Butter didn’t need to be added to coffee to demonstrate the importance of fats as energy in the diet, but maybe it helped. The concept that fats other than omega-3s and -6s are healthy may present a challenge to market growth. Fortunately, the quality problems that plagued the sector for years have moved on. It’s no longer necessary 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-3s will continue to emerge from the hundreds of clinical studies in progress. But no dietary ingredient exists in a vacuum, and there are ways to further optimize omega-3s. For example, phospholipids naturally present in krill oil have been shown to increase the absorption of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), allowing for a lower dose substantiated for phospholipid-rich krill oil.1
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 that 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 delivery technologies that (at least theoretically) increase the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients. But some caution is advised with the re-emergence of new dietary ingredient (NDI) draft guidance. If NDIs 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 compiling 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. Name a 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-3s 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 its own, the literature abounds with examples of combinations of omegas with other nutrients. DHA with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) have led to improvements in multiple studies on people with cognitive impairment.2
Look for the cannabis craze to result in combinations of hemp seed oil, rich in 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-3s.3,4
Combinations of omega-3s 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 high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and lowered insulin resistance better than either alone.5
The addition of vitamins E and C to DHA has been researched in clinical trials, and several studies, including one presented at the 2014 National Lipid Association Scientific Sessions, have observed the benefits of statins with omega-3s. Omega-3 blood levels may also affect whether B-vitamins can slow the brain’s decline during aging.6,7 And the addition of omega-3s to vitamin D has been shown to improve symptoms in people with mental illness.8 So there is some basis to believe omega-3s are able to potentiate the effects of both water-soluble and fat-soluble nutrients, likely in different ways.
Our understanding of the relationships between polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), fat metabolism and inflammation has created many connections with pathways regulated by other nutrients. Thinking in terms of focused nutrition, a combination of omega-3s with other sources of healthy fats such as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) at a certain dose and balance could provide optimal brain nutrition for certain people.9
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 that rely on a steady stream of fatty acids as signaling molecules.10
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.
Blake Ebersole has led a number of botanical quality initiatives and formed collaborations with dozens of universities and research centers. As president of NaturPro Scientific (naturproscientific.com), Ebersole established quality compliance and product development services for supplements and ingredients such as ID Verified™. Follow him on Twitter at @NaturalBlake.
1Schuchardt JP et al. “Incorporation of EPA and DHA into plasma phospholipids in response to different omega-3 fatty acid formulations--a comparative bioavailability study of fish oil vs. krill oil." Lipids Health Dis. 2011 Aug 22;10:145. DOI: 10.1186/1476-511X-10-145.
2Barragán-Pérez E et al. “Effectiveness of the use of an omega 3 and omega 6 combination(EquazenTM) in paediatric patients with refractory epilepsy." J. epilepsy clin. neurophysiol. 2011; 17 (4)
3Lefort N et al. “Consumption of Buglossoides arvensis seed oil is safe and increases tissue long-chain n-3 fatty acid content more than flax seed oil - results of a phase I randomised clinical trial." J Nutr Sci. 2016 Jan 8;5:e2. DOI: 10.1017/jns.2015.34. eCollection 2016.
4Davis J et al. “Stearidonic acid-enriched soybean oil improved metabolic and omega-3 profile in obese Zucker rats." FASEB Journal. 2012 April; 26(1)125.6
5Rajkumar H et al. “Effect of probiotic (VSL#3) and omega-3 on lipid profile, insulin sensitivity, inflammatory markers, and gut colonization in overweight adults: a randomized, controlled trial." Mediators Inflamm. 2014;2014:348959. DOI: 10.1155/2014/348959.
6Oulhaj A. et al. “Omega-3 Fatty Acid Status Enhances the Prevention of Cognitive Decline by B Vitamins in Mild Cognitive Impairment." J Alzheimers Dis. 2015;50(2):547-57. DOI: 10.3233/JAD-150777.
7Arvindakshan M et al. “Supplementation with a combination of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants (vitamins E and C) improves the outcome of schizophrenia." Schizophr Res. 2003 Aug 1;62(3):195-204.
8Patrick RP, Ames BN. “Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior." FASEB J. 2015 Jun;29(6):2207-22. DOI: 10.1096/fj.14-268342.
9Taha AY et al. “Dietary enrichment with medium chain triglycerides (AC-1203) elevates polyunsaturated fatty acids in the parietal cortex of aged dogs: implications for treating age-related cognitive decline." Neurochem Res. 2009 Sep;34(9):1619-25. DOI: 10.1007/s11064-009-9952-5.
10Naughton SS et al. “Fatty Acid modulation of the endocannabinoid system and the effect on food intake and metabolism." Int J Endocrinol. 2013;2013:361895. DOI: 10.1155/2013/361895.