Omega 3 Oils

Dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids 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. production of omega-3 oils from algae is an emerging new multi-$billion global industry with plentiful opportunities for new companies to capture significant revenues.

 

Omega-3 oils are called essential fats because 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 diet low in omega-3, or from an imbalance in the omega-6/omega-3 ratio both of which are now common in most countries. Omega-3 oils are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids, the main types of which are shown below.

 

The omega-3 oils that play important roles in the maintenance of good 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 oils generally have these impurities reduced to very low levels during processing. It is notable that algal oil is almost exclusively used in baby food formulations largely as a result of the fear of contamination in fish oils.

 

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

Krill Oil

Krill oil is rich in EPA and DHA omega-3 but is generally the most expensive commercial source of these essential fatty acids. They are, by mass, the most  plentiful animal species on earth and feed on phytoplankton including algae from which they accumulate omega-3s. However, the international fishery operating in Antarctic waters to harvests about a quarter of a million tonnes each year, and is competing with the whales and other marine animals and seabirds that depend on these crustaceans for their survival.

 

Scientists have been monitoring ocean krill numbers since the 1920s, originally to understand the environmental consequences of commercial whaling. Over the past 40 years this data has been correlated to warming of the earth’s oceans, causing the distribution of krill populations to move closer to the colder waters near Antarctica. A team from research institutions including the British Antarctic Survey found ocean krill numbers have dropped by 70% in just 40 years.  Fewer krill are being born and individuals are living longer and growing larger.

 

The existing krill fishing industry is very closely regulated. However, as it is unlikely that climate change will be slowed in the foreseeable future, the future of the Antarctic krill fishing industry will continue to be controversial.

 

Excellent documentary – “Mystery Beneath the Ice“.

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 marine animals and algae as humans cannot efficiently convert ALA to 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 and some species under the right conditions manufacture and accumulate omega-3 oils.

 

Omega-3 oil from algae is nutritionally identical to fish oil, with different species producing either DHA and EPA. Algal omega-3 oils are not animal products, their production conserves fish resources and they can replace both oils from marine animals and flaxseed oil as an omega-3 supplement. Algal oil is the only natural source of DHA and EPA accepted by all vegetarians, which is becoming an additional market driver.

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