Vitamin Retailer December2013 : Page 28

There is an increased demand for plant-based EFA supplements, as vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike seek sustainable, safe products. Part II of VR’s EFA series. By Carolyn Steber P lant-based EFA (essential fatty acid) supplements are no longer just for vegetari-ans. While this group does make up a large market for nutritional supplements (nearly a third of health food store cus-tomers are vegetarian), consumers who aren’t vegetarian are also seeking out the benefits of fish-free supplements. And since these supplements are going mainstream, the market is grow-ing fast. “Sales and requests for plant-based products in general have been increasing at an amazing rate,” said Angela Hein, executive vice president at Texas-based Genesis Today, Inc. “As sci-ence shows that plant-based EFAs are comparable and might have additional benefits over fish oils, customers are researching and buying plant-based EFAs because of concerns that fish-based products might have contamina-tion issues.” Joanne Boytko, manager at Lois’ Health Cupboard in Burlington, NJ, has seen her customers starting to ask for plant-based EFAs. “I think people are 28 VITAMIN RETAILER getting more health conscious than they used to be,” she said. “They want to get themselves healthier in a natural way [with] anything plant-based and with more nutrients from natural sources.” Safe & Sustainable One key selling point for plant-based EFAs is safety. Unlike many marine-based omega supplements, plant-based options can be produced in an environ-mentally stable way that reduces the risk of heavy metal exposure or other toxic contamination, said Mark Mueller, founder and CTO of Wisconsin-based Botanic Innovations & Immuno-Viva, maker of Immuno Viva Core and Immuno Viva Ease. “Since plants can be grown in a controlled setting, this ensures they are free of contamina-tion—something that is near impossible to guarantee with marine-based oils,” he said. Further, plant-based EFAs are typical-ly from non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) organic sources, such as flax, hemp or chia, or from conventional sources not prone to be genetically engineered or in need of pesticides, like chia, evening primrose, borage or black currant, according to NOW Foods’ Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, nutrition educa-tion manager. Savvy consumers are also seeking products that were produced with little impact on the environment. “Growing consumer awareness of the vulnerable state of the food supply, along with increased education about foods and supplements, is leading to a strong demand for sustainable products,” said Hein. And plant products are a great way to ensure that. “For instance, hemp is a renewable resource and doesn’t threaten species populations and has the added benefits of being a great source of vita-mins and minerals,” she added. “It has no mercury accumulation issues like fish and is a safer vegetarian option for adding omega fatty acids to your diet.” Genesis Today offers several promi-nent products, such as GenEssentials Superfriut Oil 3-6-7-9 Blend, a combina-tion of plant-based oils from organic sacha inchi, sea buckthorn berries, açai WWW.VITAMINRETAILER.COM ■ DECEMBER 2013

Growing Benefits

Carolyn Steber

There is an increased demand for plant-based EFA supplements, as vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike seek sustainable, safe products. Part II of VR’s EFA series.<br /> <br /> Plant-based EFA (essential fatty acid) supplements are no longer just for vegetarians. While this group does make up a large market for nutritional supplements (nearly a third of health food store customers are vegetarian), consumers who aren’t vegetarian are also seeking out the benefits of fish-free supplements.<br /> <br /> And since these supplements are going mainstream, the market is growing fast. “Sales and requests for plantbased products in general have been increasing at an amazing rate,” said Angela Hein, executive vice president at Texas-based Genesis Today, Inc. “As science shows that plant-based EFAs are comparable and might have additional benefits over fish oils, customers are researching and buying plant-based EFAs because of concerns that fishbased products might have contamination issues.” <br /> <br /> Joanne Boytko, manager at Lois’ Health Cupboard in Burlington, NJ, has seen her customers starting to ask for plant-based EFAs. “I think people are getting more health conscious than they used to be,” she said. “They want to get themselves healthier in a natural way [with] anything plant-based and with more nutrients from natural sources.” <br /> <br /> Safe & Sustainable <br /> <br /> One key selling point for plant-based EFAs is safety. Unlike many marinebased omega supplements, plant-based options can be produced in an environmentally stable way that reduces the risk of heavy metal exposure or other toxic contamination, said Mark Mueller, founder and CTO of Wisconsin-based Botanic Innovations & Immuno-Viva, maker of Immuno Viva Core and Immuno Viva Ease. “Since plants can be grown in a controlled setting, this ensures they are free of contamination— something that is near impossible to guarantee with marine-based oils,” he said.<br /> <br /> Further, plant-based EFAs are typically from non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) organic sources, such as flax, hemp or chia, or from conventional sources not prone to be genetically engineered or in need of pesticides, like chia, evening primrose, borage or black currant, according to NOW Foods’ Neil E. Levin, CCN, DANLA, nutrition education manager.<br /> <br /> Savvy consumers are also seeking products that were produced with little impact on the environment. “Growing consumer awareness of the vulnerable state of the food supply, along with increased education about foods and supplements, is leading to a strong demand for sustainable products,” said Hein.<br /> <br /> And plant products are a great way to ensure that. “For instance, hemp is a renewable resource and doesn’t threaten species populations and has the added benefits of being a great source of vitamins and minerals,” she added. “It has no mercury accumulation issues like fish and is a safer vegetarian option for adding omega fatty acids to your diet.” <br /> <br /> Genesis Today offers several prominent products, such as GenEssentials Superfriut Oil 3-6-7-9 Blend, a combination of plant-based oils from organic sacha inchi, sea buckthorn berries, açai Berries, goji berries, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and coconuts. “It introduces a supplement that contains sources of four essential fatty acids in its oil by implementing omegas 3-6-9 and the uncommon omega-7 fatty acids derived from sea buckthorn oil,” said Hein.<br /> <br /> The company also offers Genesis Today’s Sea Buckthorn 100, as well as GenEssentials Organic Total Nutrition. “We… believe in conducting business in an environmentally friendly way, and in being a sustainable company to be able to offer our customers a renewably sourced product that is free of harsh chemicals and potential contaminants,” she added.<br /> <br /> Texas-based Essential Formulas is another company focusing on environmental impact. Its CHIA OMEGA line is sourced from Australia, where it is grown in harmony with the surrounding environment. “The growers have actually noticed improvements in the surrounding growing area, including better air, soil and water quality,” said Alexandra Charles, director of education at Essential Formulas, pointing out that EFAs from plants have the ability to be certified organic (whereas anything ocean-derived cannot) thus adding another selling point for health-conscious individuals.<br /> <br /> The consumer seeking all of the above may also steer away from fish oils due to over fishing or toxic water concerns. “With world-wide fish supply a long-term concern, plant-based sources such as flaxseed and chia seed are giving consumers new EPA/DHA alternatives,” said Andreas Koch, marketing director at Washington-based Barlean’s.<br /> <br /> “The waters are being contaminated by unnecessary waste and spilling,” said Lois’ Health Cupboard’s Boytko. “A lot of companies are dumping their waste, so a lot of [supplement] companies are going natural and organic. They are using more fertilizers from animals and getting better nutrients into their soils. A lot of people are looking for that. They don’t want something coming from a source that’s contaminated.”<br /> <br /> Lisa Rode, a clerk at Queen’s Nutritional Products in Allentown, PA, agreed, saying that sustainably produced products are something her store takes into consideration when stocking the shelves. The store has success selling Barlean’s Flax Oil, and they are grateful that it is fish-free and sustainable. “We feel better about carrying the product,” she said.<br /> <br /> Abundant Sources <br /> <br /> The list of plants that contain omega EFAs seems to be a mile long and includes algae, flax, chia, borage, evening primrose, black currants, wheat germ and pumpkin seed, to name a few.<br /> <br /> Botanic Innovations utilizes a few of these sources for its Immuno-Viva Core and Immuno-Viva Ease, which contain omega-3 and omega-6 sourced from a blend of botanical lipids extracted from raspberry seed, flax and black cumin. The oils are extracted in a cold process at temperatures less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit, said Mueller, adding that cold extracting the oils leaves them more bio accessible and bioavailable.<br /> <br /> For customers who prefer to get their EFAs from food, there are a wide array of choices. Aside from the its Black Currant, Borage and Coconut oils, NOW Foods offers food products containing EFAs including Chia Seeds, Organic Flax Seeds, Hemp Seed Hearts and organic raw walnuts halves and pieces, which are known to be high in omegas.<br /> <br /> The Benefits<br /> <br /> Plant-based EFAs offer health benefits beyond what can be gained from fish oils, and they have the potential to demonstrate a great range of functionality over a broader range of indications, said Mueller.<br /> <br /> Sometimes referred to as “vitamin F,” EFAs are essential to health because they are only available through diet. “They cannot be biosynthesized in the body,” said Mueller. “They are essential for growth and repair of all cell membranes and tissue throughout the body, and are involved in a broad range of physiological and human health functions.” <br /> <br /> EFAs play a major role in heart health and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Research also supports a contribution to a healthy inflammation response, according to Mueller. “There is ample research showing EFAs are involved in inflammation pathways and contribute to normal healthy inflammatory response,” he said.<br /> <br /> Skin also benefits from a diet rich in EFAs, as they play a critical role in the normal functions of the skin. “The lipids in cell membranes are key to proper barrier function and to maintaining hydration internal to cells,” Mueller said. “A diet deficient in EFAs can result in dry, scaly skin.”<br /> <br /> EFAs also contribute to mental health, as the brain and nerve neurons are composed primarily of fatty acids. “Normal brain functions are highly dependent on EFAs. There is strong evidence that a lack of EFAs in the diet contributes to a number of mental illnesses including depression, dementia and others,” Mueller said.<br /> <br /> But unique to plant-based EFAs are a wide range of other benefits not found in fish oils. For example, Essential Formula’s CHIA OMEGA line provides plant-based ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), along with antioxidants, minerals and protein. “Chia is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids, which proves another benefit for vegan and vegetarian consumers,” said Charles. “The additional benefits make the products extremely valuable and convenient.” <br /> <br /> Essential Formulas sources its EFAs from plants due to the lack of saturated fat, and the fact that they are digested and assimilated more easily in the body than animal-based oils, Charles explained.<br /> <br /> According to Dr. Herb Joiner-Bey, scientific advisor at Barlean’s, plantsourced ALA can offer some health benefits that EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from animal sources cannot. “For example, analysis of omega-3s found that ALA could significantly reduce risk for prostate cancer, while EPA and DHA seem not to offer this kind of protection,” he said.<br /> <br /> Another benefit is how the body utilizes plant EFAs. “The body will convert plant EFAs into the longer and more unsaturated EFAs at the tissue level on an ‘as needed’ basis,” said Joiner-Bey. “[This allows] the body to make the decision as to how much of these longer and more unsaturated EFAs is needed to be available to cells, which allows the body to manage its health based on its own innate wisdom.” <br /> <br /> Barlean’s offers 100% Organic Flax Oil, as well as many other plant-based products, including Omega Swirl and Organic Evening Primrose Oil. “The most abundant commercial sources of ALA are flaxseed oil and chia seed,” said Joiner-Bey.<br /> <br /> Barlean’s sources flax for its Flax Oil from North America and its Chia seeds from North, South and Central America. “Barlean’s is the No. 1 maker of flaxseed and treats its farmers fairly,” said Koch. “The flaxseed is only sourced in North America. Inferior seeds from China are never an option.” <br /> <br /> Finally, retailers may find a bonus in the long shelf life of plant-based EFA supplements. Plant oils are inherently more oxidatively stable than fish or marine-based oils because they contain plant-based antioxidants such as vitamin E tocopherols, tocotrienols and carotenoids. “The preserving antioxidants are critically important because the EFAs are polyunsaturated and have inherent poor oxidative stability,” said Mueller. “They have poor stability not only in the product on the shelf, but also in the body. Antioxidants preserve shelf life of an EFA product as well as preserve the EFAs in the body. Fish oil EFAs typically lack these self-preserving antioxidants.” <br /> <br /> Processing <br /> <br /> Plant-based EFA products require minimal processing to manufacture, which is not the case for fish oils, according to Barlean’s Joiner-Bey. “Marine EFA products are highly processed to extract oil from fish tissues and to purify and deodorize extracted oil,” he said.<br /> <br /> But that doesn’t mean that extracting the oil is easy. According to Barlean’s Koch, extracting oil from flaxseeds to make the company’s Flax Oil is a difficult process. “It’s even more difficult to ensure the highest quality, nutritional value and taste,” he said. “The delicate process requires unique manufacturing.” <br /> <br /> It takes three pounds of seed to create 16-oz. Of pressed flax oil. And, throughout the process, the flaxseed is not exposed to light or oxygen, so as to maintain its purity and prevent rancidity. This is also why Barlean’s uses black opaque plastic bottles, said Koch. “The key to high-quality flax oil is freshness,” he said. “Barlean’s has made this one of its mandatory criteria, which is why it is made to order, direct speed delivered to retail stores and each bottle is six-month date stamped for freshness.”<br /> <br /> Different Types of Omegas<br /> <br /> While most consumers are familiar with the health benefits of EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3 fatty acids that are commonly found in fish oils, there are other omegas found in plants that are also beneficial to health.<br /> <br /> NOW Foods offers a wide variety of oils from plant sources that include these other types of omegas. The company’s Black Currant Oil 500 mg soft gels contain 70 mg of GLA (gamma-linolenic acid), an omega-6 fatty acid that cannot be produced by the body. NOW also offers Borage Oil 1,050 mg soft gels, providing 240 mg GLA; and Super Primrose 1,300 mg soft gels, containing 120 mg of GLA. Another omega-6 is CLA (conjugated linolenic acid), which may aid in weight management.<br /> <br /> “[GLA and CLA] do not share the pro-inflammatory aspects of most other omega-6 sources (common vegetables oils), and have a good reputation and a scientific basis for supporting certain aspects of health such as women’s cycles (GLA) and weight management (CLA),” said NOW’s Neil Levin.<br /> <br /> According to Essential Formula’s Alexandra Charles, consumers are also catching on to the value of plantbased omega-3 ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), which contains health benefits that cannot be found in traditional fish oil supplements. ALA, a “parent essential fatty acid,” is a true essential fatty acid, as the body cannot product it on its own, Charles said. “EPA and DHA found in fish oils are undoubtedly important, but are actually called ‘conditional fatty acids’ as the body is able to synthesize them in limited amounts from ALA,” she added.<br /> <br /> ALA helps stop the pro-inflammatory cascade stemming from a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids, according to Charles. “Plant-based EFAs also contain a plethora of side benefits deriving from compounds found in the oils they are extracted from,” she said.

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