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The Year in Omega-3s

The Year in Omega-3s

The North American nutritional markets for omega-3s seemed to stabilize during the year, which is a welcome development. We already know that in the US consumption of EPA and DHA in the general population is shockingly low, with fewer than 10% of Americans reaching an omega-3 status that is cardioprotective. There is a clear public health case for supplemental EPA and DHA, and in fact we know that supplements account for about one-third of the EPA and DHA consumption in the US, which is still far too low. The stable market in the US may now give the industry a platform to build from going forward. 

There are probably two issues that have dominated the discussion about the future of omega-3s this year: the establishment of a Nutrient Reference Value (NRV) for EPA and DHA by the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the attempt to block the use of concentrated EPA and DHA in supplements by the Amarin Corporation, the company behind the Vascepa pharmaceutical.


The Codex issue has frustrated lipid scientists and the omega-3 industry alike, but is really a symptom of a larger issue. It has been difficult to get recognition by regulatory authorities that EPA and DHA are important nutrients for human health, no matter how many studies are published supporting an effect. Regulators tend to want perfect evidence, and that generally does not exist in nutrition science.

Through the Codex process, industry saw a chance to gain recognition by pursuing an NRV based on a single outcome of reduction in coronary heart disease mortality risk. Assessing a single outcome should theoretically make it easier to define a reference value, because you are ignoring all the other effects that create unwanted noise.