Omega-3 derived from seeds could replace fish sources to boost supplies.
The novel oil, "Camelina," is part of an ongoing research program to examine the sources and sustainability of omega-3 fatty acids and their impact on health and risk of chronic disease.
Camelina oil was developed by the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), as part of a drive toward sustainability.
The long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, is beneficial for cardiovascular and cognitive health and for fetal development in pregnancy.
Recommendations from the American Heart Association (AHA) suggest a minimum dietary intake of 500 mg of preformed EPA plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) a day. This is equivalent to 1-2 portions of oily fish a week. To protect against cardiovascular diseases (CVD), a dose of 1 g is required, or 2.4 g as a therapy for lowering triglycerides (TG).
However, to provide enough for everyone, 1.3 million metric tons of EPA would have to be produced each year.
New supplies needed to ensure cardiovascular health
Supplies of fish are finite, even of currently plentiful species like the Arctic Krill, which is a popular source of omega-3 for supplements. Lead researcher Prof. Anne-Marie Minihane - from the Medical School of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, UK - says that "there is a large deficit between supply and demand."
Fish currently supplies only 40% of the EPA and DHA that is needed to allow all individuals globally to meet this minimum intake. Therefore, alternative, sustainable sources are needed.
Alternative sources of omega-3 already include nuts and seeds - such as walnuts and pumpkin seeds - vegetable oils - for instance rapeseed and linseed - or soya and soya products, including beans, milk and tofu. Green leafy vegetables also contain omega-3.
Researchers from UEA studied mice that had followed a diet of feed enriched with oil from genetically engineered Camelina sativa, commonly known as false flax. The crops were grown in glasshouses.
They wanted to know whether mammals can absorb and accumulate EPA from this source, and whether oil from genetically modified plants could be used as a substitute for fish oil.
The mice were given a control diet, similar to a Westernized human diet, and supplements of EPA from genetically engineered Camelina sativa or fish oil, for 10 weeks.
Benefits of EPA from Camelina successfully absorbed
Scientists then examined levels of EPA in various organs of the body by carrying out tests on tissue concentrations of fatty acids in liver, muscle and brain tissue. They also studied the effect of Camelina on the expression of genes involved in regulating EPA status and its physiological benefits.
The benefits were similar to those derived from fish oils, indicating that mammals can efficiently accumulate the key health-beneficial omega-3 fatty acid EPA.
Prof. Minihane believes that the genetically engineered oil is a bioavailable source of EPA, with comparable benefits for the liver to eating oily fish.
She told Medical News Today:
"We need alternative non-marine sources. In the future, this new Camelina oil is likely to represent a viable terrestrial source of these beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, which would ease the current demands on global fish production."
Medical News Today recently reported that omega-3 can help prevent rheumatoid arthritis.