Closing the Omega Gap: Exploring Innovative Approaches to Optimizing Omega Intake
Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 parent polyunsaturated fatty acid of the longer chain omega-3 fatty acids. ALA is not produced in adequate amounts by the human body and must therefore be obtained through dietary or supplement sources.
Once consumed, ALA is metabolised to the omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is limited and must, also be obtained through dietary or supplement sources. Docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and stearidonic acid (SDA) are intermediate fatty acids between EPA and DHA.
Omega-3 food sources
ALA is found as a seed oil in plants such as flax, chia, walnut and blackcurrant. EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish and seafood such as sardines, salmon and mackerel. They can also be found in egg yolk, flax, chia and hemp seeds. Due to the low conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA, it is most advantageous to consume EPA and DHA as the body is able to absorb and use them directly.
Importance of Omega-3 essential fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important components of cell membranes and are precursors to many other substances in the body, such as those involved with regulating blood pressure and inflammatory responses. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is the major structural fat in the brain and is thus needed to maintain brain health.
Research shows that DHA is important throughout pregnancy, especially in the third trimester and throughout the first two years of life when significant brain growth occurs. Supplementation of DHA during childhood has been shown to have long-lasting effects on brain structure and function. Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids may protect against neurodegeneration in older adults, and consumption is thus required to support brain health across the lifespan.
Omega-3s under consumed
Previously, Nutritional Insight conducted a systematic review on the role of omega-3 fatty acid supplements in brain health, and found that omega-3 fatty acids are under consumed. In fact, the mean intake of EPA and DHA are only consumed as recommended in 26% of 17 European countries.
Previous research by Nutritional Insight has also shown that about only a quarter of the UK population are oily fish consumers. In addition, amongst those eating fish only 7% children, 13% teens and 16% of young adults met oily fish recommendations. These numbers may be set to further decline given sustainability concerns and trends away from animal-sourced protein.
Omega-3 source concerns
With growing concerns of overfishing and the presence of oceanic contaminants there is a need for alternative methods to produce omega-3 fatty acids for supplementation. Microalgae is one such provider. With the rapid growth in popularity of plant-based diets, microalgae would also provide a source of omega-3 fatty acid that would complement both vegetarian and vegan diets.
Nutritional insight recently submitted a grant application with other academic and Industry partners to Innovate UK Research: Better Food for All: Innovation for Improved Nutrition. Nutritional Insight provided input in terms of project direction and framing – storytelling and substantiating the science. The grant was successfully awarded.
Given growing interest in alternative novel sources of omega-3 fatty acids Nutritional Insight, academic and Industry collaborators recently published a related article in Frontiers in Nutrition. Novel models of delivering omega-3 fatty acids to populations are required to help support future healthy and balanced diets, while also counteracting the sustainability and toxicological concerns from current delivery methods. Potential ways forward include fortification strategies, bioengineered plants, microencapsulation, and microalgae.
Nutritional Insight is an independent scientific consultancy that works with corporate companies, PR agencies, media, public sector, and private clients providing high-level expertise to inform, innovate and drive change.
Derbyshire EJ, Birch CS, Bonwick GA, English A, Metcalfe P & Li W (2024) Optimal omegas – barriers and novel methods to narrow omega-3 gaps. A narrative review. Frontiers in Nutrition Volume 11
Other publications related to omega-3s by Dr Derbyshire:
Derbyshire EJ (2019) Oily Fish and Omega-3s Across the Life Stages: A Focus on Intakes and Future Directions. Frontiers in Clinical Nutrition Volume 6, 165 pp:1-10.
Kirby A & Derbyshire E (2018) Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids and Learning in Children and Young People: A Review of Randomised Controlled Trials Published in the Last 5 Years. Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences 8:2.
Derbyshire EJ (2017) Do Omega-3/6 Fatty Acids Have a Therapeutic Role in Children and Young People with ADHD? Journal of Lipids Article ID 6285218, 9 pages.
Lane KE, Li W, Smith CJ & Derbyshire EJ (2016) The development of vegetarian omega-3 oil in water nanoemulsions suitable for integration into functional food products. Journal of Functional Foods 23 pp:306-314.
Ruxton CH, Derbyshire EJ, Toribio-Mateas M (2015) Role of fatty acids and micronutrients in healthy ageing: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials set in the context of European dietary surveys of older adults. J Hum Nutr Diet 29(3):308-24.
Ruxton CHS & Derbyshire EJ (2015) Diet therapies for ADHD. NHD Mag Issue 100: 31-34.
Lane K, Li W, Smith CS & Derbyshire EJ (2014) The bioavailability of an omega-3-rich algal oil is improved by nanoemulsion technology using yoghurt as a food vehicle. International Journal of Food Science & Technology 49(5): 1264-71.