EXCLUSIVE: Supplements and climate change — Blackmores calls for immediate industry action and collaboration

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

The literature review has been published by Blackmores Institute.
The literature review has been published by Blackmores Institute.
The impact of climate change on nutrient intake and the future sustainability of supplement and functional food products has been laid bare in a new document by The Blackmores' Institute, which highlights stark warnings, especially in relation to omega-3 and medicinal plants.

The Institute, the academic and research arm of Australian supplements giants Blackmores, has released Sustainable Nutrition​, a scientific literature review.

The review assesses climate change, its predicted impacts on human nutritional needs, future access to medicinal herbs, and key ingredients used in natural medicine.

The report​ highlights how the earth’s surface is warming at an unnatural rate, mainly due to human-driven activities, and points out that the negative effects of climate change have already been observed in both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

It cautions how the nutritional content of staple foods are being compromised, with levels of protein, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc in crop plants being affected.

“Between 1950 and 1999, there were declines in protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin C in 43 different fruits and vegetables,”​ the report notes. “Between 1930 and 1980, there were decreases of 9% in calcium, 22% in iron, and 14% in potassium in 20 different vegetables.”

PUFA problem

Arguably two of the biggest impacts of climate change affect omega-3 and medicinal plants.

For the former, it argues that: “Under the current climate change model, global fish stocks are predicted to decline and may not be a long-term and sustainable source of omega-3 PUFAs.

“This means that alternative sources of omega-3 are required, if these fatty acids cannot be obtained from the diet.”

It also issues a warning with regard to krill, stating: “It is reasonable to surmise that both krill and calamari numbers will be affected under conditions of global warming, and that in future years both krill oil and calamari oil may not be considered to be a sustainable source of omega-3 PUFAs.”​ 

On a positive note, the paper extols the vitures of cultivated microalgae as a  more sustainable solution, due to its rapid growth, the ease of separating the omega-3 content and the use of leftover alagal biomass as feed for livestock.

It suggests this would be preferable to plant sources of omega-3 due to the length of time in takes the body to convert  their high alpha linoleic acid (ALA) content into “the more beneficial EPA and DHA fatty acids.”

In a statement, Blackmores told us it would continue its focus on marine conservation and responsible fishing initiatives to ensure marine oils were able to continue to be available as a valuable source of nutrients, while also continuing "to diversify our sources of omega-3s so we build greater resilience into our supply chain."

"Blackmores’ new product development team is actively investigating the use of algal omega-3 sources, as well as alternative omega sources with a more sustainable biomass to take pressure off fish stocks,"​ the company added. 

With regard to medicinal plants, the report emphasises that over 25% of medications currently prescribed in the developed world are derived from wild sources.

And Ii is estimated that 80% of people in developing countries totally depend on herbal medicine for their primary healthcare.

However, it warns: “The use of medicinal plants is growing rapidly with an increasing demand for herbal medicines, natural health products and secondary metabolites from medicinal plants. It is estimated that plant species loss is 100 to 1,000 times higher than the expected natural extinction rate and the earth is losing at least one potential new drug every two years.”

The report also states that it is still uncertain as to how climate change will affect secondary metabolite or active ingredient production by medicinal plants, and whether or not their therapeutic effects or potency will be altered.

Take responsibility

It concludes that immediate action across industry is needed to better understand climate change and to collaborate on conservation programmes.

Blackmores Institute Director Dr Lesley Braun said: “Global warming is a reality. There has been a lot of attention on how this will increase sea levels and extreme weather events, but it’s also important to understand how the change will affect nutrition and natural medicine.

“It’s important to recognise that whilst environmental changes will affect our health and nutrition, our industry also has a reliance on the natural environment.  Taking responsibility for its protection is vital,” ​said Dr Braun.

In sharing the findings of this literature review, Blackmores’ says that it is encouraging industry and individuals to consider how they can be proactive and engage in projects that help to mitigate the impact of climate change.

“Our sustainability programme has always had a strong emphasis on taking responsibility for the environmental footprint of our products and our operations. But increasingly we’re resetting our focus to ensure that our supply chain can adapt to the changing physical world.  An important part of that is working with our supply partners to protect and conserve natural resources,”​ said Blackmores Group Director of Corporate Affairs, Cecile Cooper

“We want to make the right choices, and this starts with evidence-based information on the regions, species and natural systems that are most vulnerable - which is why the Blackmores Institute literature review is an important piece of work.”

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