Despite recent negative publicity surrounding omega-3s, a new survey has found that practitioners who commonly recommend supplements to their patients still strongly support the use of omega-3s.
The survey was commissioned by Norway-based krill oil supplier Aker BioMarine and distributed via e-mail by the publication Holistic Primary Care to its contact list. The survey yielded 362 responses.
“One of the biggest takeaways is that we’ve heard a lot of negativity about a decline in the omega-3 market,” Becky Wright, communications and marketing manager for Aker told NutraIngredients-USA. “This is a pretty good indication that doctors, who are the most trusted source of health information for consumers, remain committed to omega-3s. So I think the decline in the market will be more of a blip and we will return growth to the category.”
The survey participants, it must be observed, skewed heavily toward holistic and integrative practitioners, with 95% of respondents saying they recommend supplements to their patients. Health care professionals who identified themselves as MDs, osteopaths or specialists made up almost half of the survey sample; nurses, dietitians, naturopaths, chiropractors and ‘others’ made up the rest. When describing their practices, only 17% of respondents called them ‘conventional’ or ‘mainstream.’
Strong support for omega-3s
Nevertheless, while the sample seemed to have been taken mostly from the choir, so to speak, the survey did point out some important, and reassuring, results for omega 3 suppliers. Omega-3s were the most commonly recommended supplement category, with 35% of practitioners saying they ‘always’ recommend them, and 53% saying ‘frequently.’ The numbers for the next two most-recommended categories, vitamins and probiotics, were 34% and 53% and 31% and 54%, respectively.
In addition to asking whether they recommend omega-3s, the survey sought to find out why and to try to discern how much practioners knew about the various forms of omega-3s. When asking why clinicians for what indications they recommend omega 3s, the common answers were heart health (82%), cognitive and mood health (80%) and reducing inflammation (81%). This would seem to be in line with the large number of studies on omega 3s for these indications. Trailing reasons were joint health (65%), general well being (61%) and maternal/fetal health (48%).
The survey also asked clinicians how much they knew about the various sources of omega-3s. Wright said Aker was particularly interested in this aspect in order to assess what kind of educational opportunities exist within the practitioner community for its information about krill oil.
As will come as no surprise, fish oil was the clear winner in terms of knowledge in the survey group, with a whopping 97% of respondents saying they were either ‘knowledgable’ (45%) or ‘very knowledgable’ (52%) about this source of omega 3s. Practitioners also reported a high amount of knowledge about flax seed and flax oil. There was was an appreciable amount of knowledge about krill oil, though far less than fish and less than flax, and algal oil trailed all sources, with 28% of practitioners saying they had never head of this source of omega-3s. The requency with which practitioners recommend the various sources to their patients fell in line with their knowledge of them, with 90% of practioners saying they ‘always’ or ‘frequently’ recommend fish oil, and only 25% saying the same about krill.
Drilling down further, the survey asked respondents what specific attributes of the ingredients were important to them. 74% said fatty acid composition was an important factor, and, interstingly, ‘organic,’ ‘non-GMO’ and ‘sustainable’ were also high-scoring attributes. This would seem to offer an educational opportunity, as the non-GMO status of an ingredient sourced from a organism eating wild food in the ocean would seem to be something of a non sequitur. The question seems to be one of almost Talmudic marginality, and may be a situation in which practitioners say they care about an attribute because they get questions about it from their patients. In any case, Aker is responding to this current in the marketplace by working to achieve a certification on its krill oil from the Non GMO Project.
“The whole thing about non GMO is being able to verify the diet of the fish (or the krill). It is a very polarizing issue. We are going after non GMO status for our kill oil because we feel it is something that adds another layer of transparency and traceability,” Wright said.
Reassurance for market
Wright said overall the survey showed that practitioners are less swayed than consumers by what they might hear in the mainstream media and continue to be focused on the strong science backing for the health benefits of omega-3s. The survey showed practiioners tend to get most of their information from peer-reviewed journals and from other practitioners at continuing education conferences. While that provides some reassuring support for the sector, she said the golden days of meteoric growth are most likely over.
“This provides a little bit more reassurance for the sitaution that has occurred over the last year. I don’t think the days of incredible double digit growth will return. I think this category like other categories before it has become relatively mature. I think the category will probably manage nice single digit growth once we get over this hump,” Wright said.