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The omega-3 index project: A moral and economic imperative

By Ian Chant, general manager of Aker BioMarine Antarctic Australia

- Last updated on GMT

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Related tags: Omega-3 fatty acid

According to the Global Organisation for EPA & DHA Omega-3s (GOED), global sales of the supplements are valued at US$3.9bn. But growth has slowed considerably during the last several years for many reasons. 

Featuring among these are negative media, lack of consumer interest in the category and failure to see the benefits omega-3s, so the question for companies is now this: how can the market reignite interest and engagement with lapsed consumers, while at the same time connecting with new users and bringing them into the category?

Ian Chant
Ian Chant

While it is pretty well understood that omega-3s are essential for health, it is sometimes difficult to see their impact as most of the time they do not offer instant gratification or visible outward results. This “lack of benefit” is one of the main reasons consumers choose to leave the omega-3 category, despite the wealth of evidence that backs their benefits.

Speaking of evidence, according to a presentation at this year’s GOED Exchange, omega-3s are the most studied nutrients in history, beating out vitamin D, calcium and folic acid, as well as several drugs such as acetominophen, amoxicillin and Lipitor.

And more recently, studies have actually attached a dollar figure to the preventative benefits of omega-3s.

Still, omega-3 insufficiency remains a global health issue with far-reaching implications on chronic disease incidence, which is why the significant departure of consumers from the market during the last several years is troubling on many levels. 

The market is thankfully starting to turn around, but for some companies this not fast enough. To that end, is there a tool that can underline the global public health need for omega-3s and bring significant growth back to the market? The answer could lie in something called the “Omega-3 index test”.

1- Omega-3s are the most studied nutrients in history

Most consumers do not get enough omega-3s from their diets, that is clear. Differences in age, weight, gender, diet, lifestyle habits, metabolism and absorption make it impossible to accurately predict anyone’s omega-3 status. The only way to know for sure is to measure the levels of Omega-3s.

The omega-3 index is a blood test that measures the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cell membranes, and is expressed as a percent of total fatty acids in the membranes. It is a long-term and stable marker of omega-3 status, and it reflects tissue levels of long-chain EPA and DHA. 

A percentage of 8% or above is considered optimal. Unfortunately, most consumers fall below the 4% mark.

Once you are familiar with your omega-3 index, you can then determine what dietary changes are needed, and retest again in four to six months to ensure you are on the right path to raising your levels. 

A study published in the May 2016 issue of Progress in Lipid Research​ mapped the omega-3 index status of the world’s population. 

Regions with high EPA and DHA blood levels—an index of 8% or above—included the Sea of Japan, Scandinavia, and areas with indigenous populations or populations not fully adapted to Westernised food habits. 

Conversely, very low blood levels—an index of 4% or below—were observed in North America, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa. The study concluded that a very low omega-3 index may increase global risk for chronic disease.

This test represents a call to action for consumers and health practitioners: finally, they have a way to measure the impact of the omega-3s they are taking, whether they are eating seafood or fortified foods/beverages, or taking fish oil or krill oil supplements, or doing a combination of all of these options.

A project to bring more awareness of omega-3 insufficiency, a significant health concern, has begun in Australia as a partnership between OmegaQuant Analytics, the manufacturer of the original omega-3 index test, and Aker BioMarine, which makes the Superba brand of krill oil. The partners are also encouraging other organisations to join them in their goals.

The O3i Project will increase awareness of omega-3s, and in conjunction with health practitioners, its index test will also accomplish several other objectives:

  • Improve product compliance—omega-3 index levels need to be tested every four to six months to ensure they are within the optimal range
  • Enhance product performance—bringing consumers back to the category and offering a platform to recruit new users
  • Increase category loyalty
  • Level the playing field for omega-3 EPA/DHA products—easing some of the confusion surrounding the myriad sources of omega-3s 
  • The omega-3 index test will further legitimise omega-3s in the minds of physicians, who, according to recent NMI data, have the most influence on non-users and lapsed users of omega-3s.

At Aker BioMarine, we believe engagement with the omega-3 index test and innovation will be key drivers for future growth in the omega-3 market. The power of this tool is finally being harnessed in a way that will be positive for consumers and the entire marketplace.

  • Ian Chant has held senior positions in public and private organisations since 1987 and has been part of the Australian complementary medicines industry for more than 13 years. Throughout his career, he has held positions in laboratory, production management, sales and marketing, business development and general management.

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