hits in the past several years, but a closer look reveals several holes in the flawed science.
Heart health is probably the most well-known benefit of consuming EFAs. In 2011, a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found consumption of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) “lowered plasma triglycerides, resting heart rate and blood pressure, and might also improve myocardial filling and efficiency, lower inflammation and improve vascular function."
And the list goes on and on for heart-based research. But, according to Morten Bryhn, M.D., Ph.D., and Gunilla Traberg, marketing communications manager, FMC Epax, “Brain health is perhaps the most important category for current omega-3 fatty acid research. We know that brain cell membranes are saturated with the marine omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which has different local functions."
Beyond brain health, there are a couple emerging areas of research showing promise for omega-3s, one being skin health. “Skin health is another new area for Aker BioMarine," said Becky Wright, marketing director, Aker BioMarine Antarctic US. The company recently evaluated the positive effects of Superba Krill oil on various skin parameters, such as elasticity, hydration, water loss, erythema and skin topography. The results showed improvements from baseline, with a more demonstrated benefit for those taking 3 g/d Superba.
A couple studies, however, have emerged that not only question EFAs’ ability to improve health, but they link them to an increased risk of negative health outcomes, i.e., cancer. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) study, published in JAMA this past August, showed supplementing omega-3s did not slow cognitive decline in older patients. The second study that negatively impacted the industry was published a few years earlier, in 2013, under which a case-cohort study examined the associations between plasma phospholipid fatty acids concentrations and prostate cancer risk.
But industry has been quick to point out the flaws in these studies. “When using negligible amounts EPA and DHA, as in the prostate cancer trial, or trying to cure failing mental health with health-maintenance dosage, you are not really measuring anything meaningful," said Jan Haakonsen, director, sales & marketing, ArcticSource1. “One either needs higher dosages or a full diet intervention almost eliminating omega-6 intakes to make it matter. Ignoring the fact that the negative study results are blown out of proportion, they do add knowledge about the need to use larger dosage for those who have not been paying attention. For the average person relying on the Western diet, much higher intakes are necessary to make a difference."
For more information on omega-3s, checkout “Essential Fatty Acids" in INSIDER’s Essential Fatty Acids Digital Issue.