Green lipped mussel extract is derived exclusively from Perna canaliculus mussels from licensed marine farms in New Zealand. It has gained a reputation amongst consumers as a natural product with anti-inflammatory properties - an effect that has been attributed to a body of science to its lipid factions.
The Greenshell, Green Lips and Greenback mussel trademarks are owned by the New Zealand Mussel Industry Council (NZMIC). However the lack of a legal definition as to what can and cannot be called green-lipped mussel extract (save its Perna canaliculus source) is causing confusion in the market place - particularly if purchasing managers make sourcing decisions based on price rather than close scrutiny of nutritional profile.
The majority of green-lipped mussel extract suppliers offer material that retains, to a greater or lesser degree of standardisation, the mussels' natural nutrient profile.
There are also a small number of products that contain high levels of stabilised lipids, such as Lyprinol marketed by Pharmalink, which is said to be "125 times more potent than the original freeze dried mussel powder". Lyprinol contains lipids extracted from mussels, and the byproduct of this is a 'delipidated' mussel powder.
However from the perspective of industry players Waitaki Biosciences and Aroma New Zealand, the sale of the by-product mussel powder for nutraceutical uses is causing pressure on the price of material that has the lipids left in.
According to Steve Caulton, regional export manager for Waitaki, this mussel powder can sell at half the price of his company's Greenshell Mussel Powder (GSM), which comprises eight to 10 per cent lipids. GSM's price tag depends on the market and availability of cheaper mussel-derived material, regardless of nutritional profile: in Germany the current on-the-spot price per kilo is NZ$44, compared to $140 in Hong Kong.
Pharmalink director John Waitzer confirmed that his company does sell the mussel powder that remains after the removal of the lipid factions, but he said that other nutritional elements - betain, glycosaminoglycans (including chondroitin sulphate and heparin) and 18 amino acids - are carefully retained in the manufacturing process. The mussel powder is sold to companies as a source of these nutrients.
"We never sell mussel powder on the basis of an anti-inflammatory claims," he told NutraIngredients.com.
But Caulter questioned whether supplement companies are looking at the nutritional profile of material, rather than just have some ingredient that can be termed green lipped mussel extract.
He said: "I think more often than not it is the purchasing managers within companies that will purchase on price alone without scrutinizing the quality".
Rebecca Clarkson, executive officer of the NZMIC, agreed.
"Supplement companies should have enough knowledge about it. If they really value their brand they should test the material,"she said.
The matter could also have further implications on consumer trust for the ingredient. Caulter said that it is difficult for consumers to know what exactly is in their green lipped mussel extract supplement unless they ask the manufacturer about the source.
Thus, if they realise no benefit, they may dismiss the whole gamut of green lipped mussel extracts as ineffective.
In a further twist, Waitzer said that unless the mussel material is stabilised before being freeze-dried, and within 12 hours of removal from the sea, the lipid fractions oxidise quite quickly and lose their therapeutic properties. Moreover, the oxidation of the lipids causes the betain, glycosaminoglycans and amino acids to turn rancid, and neutralises their activity.
He said this means that many powders on the market have little or no anti-inflammatory activity.
"It is ludicrous for any company to claim an anti-inflammatory effect from the lipid fractions contained in their mussel powder unless it has been stabilised," he said.
Clarkson said that the NZMIC is aware of the broad range of processes and different efficacies, but that the onus is on the industry to pull together and set standards.
While an earlier effort to devise a code of practice and quality standards for green lipped mussel extract bore no fruit, the council is considering trying again.