Omega-3 Oils

Dietary intake of omega-3 oils is recognised to be beneficial in preventing or ameliorating an increasing number of medical disorders. Consequently the global market for omega-3 oils as human and animal food supplements and nutraceuticals (dietary supplements with targeted pharmaceutical applications) is large and growing. A number of reports over the past four years identify omega-3 oils to be an emerging new multi-$billion global industry with plentiful opportunities for new companies to capture significant revenues.

Omega-3 oils are called essential fats for one reason – they cannot be synthesised by the body and if they are absent from your diet you will become ill. Many degenerative diseases arise from a low omega 3 diet, or from an imbalance in the omega-6/omega-3 ratio both of which are now common in the western diet. Omega-3 oils are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, the main types of which are shown below.

The omega-3 oils that play an important role in the promotion of health are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Fish Oil

Presently the major source of DHA and EPA is oil extracted from wild-catch fish. However, the global supply of deep-sea fish is declining and the industry may be extinguished before 2050 due to over fishing. Therefore, there is strong and growing demand for DHA and EPA harvested from more sustainable resources.

Historically, consumers have been concerned about the potential for contamination of commercially available fish oil with heavy metals and pesticides. These fears have been alleviated by the introduction of modern processing methods and fish oil labelled as “pharmaceutical grade,” “ultrarefined”, “molecularly distilled” or “molecularly refined” have these impurities removed. It is notable that algal oil is exclusively used in baby food formulations largely as a result of these fears.

Vegetarians that do not eat fish are reluctant to take fish oil supplements and this is a significant restriction on the fish oil market.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed oil is the oil of choice for people not willing to take fish oil as it is very high in omega-3’s, but as with all other plant-sourced omega-3 oils it only contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Humans require the EPA and DHA omega-3’s found in fish as humans cannot efficiently convert ALA to EPA and DHA. The human body requires 10-20 times more flax seed oil than fish oil to obtain the same amount of EPA and DHA. This is not good news for vegetarians that depend on flax oil for their source of omega-3 fatty acids. The reason this process is inefficient is because the enzymes responsible for the conversion of ALA to DHA and EPA, delta-5-desaturase and delta-6-desaturase, are involved in a complex multi-stage process and genetic variations common in humans may reduce their efficiency. Delta-6-desaturase also competitively binds to omega-6 fatty acids, thus, making it less available to bind to ALA when the diet is rich in omega-6 fatty acids.

Algal Oil

Omega-3 oil produced from algae is a relatively new product that has some decided benefits over other omega-3 supplements.

Fish get their omega 3 oils from eating algae and phytoplankton. Algae are photosynthetic microorganisms that under the right conditions manufacture and accumulate omega-3 oils.

Omega-3 oil from algae is nutritionally identical to fish oil, containing both DHA and EPA, but it is not an animal product, its production conserves fish resources and it can replace both fish oil and flaxseed oil as an omega-3 supplement. Algal oil is the only source of DHA and EPA accepted by most vegetarians, which is becoming an additional market driver.