Long chain omega 3 fatty acids – what does the future hold?


At a recent meeting of the McCarrison Society, Professor Jack Winkler gave a fascinating talk on the future of the long-chain omega 3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), both vital for not only the physiological functioning of the body (cardiovascular health etc) but for proper brain function and mental health.

The talk was based on a paper published last year, Where Will Future LC-Omega-3 Come From? Towards Nutritional Sustainability, which looked at, essentially, how much EPA/DHA the human race needs, and where is it to get it.

Read the full paper here, but then also read the Professor Winkler's notes (below) that bring the article totally up to date.

Recent Developments Long-Chain Omega-3s – J T Winkler

Since the published paper was originally written, there have been some significant developments that will affect future sources of LC-O3s.  This is a brief list of some of the more important.

  • In 2012, South Korea adopted the highest dietary recommendation in the world for combined DHA/EPA, 2000mg/pp/pd.
  • Biomarkers for DHA and EPA have been developed which allow accurate measures of both short-term and habitual intakes.  However, they are based on blood samples and so may prove difficult/expensive to incorporate in national dietary surveys.
  • Aquaculture has become a larger source of supply than capture fisheries.  The gap is likely to continue to widen.
  • Capture fishing will be affected by climate change, particularly by the warming and acidification of the oceans.  Intensive research is underway on these developments, but it is premature to estimate the effects on DHA/EPA availability.
  • Plans for new forms of cultivating algae have included proposals for their use in producing biodiesel.  Food uses would be a by-product.  Nonetheless, if successful, they could affect the price of algae and DHA/EPA rich oils.
  • Oman and South Korea have reached agreement in principle to expand marine agriculture in their countries.
  • As Asian economies prosper, they are becoming major importers of fish.  This puts additional pressure on global supplies, raising prices and limiting availability in some parts of the world.
  • In 2010, China amended its food laws to allow DHA/EPA addition in all foods.  This has resulted in a surge in fortified products.
  • As a result, the number of DHA/EPA fortified foods has increased well beyond the 2500 cited in the paper.  A major piece of research is now underway to update the figures.
  • One DHA/EPA fortified food has broken through to become a mass-market product.  According to a recent survey, 87% of all infant formula sold in the world is now enriched with DHA/EPA.
  • Claims about brain health are the largest single category approved by the European Food Safety Authority.  These claims are not exclusively about DHA/EPA.  They include iodine and iron, for example.  But the availability of approved claims is likely to stimulate product development in both fortified foods and nutritional supplements.
  • Nestle, BASF and Danone have all recently acquired medical foods companies, specialising in DHA/EPA products.  Astra-Zeneca has purchased a company developing a new DHA/EPA drug.   Together these acquisitions are likely to lead to new drugs, medical foods and supplements at high dosages, targetted on specific health problems.
  • The EU has established a tolerable upper limit of 5g/pp/pd for supplemental DHA/EPA.  This has been received by the industry as not restricting current practices or likely developments.
  • Dosages of supplements have been rising.  Currently, DSM is seeking approval in the UK for products with a recommended intake of 3g/pp/pd.
  • Sales of nutrition supplements in China are rising sharply, involving domestically manufactured products.  This may lead in time to increased exports of Chinese-made supplements.


First published June 2013

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