Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that plays an important role in a person’s diet. It provides numerous health benefits, including reducing inflammation, improving cognitive functions, and supporting the cardiovascular system. A deficiency in omega-3 increases the risk of infections and the development of mental health issues. The primary sources are fish and other marine creatures, but as the demand for supplements increases, it strains water bodies. The same applies to pollution of water bodies with industrial wastewater. Overfishing and population decline have become serious problems that can lead to a reduction in fish availability, and consequently, Omega-3 manufacturing.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve the current state of global production without relying solely on wild seafood. Sustainable aquaculture methods have been developed, allowing certain species to be cultivated without additional harm to the environment. Additionally, plant-based sources such as flaxseeds or chia seeds are becoming increasingly popular for obtaining essential omega-3 fatty acids.
What is omega-3?
Omega-3 is a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential for the normal functioning of the body. They got their name because the first double bond in their chemical structure is located at the third position from the end of the molecule. There are several types of omega-3 fatty acids, but three of them are the most well-known and studied:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a plant-based form of omega-3. It is an essential fatty acid, which means that the body is unable to synthesize it and must obtain it through food. ALA is found in flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. After consuming such foods, the acid can be converted into the other two forms of omega-3: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA reduces the level of inflammatory markers in the body, such as cytokines and inflammatory mediators, and plays an important role in maintaining brain and nervous system function.
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is commonly found in fish, especially in fatty varieties such as salmon, sardines, cod, and mackerel. It can also be obtained from certain marine algae. EPA is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and positive impact on heart health. It helps improve mood, reduces triglyceride levels in the blood, and increases the level of “good” cholesterol. Regular consumption of eicosapentaenoic acid can lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular issues.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is widely present in fish oil, particularly in salmon, Atlantic herring, zooplankton, shrimp, marine mollusks, and microalgae. DHA is a key component of brain structure and the retinal tissue of the eye. It helps maintain a healthy retinal structure and provides protective effects against various eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration. This form of omega-3 plays a crucial role in the development of the nervous system, especially during pregnancy and early childhood development.
Omega-3 manufacturing methods (pros and cons of each)
Omega-3 fatty acid manufacturing occurs through traditional and modern methods:
Extraction from fish oil is a traditional and most common method of obtaining EPA and DHA. Fish oil is extracted from fish meat, usually from adipose tissues, and then undergoes processes of purification and concentration.
Pros: Natural source of fish oil, easily absorbed by the body, contains other beneficial substances such as vitamin D.
Cons: Potential side effects such as heartburn, stomach heaviness, and ethical concerns regarding industrial fishing.
Fermentation is a modern method of omega-3 production that involves the use of special microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria. These microorganisms can be genetically modified to increase the production of specific fatty acids.
Pros: Plant-based source of omega-3, high concentration, more predictable production method.
Cons: Limited product selection and possible allergic reactions.
Genetic modification has become another effective method of omega-3 production. It involves altering the genetic material of an organism. The aim of genetic modification is to increase the content or improve the quality of omega-3 fatty acids by introducing genes responsible for their synthesis into the genomes of plants or other organisms.
Pros: Increased availability of omega-3, especially for those who do not consume fish, improved nutritional value.
Cons: Ethical concerns, constant safety testing of the method.
Aquaculture can be considered both a traditional and modern method. It involves the use of specially developed microalgae or aquatic plants rich in ALA. These plants are grown in controlled conditions in aquatic cultures and then harvested and processed to obtain omega-3.
Pros: Control over the aquatic environment, method stability, and safety.
Cons: High infrastructure costs, high energy consumption, and requirement of access to clean water resources.
The use of plant sources, for example, flaxseeds and chia, is another method. They contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be obtained through cold pressing or extraction from the seeds. However, it should be noted that ALA obtained from plant sources is not always efficiently converted into EPA and DHA in the body.
Pros: Vegetarian and vegan options, resource sustainability, easy access and distribution.
Cons: Inefficient conversion process into EPA and DHA, impact on dietary balance.
Problems in omega-3 manufacturing
Omega-3 is an important dietary supplement. Therefore, its quality must meet specific standards. Before releasing the final product to the market, private-label omega-3 manufacturing conducts tests and research. After all, the quality and output of omega-3 can be influenced by the following factors:
- The source material is of crucial importance for obtaining a high-quality product. Fish, seaweed, or plant sources should be fresh, healthy, and free from contaminants and toxins.
- Processing methods such as extraction, purification, and concentration should maintain the stability and integrity of omega-3, minimize the loss of active forms (EPA and DHA), and ensure the high purity of the product.
- Storage conditions are crucial for preserving the quality of omega-3. High temperatures, and exposure to light, or air are all improper storage conditions that can lead to oxidation and degradation of fatty acids. To maintain the product throughout its shelf life, it is necessary to provide proper conditions.
- Technological innovations, for example, the use of new extraction methods, more efficient purification methods, or new concentration technologies, can help improve production processes and the quality of the final product.
Quality control in omega-3 manufacturing
During the production of omega-3, it is crucial to control the purity, activity, and stability of the product using special methods. And in order to ensure the reliability of the results, these methods must be conducted in accordance with established standards and regulatory requirements. The main testing methods used for the quality control of omega-3 are:
- Contamination Test. This includes an analysis of the presence of heavy metals (such as mercury, lead, and cadmium), pesticides, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other pollutants. These substances can be found in fish, and bodies of water, or introduced during production.
- The analysis for the presence of active forms involves measuring the content of EPA and DHA, which are key components of omega-3. This analysis allows for determining the concentration of active forms, ensuring that consumers of omega-3 receive the necessary nutrients.
- Oxidative state testing. Omega-3 fatty acids can undergo oxidative processes, which reduce the activity of components and deteriorate the quality of the product. This testing includes measuring the level of peroxide compounds and determining indicators of oxidative stability, including peroxide value and anisidine value.
- Environmental stability assessment means evaluating the product’s resistance to the effects of light, heat, and oxygen, which can degrade omega-3. The result of the testing is determining the stability of the product and selecting optimal conditions for its storage.
Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous benefits for the human body. Therefore, their production requires quality control at every stage, starting from the selection of the raw material, and production methods, and ending with mandatory quality control. After all, overfishing is a global problem that all omega-3 producers must take seriously.