Under The Sea

The ocean is the origin of life. Its depths contain a treasure trove of nutrients from which a nutraceutical category has emerged. Though still in its infancy, the marine products category is expanding and gaining recognition as companies return to the ocean to tap into its seemingly limitless potential to greatly improve human health.

According to Barry Fitzsimons, business development manager, Marigot Ireland, Cork, Ireland, the sea is an under used resource, which, in the future, will play a more important role in nutrition. “The reason for this is simply that the land is being over farmed, which has resulted in the depletion of its natural minerals. The sea, on the other hand, still has an abundant supply of many of those minerals,” he said. “The emergence of nutritional ingredients from marine sources is a fairly new development but the category is starting to gather momentum.”

The sea offers a wealth of benefits to both nutraceutical companies and consumers and so far, most experts agree that the industry and consumers have only seen the tip of the iceberg. Speaking to this was Ben Winters, marketing manager, Aroma New Zealand Limited, Christchurch, New Zealand, who said, “As the research and marketing of marine products intensifies, consumer awareness and education levels will increase dramatically, thereby increasing demand for these products.”

Seniors, Sustainability & Safety
The marine products market is being driven forward today by several factors, including the graying of the population. Whether it’s glucosamine for joints, omega 3s for heart health or astaxanthin for antioxidant protection, marine products have a lot to offer the aging baby boomer segment, providing that products work—quickly. “The market is going to be kind to those products that work,” said Larry Line, vice president, international, U.S. Nutraceuticals, Eustis, FL. “The catch is, as a result of tight economic conditions right now, if people don’t see benefits fairly rapidly they’re going to discontinue use unless there is overwhelming scientific evidence for long term effects.”

Another trend includes producing high quality nutraceutical ingredients from renewable and manageable resources, suggested Don Cox, business development manager, SiberHegner North America, Baltimore, MD. “By using substantially all of what we harvest from marine environments or by purposefully farming in marine environments, we work to produce renewable ingredients with health benefits,” he said. “For example, chitin, which is used to produce chitosan, is from the outer shell of shrimp and other marine fauna. For countless generations the shell has been discarded, however, now that same shell is collected to produce chitosan and glucosamine in a renewable and well-managed way.”

The industry can achieve healthier growth by promoting products that perform as claimed and taking an interest in sustainability. “The marine products category will continue to grow as we learn to more fully utilize the healthful components nature has provided,” Mr. Cox offered. “I see the market gravitating toward greater use of technically researched products that highlight the industry’s commitment to verifiable health benefits and sustainable lifestyles of those that choose to use these products.”

Safety should also be a top priority for companies because although many marine ingredients have been part of the human diet in some form for many years, it is only recently that consumers have the ability to take in much higher doses of these ingredients. “In the industry we typically will run basic studies on the toxicology of ingredients as well as analytical tests on incoming raw materials and finished products to ensure compliance with product specifications,” said Mr. Cox. “However, due to the backlash of anti-publicity over the last few years, all industry members should put forth their best efforts to outline safety issues for the consumer.”

Other major measures concerns include ensuring that time and temperature parameters and good manufacturing procedures are carried out, said Aroma New Zealand’s Mr. Winters. “Every step in the production process should be monitored, while critical control points are recorded and verified, ensuring any risk of contamination is eliminated. Without critical limits being established, then food safety objectives will be unattainable, creating hazards to human health,” he said.

Mr. Cox also stressed the need for product guidelines in order to protect the consumer. “The industry needs product guidelines in order to make consumers aware of product consumption impact with other dietary needs,” he said. “For example, high consumption of chitosan—as a fat binder—may have an impact on fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Manufacturers of chitosan products should declare this fact to consumers. In addition, people with seafood or shellfish allergies should be careful to avoid certain marine products.”

In a different way, the issue of safety has also caused a shift from using traditional bovine derived material to using marine source materials as a result of diseases such as “Foot and Mouth.” According to Mr. Winters, “Marine products are less susceptible to disease, therefore influencing consumer demand,” he explained, adding, “In addition, marine nutraceuticals are beneficial to human well being as they have little or no side effects as compared to pharmaceutical drugs.”

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Although more science exists on omega 3 fatty acids than most other marine nutrients, there are still some unanswered questions. The mechanisms of action are poorly understood and an optimum range of intake is still undetermined. Despite these issues, the market continues to exhibit explosive growth.

Speaking about the dynamics of this market was Karen Todd, senior marketing manager, Roche Vitamins, Parsippany, NJ. “More consumers are taking omega 3 supplements than ever before and at the same time they are seeking alternative delivery systems, such as beverages, bars, soups and breads,” she said. “Every year we obtain a custom study on the omega 3 market and we have found that awareness of the term fish oil and omega 3 is 73% and 58%, respectively, with heart health being the main benefit identified by consumers.”

In terms of market growth, the category of marine omega 3 oils has been growing rapidly in the U.S. for the last six months as a result of solid science supporting health claims in addition to recommendations from organizations like the American Heart Association (AHA), said Baldur Hjaltason, area sales director U.S., Pronova Biocare, Lysaker, Norway.

The primary indications for omega 3s are cardiovascular disease, infant development and maternal, mental and joint health. Mr. Hjaltason discussed some of these health benefits. “The brain consists of 60% fat,” he explained. “Omega 3 EPA and DHA are essential for brain development and function. Pre- and post-natal brain and eye development require adequate amounts of DHA.” Moving on, he explained that seniors with reduced memory function or Alzheimer’s dementia have reduced levels of brain DHA, therefore the need for supplementation. In the area of joint health, he said, “Omega 3 EPA and DHA can reduce pain and morning stiffness in patients with rheumatic arthritis. As for heart health, omega 3 EPA and DHA can be essential in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, such as atherosclerosis, which leads to myocardial infarction and stroke.” Lastly, Mr. Hjaltason said, omega 3s can also reduce elevated blood pressure and normalize blood lipids as well as reduce the risk of blood clotting.

According to Ms. Todd, concentrated polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are receiving a lot of attention lately. She said, “PUFAs offer more EPA and DHA per serving than standard products, which allows a manufacturer to either make smaller capsules or give double the amount of long chain PUFAs in the same size capsule.” She added that maternal health is a major trend in the long chain omega 3 area. “We know that DHA is important during pregnancy to ensure adequate supply to the fetus, but DHA is also needed to maintain adequate DHA stores of the mother,” she said. “DHA may even play a role in postpartum depression.”

Technological advancements have also played a role in outstanding market performance, according to Mary Anne Siciliano, national sales manager, Arista Industries, Wilton, CT. She said, “The technology has really developed over the years in terms of the different varieties of omega 3 forms that are available.”

Technology has become especially crucial in terms of functional food development, particularly in the case of taste, odor and stability. Ms. Todd offered, “Taste and odor are the main concerns when incorporating PUFAs into foods. Additionally, they must be protected by antioxidants or microencapsulated to prevent degradation.”

Sharing a similar perspective was Dr. Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president of research and development, Fortitech, Schenectady, NY. “Omega 3s are highly unsaturated fatty acids so they will oxidize very easily,” he said. “Antioxidants, such as mixed tocopherols, must be added in order to prevent oxidation and rid the system of metals, including copper and iron. If oxidation occurs rancidity will result.”

With regard to quality, safety and efficacy concerns in marine oils, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), Washington, D.C., created the Omega 3 Working Group to address these issues. Ms. Todd said this group includes companies interested in establishing a voluntary monograph in order to provide a uniform standard of analysis, quality and purity for long chain omega 3 EPA and DHA and to enhance industry and consumer confidence. Items such as the amount of EPA and DHA will be specified in mg/gm and specification of peroxide and anisidine values will be disclosed, as well as contaminates like PCB’s, dioxins and heavy metals. (See side bar on page 44 for more information on this group).

The most common carotenoid found in the terrestrial biosystem is beta carotene, while the most common one found in the marine biosystem is astaxanthin, according to U.S. Nutra’s Mr. Line. It’s been used synthetically for many years in animal feed, however, it only surfaced over the last couple of years for human use and has created quite a buzz for its high level of antioxidant protection.

“The astaxanthin that’s sold for human consumption is primarily a natural carbon dioxide extract that comes from the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis,” explained Mr. Line. “It’s in the same class as lutein and zeaxanthin except that it’s much more active.” Mr. Line said lutein and astaxanthin are very close in chemical structure, the only differences being that astaxanthin is a little longer and has more oxygen. Furthermore, he said, “Astaxanthin is probably the most powerful antioxidant that we can measure in an oil-soluble system.” As for dosage levels, Mr. Line indicated, “We’re recommending somewhere in the area of two to five milligrams per day. This range was originally based on safety data because that’s what you would normally get in a serving of salmon.” Currently, Mr. Line said, it is being touted for its role in immune function and is being sold topically as well.

Chemically astaxanthin is classified as a xanthophyll, which is a specific family of carotenoids identified by their benzoid rings, according to Dick Beital, vice president of sales, Pharmachem Laboratories, Kearny, NJ. “Astaxanthin provides the rich pink color found in krill, lobster, salmon, certain species of trout, red yeast and in microalgae,” he asid. “It has a low molecular weight and because of its lipid solubility, astaxanthin has been proven to cross the blood brain barrier. In other words, astxanthin is not only available to the brain but also the central nervous system and the eye.” He continued, “Although astaxanthin is not yet in the scientific category of some of the other carotenoids, it has become very interesting material for clinical studies being conducted at many universities globally.”

Chitin comes from the exoskeleton of marine shellfish, such as shrimp and crab. It has been used for several decades in water purification processes and chitosan, which is derived from chitin, has been used in Europe and Japan for approximately 20 years. “In the U.S. chitosan has been used for about a decade as a fat-binder in dieting products,” said SiberHegner’s Mr. Cox. “And although humans have been inadvertently consuming chitin and chitosan products for millennia, purposeful consumption is a relatively recent occurrence.”

Chitosan is a large polysaccharide that will not dissolve in water, so it must be suspended or encapsulated, according to Mr. Cox. “It binds to fats in the digestive tract and rafts the unwanted fat through the digestive tract and out of the body,” he said. “There are other claimed benefits including reduction of blood pressure and its recognition as a source of fiber.”

Green Shell Mussels
Green shell mussels (GSM), also known as green lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus), have been used as a staple food in New Zealand for many centuries by the Maori and then by European Settlers, according Aroma New Zealand’s Mr. Winters. In the 1960s, cultivation of green lipped mussels began ensuring a continued supply to an increasing international demand for this New Zealand delicacy in restaurants worldwide. Eventually, he said, “GSM’s nutritional value was captured in a freeze-dried powder form and today is widely used by humans suffering from joint and connective tissue disorders.”

Going into further detail, Mr. Winters offered, “University studies have concluded that green shell mussel powder (GSMP) is very beneficial to humans for the relief of arthritic conditions because it contains natural anti-inflammatory properties, thereby increasing joint mobility.” He added, “GSMP is also capable of halting the progression of joint and connective tissue problems, as well as promoting the regeneration and healing of arthritic and injured joints.”

Discussing GSM in terms of harvesting and processing procedures was Pharmachem’s Mr. Beital. “As the world leader for quality GSM products, New Zealand has many major mussel farms with water quality free of contaminates,” he said. “Juvenile, or spat mussels, are harvested and transported to the various farms and grown on ropes in rich pollutant free waters. It takes approximately 18 months for the growing period of the spat to produce the quality meat needed for harvesting. The mussels are then packaged at a processor and held in frozen storage. From there they are freeze-dried, milled and packaged.”

Mr. Beital said growth of GSM is still in the early stages, however, it will go into more formulas in the future as additional science becomes more available.

Kelp is a marine plant that offers human health a wealth of nutrients, including minerals, vitamins, lipids and fiber. Elaborating on its nutritional value and function was Pharmachem’s Mr. Beital, who said, “Kelp is an iodine supplement with a daily reference value of 150 mcg. It increases metabolic rate, generates thyroid activity, absorbs toxins from the bowel and can increase blood circulation. It has also been found to be a good ingredient for weight loss formulations.”

Another seaweed product that has garnered interest is Aquamin, which represents a range of mineral ingredients derived from a seaweed source found off the Southwest Coast of Ireland. The seaweed, Lithothamnion calcareum, is rich in calcium (32%) and magnesium (3%) and also contains boron, zinc, copper, molybdenum, selenium and iron, all of which aid bone health and general well being.

Telling the story of Aquamin was Marigot Ireland’s Mr. Fitzsimons. “For many years fisherman in Berehaven have found calcified seaweed in their nets,” he said, adding, “Traditionally, the calcified seaweed was considered a byproduct and spread on land for dairy cows. However, farmers began to notice that the cows seemed to have a preference for land spread with calcified seaweed as opposed to the lime spread.”

Making the connection to humans, Mr. Fitzsimons explained, “After producing a specific product for human consumption under the trade name Aquamin, research and anecdotal evidence have shown that the beliefs in this seaweed’s potential were well founded.”

At the present time Aquamin is GRAS approved as well as approved for use in Europe and Asia in a wide range of applications, such as cereals, confectionary and dairy products. The major challenge, according to Mr. Fitzsimons, is that consumers, particularly in the U.S., have a perception that seaweed tastes bad. “I think that perception is slowly being overcome and the way forward for marine nutraceuticals in general is in fortified foods,” he commented. “Gradually we will overcome the ‘seaweed tastes bad’ mentality and move toward the ‘seaweed is good for me’ mentality.”

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