The growing body of evidence supporting the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids has had an inevitable knock-on effect on consumer awareness of the product. According to Frost, over 50 per cent of consumers in the US and UK are now aware of omega-3 fatty acids, with the vast majority of these consumers also aware that fish oil, and therefore fish oil supplements, are good sources.
While a growing number of people might also be able to identify flax oil as a potential source, Frost suggests that most are also completely unaware of the wide variety of other omega-3 sources already available on the nutritional supplement market.
The scientific evidence supporting the claims made on many these products is undoubtedly far smaller than that supporting the mainstream fish oil supplement market, and this is one of the main reasons why consumers are less aware of the alternatives, but Frost suggests that this does not make them any less attractive or efficacious.
Shark liver oil, for example, has been described as "an excellent source of alkylglycerols, squalamine and omega-3 PUFAs providing a multitude of health benefits", and has been used for its associated health benefits by the people on the coasts of Norway and Sweden for hundreds of years. It has a long history of use in Japan where it was referred to as samedawa, or 'cure all', but appears to have mainly used to boost immune defence, to promote wound healing, and as a general remedy for conditions of the respiratory tract and of the digestive system.
The alkylglerols and squalamine present in shark liver oils have been shown to have some cancer fighting properties, according to Frost, but there is still only a limited amount of scientific evidence to support claims made. However, should this supporting scientific evidence be forthcoming, there is significant potential for shark liver oil in the supplements market, the analysts suggest.
"The combination of alkylglycerols, squalamine and omega-3 fatty acids provides shark liver oil with a unique selling point, setting it apart from fish oil supplements. Consequently the future for shark liver oil in the dietary supplement area looks promising."
Another product with a potentially bright future is Lyprinol, described as "a marine lipid group comprising a unique combination of non-polar lipid groups and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids".
According to Frost, the manufacturers of Lyprinol claim that it is a more potent source of omega-3 fatty acids than other sources, and that the daily intakes of supplements required to achieve results are substantially less than other marine oil alternatives. In addition, Lyprinol has none of the side effects typically associated with fish oil supplementation.
Lyprinol is a nutritional oil derived from stabilised green lipped mussel powder via use of the patented supercritical fluid extraction process. The mussels are cultivated and harvested in farms located in the Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. The majority of this product is sold into dietary supplement market, mainly as a treatment for the inflammation of joints.
The main factor holding back the long-term development of Lyprinol is its price. more expensive than most fish oil supplements and may even be pricing itself out of the omega-3 PUFA market, according to Frost.
The higher price is justified by the brand's owners on account of the fact that Lyprinol is a more potent source of omega-3 fatty acids, but without the necessary body of scientific evidence to back this claim - and in particular direct comparisons with the omega-3 content of fish oils - is likely to make consumer acceptance of the product - and of its higher cost - far harder, the analysts suggest.
Another omega-3-rich source from the Antipodes is the emu, whose oil is said to help correct the stores of body fats to a proper balance by providing a good source of essential fatty acids".
Australian Aborigines have been using the oil of the flightless bird for its anti-inflammatory, healing and rejuvenating powers for years, according to Frost. Indeed, emu oil is an excellent source not only of omega-3 but also of omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids, and has been used in a broad range of applications - the main one being as a cream to help alleviate pain or inflammation.
In the supplement market, emu oil is marketed as a source of good fat helping to balance excess quantities of saturated fats in most diets and consequently control cholesterol. However, the omega-3 fatty acid content of emu oil supplements is typically lower than that found fish oils supplements, and this means that it is unlikely to be able to compete with fish oil products, despite a certain novelty value, Frost suggests.
Producers of seal oil, meanwhile, have stressed the fact that it is both "rich in omega-3 PUFAs, but also in docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), unlike most fish oils". They have also highlighted the fact that the body is more efficient at assimilating seal oils over fish oils.
The original findings prompting research into seal oils were based on observations of Greenland Eskimos, whose diet included predominantly seal meat and oil. Researchers discovered that seal oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids including docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Depending on the commercial preparation, seal oil supplements can also contain significant levels of squalene and vitamin E.
Seal oil is one of the few known natural sources of DPA - a product which has been shown to be involved with the healing process associated with cardiovascular diseases, namely atherosclerosis and thrombosis. Some researchers believe that seal oils are considered a superior source of omega-3 fatty acids due to location of EPA, DHA and DPA in the terminal positions of the triglycerides molecules, Frost said. In fish oils, EPA and DHA are preferentially located in the middle of the triglceride molecule.
As for the long-term potential of seal oil, the product is already hugely popular in Asia, but Frost suggests that its European outlook is less promising. Research is still ongoing into the benefits of seal oil supplementation to target specific health conditions, and the despite its composition differences to other omega-3 supplements, it is unlikely that seal oil will be able to compete directly with fish oil supplements currently on the market in Europe until there is greater scientific evidence to support its potential benefits, the analysts suggest.
Finding a niche in the increasingly competitive omega-3 nutritional oils market is vital for the future of the fish oil alternatives, the analysts suggest. Nutritional oils that make claims primarily based on their omega-3 fatty acids content are competing directly with the well-established fish oil supplement market, and are unlikely to survive. Oils that contain other components which are proven to be beneficial to health and are also able to leverage the omega-3 PUFAs content are more likely to succeed.