Omega-3s best kept secrets: the lesser-known benefits that meet trending consumer health concerns
By: Talking Nutrition Editors
- Omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are well-known for delivering proven heart, brain and eye health benefits, but a growing body of evidence shows that there is so much more. For dietary supplement manufacturers, this is an exciting opportunity to attract new consumers.
- As consumers adopt a more holistic approach to their health, research shows that omega-3s EPA and DHA also help support optimal immunity, sports performance, positive mood and better sleep quality.
- In this article, we explore how re-thinking the benefits of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAS) EPA and DHA can help make omega-3s more relevant than ever to a new generation of consumers.
Re-thinking the benefits of omega-3s
Did you know that there are more than 40,000 published studies on EPA and DHA, including more than 4,000 human clinical trials? Well-known for the important role they play in supporting optimal cardiovascular, brain and visual health, it’s no wonder that consumer awareness of omega-3s is - higher than some vitamins and minerals, and nearly twice the familiarity as fiber!1 Even with increasing knowledge of the health benefits and food sources of omega-3s, 96% percent of the population still fall below the optimal status.2
Are we missing an opportunity to increase omega-3 consumption?
As consumers look to adopt a more holistic approach to their health and wellbeing, here are four lesser-known, science-backed health benefits of omega-3s that appeal to a new generation of consumers:
- Optimizing immunity
An effective immune system is important in helping to protect the body against infection and disease and nutrients play an important role in supporting the optimal function of the immune system. Research indicates that in adults it is the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 LCPUFAs that contribute to normal immune function.3 Inflammation is a key component of the immune response, but chronic inflammation can have a negative impact on the body, resulting in tissue damage. Inflammation typically resolves quickly at the end of the immune response, due to activation of specific negative-feedback mechanisms. EPA and DHA present at the site of inflammation are enzymatically converted to specialized pro-resolving mediators (SPMs) known as resolvins, protectins, and maresins. These molecules, along with others, function together to coordinate the resolution of inflammation and to support healing.4,5
Low omega-3 levels can have a negative effect on an individual’s immune function caused by a delayed resolution of inflammation which may reduce their resistance to disease and infection. Consumers can help ensure optimal immune function via intake of at least 250 mg/d EPA and DHA.6
- Aiding fitness and recovery
As consumers look to lead more active lifestyles, their awareness of the importance of healthy muscle mass, strength and functionality for overall health and quality of life has increased – and so have the number of sports nutrition solutions aimed at meeting these needs. Research has shown that omega-3 LCPUFAs have many benefits for the categories of sports performance, muscle recovery and cardio-respiratory fitness. For example, a number of studies highlight the positive effects of EPA and DHA on muscle recovery after exercise and physical activity.7,8,9,10 Further trials have reported the benefits of omega-3s on cardio-respiratory fitness, i.e. the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to skeletal muscles during sustained physical activity. This further helps boost performance, as studies have also shown that EPA and DHA can help decrease heart rate and oxygen consumption during exercise.11,12,13,14,15
Additional research has demonstrated that omega-3 LCPUFAs may improve heart rate recovery after exercise.16,17 Similar to its effects on the immune system, it is the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 LCPUFAs that are gaining the most interest in this field, with omega-3 DHA and EPA supplementation thought to attenuate exercise-induced inflammation. Taken together with their positive influence on muscle protein synthesis, it is clear that omega-3 LCPUFAs have an important role to play in muscle health, performance and can help support active living.
- Maintaining a balanced mood
Brain health and mood balance are top concerns among consumers. Mood disorders across the lifespan especially have become an increasingly important area of research. During early life, DHA is well-known to have a positive long-term effect on neurocognitive development.18 It is also recognized as an essential nutrient for overall brain health throughout life, supporting almost every area of brain function, including attention and learning, cognitive health, and both EPA and DHA omega-3s have more recently shown positive effects on the reduction of symptoms associated with mood disorders.
Increasing evidence suggests that lower levels of omega-3 in the plasma is linked to poorer mental health, including those related to mood.19,20,21,22 Other studies have observed that higher fish consumption is associated with decreased risk of depression – a common mental disorder that affects many individuals worldwide.23,24 In fact, depression appears to be less common in nations where people eat large amounts of fish.25 This theory is further supported by studies focusing on depression during and after pregnancy. In a study in 2017 on prenatal depression, a common psychiatric disorder in pregnant women or women that have recently given birth, results showed that lower levels of EPA and DHA were linked to the condition.26 Additionally, supplementation with omega-3s has shown in some instances to improve mood balance for women with postpartum depression symptoms.27,28,29,30 As such, supplementation with omega-3 EPA and DHA may help to relieve depression symptoms, including sadness and lethargy; helping to support and maintain a balanced mood.31,32,33
- Improving sleep quality
Good sleep is one of the foundations of optimal health. Research shows omega-3 LCPUFAs, especially DHA, may improve length and quality of sleep in adults and these benefits have also been demonstrated in children and adolescents.34,35,36 One study investigating the effects of 600 mg/d DHA supplementation in children aged between 7-9 years of age found that sleep duration was increased by one hour after omega-3 intake was increased.37 A further report showed that teenagers with the highest levels of DHA in their plasma slept 32 minutes longer on the weekends when supplemented with DHA over one week.38 Low levels of DHA are also associated with lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which helps individuals fall asleep.39 As more and more consumers become concerned about getting a good night’s sleep, on a regular basis, it is clear that omega-3s offer significant potential in helping to make this a reality.
Attracting a new generation of omega-3 consumer
Combining the health benefits of omega-3 EPA and DHA in a single source, life’s™OMEGA from DSM is the 100% plant-based equivalent to traditional fish oil. Sourced directly from algae, life’s™OMEGA contains a potent combination of at least 500 mg/g of EPA+DHA making it 85% more potent than fish oil! Manufactured in a fully controlled environment and extracted through a pure water process, it has no negative impact on the world’s fish population. Not only does this provide complete end-to-end traceability, but it allows dietary supplement manufacturers to develop effective and safe omega-3 solutions, all while meeting rising consumer demand for more sustainably sourced products.
Click here to discover how partnering with DSM can help you reach a new generation of consumer with life’s™OMEGA.
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 DSM internal data on file, March 2020.
 Murphy RA et al. Suboptimal plasma long chain n-3 concentrations are common among adults in the United States, NHANES 2003-2004. Nutrients, vol. 7, no. 12, pg. 10282-10289, 2015.
 Gutierrez et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on immune cells. Int J Mol Sci., vol. 20. No. 20, pg. 5028, 2019.
 Calder, P.C. et al. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients., vol. 12 no. 1181, 2020.
 Basil M.C. and Levy BD. Specialised pro-resolving mediators: endogenous regulators of infection and inflammation. Nature Reviews | Immunology, vol. 16, pg. 51-67, 2016.
 Op. cit. (Calder et al.).
 Tsuchiya et al. Supplementation of eicosapentaenoic acid-rich fish oil attenuates muscle stiffness after eccentric contractions of human elbow flexors. Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition, vol. 16, no. 19, 2019.
 Philpott et al. Applications of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for sport performance. Res Sports Med., vol. 27, no. 2, pg. 219-237, 2019.
 Ochi et al. Effect of eicosapentaenoic acids-rich fish oil supplementation on motor nerve function after eccentric contractions. J Intl Soc Sports Nutr., vol. 14, no. 23, 2017.
 Philpott et al. Adding fish oil whey protein, leucine and carbohydrate over a six-week supplementation period attenuates muscle soreness following eccentric exercise in competitive soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab., vol. 28, no 1, pg. 26-36, 2018.
 Macartney et al. Intrinsic heart rate recovery after dynamic exercise is improved with an increased omega-3 index in healthy males. Br J Nutr., vol. 112, no. 2, pg. 1984-1992, 2014.
 Buckley, Jonathan D., Shane Burgess, Karen J. Murphy, and Peter R. C. Howe. 2009. “DHA-Rich Fish Oil Lowers Heart Rate during Submaximal Exercise in Elite Australian Rules Footballers.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 12 (4): 503–7.
 Peoples et al. Fish oil reduces heart rate and oxygen consumption during exercise. University of Wollongong, 2008.
 Ninio et al. Docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil improves heart rate variability and heart rate responses to exercise in overweight adults. Br J Nutr., vol. 100, no. 5, pg. 1097-1103, 2008.
 Hingley et al. DHA-rich fist oil increases the omega-3 index and lowers the oxygen cost of physiologically stressful cycling in trained individuals. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab., vol. 27, no. 4, 2017.
 Op. Cit. (Macartney 2014).
 O’Keefe et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on resting heart rate, heart rate recovery after exercise and heart rate variability in men with healed myocardial infarctions and depressed ejection fractions. Am J Cardiol., vol. 97, no. 8, pg. 1127-30, 2006.
 Meldrum S and Simmer K. Docosahexanoic acid and neurodevelopment outcomes of term infants. Annals of Nutrition and Metab., vol. 69 (supplement 1), pg. 23-28, 2016.
 Fontani, G., et al., “Cognitive and Physiological Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation in Healthy Subjects.” European Journal of Clinical Investigation 35 (11): 691–99. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2362.2005.01570.x
 Vaz et al. Omega-3 supplementation from pregnancy to postpartum to prevent depressive symptoms: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, vol. 17, no. 180, 2017.
 Pao-Yen et al. Are omega-3 fatty acids antidepressants or just mood-improving agents? The effect depends upon diagnosis, supplement preparation and severity of depression. Molecular Psychiatry, vol. 17, pg. 1161-1163, 2012.
 Mozurkewich, Ellen L et al. The Mothers, Omega-3, and Mental Health Study: A Double-Blind, Randomized Controlled Trial. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol. 208, no. 4, 2013.
 Yang, Yeonji, et al.,2018. “Fish Consumption and Risk of Depression: Epidemiological Evidence from Prospective Studies.” Asia-Pacific Psychiatry 10 (4): e12335. https://doi.org/10.1111/appy.12335
 Grosso, Giuseppe et al., 2016. “Dietary N-3 PUFA, Fish Consumption and Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.” Journal of Affective Disorders 205 (November): 269–81. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.011
 Mischoulon D. Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. [website], https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/omega-3-fatty-acids-for-mood-disorders-2018080314414, accessed 7 April 2020.
 Chang et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory markers in major depressive episodes during pregnancy. Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, vol. 80 (part C), pg. 273-278, 2018.
 Kaviani M et al. The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on maternal depression during pregnancy: a double blind randomized controlled trial. Int J Community Based Nurs Midwifery, vol. 2, no. 3, pg. 142-147, 2014.
 Op. cit. (Mozurkewich et al.).
 Nahidi F et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on postpartum depression. Iranian Journal of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Infertility, vol. 14, no. 6, pg. 46-53, 2011.
 Su KP et al. Omega-3 fatty acids for major depressive disorder during pregnancy: results from a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Psychiatry, vol. 69, no. 4, pg. 644-651, 2008.
 Lin et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in perinatal depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Biological Psychiatry, vol. 82, no. 8, pg. 560-569, 2017.
 Lassale et al. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Psychiatry, vol. 24, no. 7, pg. 965-986, 2018.
 Op. Cit. (Grosso et al).
 Del Brutto et al. Dietary fish intake and sleep quality: a population-based study. Sleep Med., vol. 17, pg. 126-128, 2016.
 Montgomery P et al. Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: objective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomized controlled trial. J Sleep Res., vol. 23, no. 4, pg. 364-388, 2014.
 Jansen et al. Plasma DHA is related to sleep timing and duration in a cohort of Mexican Adolescents. The Journal of Nutrition, vol 150, no.30, pg. 592-598, 2020.
 Richardson et al. Omega-3 and sleep: new insights from the DHA Oxford Learning and Behavior (DOLAB) study. Lipid Technology, vol. 27, no. 5, 2015.
 Op. Cit. (Jansen et al).
 Peuhkuri K et al. Dietary factors and fluctuating levels of melatonin. Food Nutr Res., vol. 56, 2012.
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