Dispatches from HiE 2016 in Frankfurt

Is the term omega-3 specific enough?

By Annie Harrison-Dunn contact

- Last updated on GMT

'How many people know that omega-3 is just chemical nomenclature?' asks Aker Biomarine chief scientist. ©iStock/DavidCarillet
'How many people know that omega-3 is just chemical nomenclature?' asks Aker Biomarine chief scientist. ©iStock/DavidCarillet

Related tags: Fatty acids, Fatty acid, Omega-3 fatty acid

The term omega-3 doesn’t really mean anything, says chief scientist for supplier Aker Biomarine. 

Talking with us at the industry event Health ingredient Europe (HiE) Dr Nils Hoem said the term was “like talking about language as having an alphabet of one letter”.

“How many people know that omega-3 is just chemical nomenclature? It just means that a double bond sits in the third position from the omega end, the other end of the molecule. The last letter in the Greek alphabet in itself has no meaning. There is nothing magic about that.”

Instead the ‘magic’ is in a particular group of fatty acids, which just so happen to be omega-3s.

Complex communication  

Indeed the Oslo-based supplier of krill-based omega-3s is guilty of the over-simplification itself, with its HiE stand featuring the term ‘omega-3’.

DHA omega 3 oil fish marine iStock.com topthailand

It’s no surprise, Hoem said, but the industry had got to the stage where it could do better.

“When the world gets too complicated in science, you make a compartment, you lump together and you try to organise your view. And there’s nothing wrong in it but it has its limitations.

“But eventually when you have enough insight you will start to chop up your compartment and in the end you will end up with individual parts, and that’s always very disruptive because people love their omega-3 concepts.”  

Supplement labels should also have more detail, he said.

“If the pill says ‘this contains omega-3 fatty acids’, that’s not enough information. You need to know that it is a long chain omega-3, specifically EPA, DPA and DHA. And those are the three fatty acids that have been extensively researched and have a convincing body of evidence for their positive effects.”

An ocean of unknowns

Dr Clemens von Schacky, head of preventive cardiology at the University of Munich and attending the show with Aker Biomarine, echoed this and added that there was still much research to be done on other fatty acids.

“We are measuring 26, but there are far more, there are hundreds.”

Hoem said his test of Aker Biomarine’s krill pills revealed over 250 different fatty acids at varying levels.

Ratios of DHA and EPA was a whole other complicated kettle of fish, he said.

“We have research done and research to do. But I am pretty sure that out of all of this we will see that the world is actually much more complicated than we thought, which is beautiful to a scientist.”

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