Study supports bioavailability of omega-3s from wax ester-rich marine oil

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock /robynmac
© iStock /robynmac

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid Nutrition

Calanus oil is a highly bioavailable source of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, says a new study that supports its potential as a suitable alternative source of omega-3s.

Calanus oil contains EPA and DHA predominantly in the wax ester form (the oil is slightly viscous), which were previously thought to be poorly digested in mammals. However, results of the randomized, two-period crossover study show that the bioavailability of EPA and DHA was at least equal to that observed for the omega-3s in the ethyl ester form, as is used in the pharmaceutical product Lovaza.

“The principle finding from this randomized, crossover study demonstrates that EPA and DHA as predominantly wax esters in Calanus oil are digested and absorbed in generally healthy men and women, as evidenced by statistically significant increases in the concentration of each of these [omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids] in the total plasma lipid pool over a 72 hour period,”​ wrote scientists from Biofortis Clinical Research (Addison, IL), UiT the Arctic University of Norway, and Calanus AS in Lipids​.

“The results from this study are novel, as EPA and DHA in most alternative commercially available sources are found predominantly as [triglyceride], ethyl ester, or phospholipid forms,” ​they added.

From sea to softgel

Calanus oil is extracted from the copepods of the same name Calanus finmarchicus. ​According to Salma et al. (Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids​, 2016, Vol. 108, pp. 13-21), Calanus finmarchicus​ is “the most abundant crustacean in the North Atlantic Ocean with annual production of several hundred million tonnes.

“The total annual harvest amounts to less than 0.01% of the annual growth in accordance with regulations by Norwegian fisheries management.”

The oil also contains astaxanthin, which gives its ruby color.

Wax esters are historically associated with penguin, seal, and whale oil, but are being produced by Norwegian company Calanus AS from C. finmarchicus. ​The company funded this new research.

Jan Erik Olsen, Calanus sales and product manager, told us that this is the first study to prove that omega-3 from wax esters are bioavailable at all.

“In the past it was a common belief that wax esters passed through the digestive tract undigested. This study documents not just that fatty acids from wax esters are bioavailable, but that the uptake is very good,” ​he said.  

Study details

Led by Dr Chad Cook from Biofortis Clinical Research, the researchers recruited 18 healthy adults and randomly assigned them to consume eight capsules providing 4 grams of Calanus Oil (total EPA and DHA doses of 260 mg and 156 mg, respectively) or one capsule of Lovaza (total EPA and DHA doses of 465 mg and 375 mg, respectively).

Results showed that EPA and DHA absorption at 24 hour and 48 hours post-ingestion were similar between the groups.

No differences were observed at 72 hours post-ingestion for EPA + DHA or DHA only between the groups, wrote the researchers, while the EPA levels were higher in the calanus oil group, compared to the ethyl ester group.

“Calanus oil appears to be a suitable alternative source of EPA plus DHA to help meet the daily intake recommendations for long chain [omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids],” ​concluded the authors.

What next for Calanus oil?

“Apart from Novel Food approval in the EU, which is expected to be in place in late 2016 or early 2017, we have an ambitious documentation program on human health effects,”​ Jan Erik Olsen, Calanus sales and product manager, told us.

“We are currently planning human clinical trials to document cognitive- and metabolic effects as well as some studies targeted towards the sports nutrition segment.”

Commercial opportunity

As reported previously by NutraIngredients-USA​, the potential market opportunity for wax esters is estimated to be $100-500 million. Currently, only one commercial product containing wax esters from calanus is available in the US: Arctic Ruby Oil. The product is expensive compared with other omega-3 forms, and retails for $59.95 for 60 soft gels (30 servings).

“To penetrate the market successfully Calanus Oil has to make a difference to each consumer and we believe this will be the case,” ​Olsen told us. “This is an extremely interesting new marine oil with high potential for human health.

“Preclinical testing has shown metabolic effects not seen with triglycerides, ethyl esters or phospholipids. The main metabolic effects are stabilization of blood glucose and reduced deposition of abdominal fat, as well as increased oxygen uptake. We are all aware of the huge epidemic of obesity and metabolic syndrome. Calanus Oil could actually play a key role in counteracting these conditions in humans.”

Source: Lipids
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1007/s11745-016-4189-y
“Wax Ester Rich Oil From The Marine Crustacean, ​Calanus finmarchicus, is a Bioavailable Source of EPA and DHA for Human Consumption”
Authors: C.M. Cook et al.

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