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A new perspective on omega-3s: Supporting optimal immunity

We reveal the role of EPA and DHA in immunity and why rethinking the benefits of omega-3s is vital to attracting a new generation of consumer.

The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are well-known for their proven heart, brain and eye health benefits. But a growing bank of evidence suggests that their role in human health goes far beyond this and they are showing strong potential in supporting a number of trending health concerns, including immune health, sports performance, quality of sleep and mood. The global health pandemic has seen immunity rise to the top of consumer health concerns with people increasingly seeking new ingredients and holistic solutions that support their body’s defense system beyond traditional nutrients such as vitamin C. In fact, a recent study by FMCG Gurus research found that 79% of consumers globally associate omega-3s with supporting immunity (vitamin C also received the same rating).[1]

Here, we reveal the role of EPA and DHA in immunity and why rethinking the benefits of omega-3s is vital to attracting a new generation of consumer.

The role of omega-3s in immune health through the lifecycle

A healthy immune system is essential to reducing the risk, severity and length of infections and disease, as well as aiding recovery after a period of illness. There are a range of nutrients that play an important role in the development and maintenance of the immune system. Omega-3s EPA and DHA, for instance, have important immune-regulatory functions, exerting a positive influence over the immune system throughout life.[2] In infancy, DHA and ARA (arachidonic acid – an omega-6 fatty acid) are essential for immune development and function[3], while both EPA and DHA play key roles in immunity thereafter by primarily modulating inflammation.[4] A recent publication investigating the link between nutritional status and a well-functioning immune system made recommendations for EPA and DHA intake, advising 250 mg/day was appropriate for optimal immune health in the general population.[5]

How do EPA and DHA exert their effects?

Evidence indicates that EPA and DHA support the immune response by enhancing the function of immune cells[6], but it is the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 LCPUFAs that contribute most to normal immune function in adults.2 While inflammation is a key component of the immune response, chronic inflammation can have a negative impact on the body and result in tissue damage if prolonged. It is therefore important to resolve inflammation at the end of the immune response in order to minimize damage to tissues and to promote healing. EPA and DHA are part of this process, both helping to resolve inflammation by being converted to specialised anti-inflammatory molecules known as resolvins, protectins and maresins.[7],[8] Together with other molecules, they coordinate the resolution of inflammation and support healing by decreasing production of inflammatory cytokines, chemokines, adhesion molecules, proteases and enzymes, such as cyclooxygenase-2.[9],[10],[11] Because of their important anti-inflammatory properties, low omega-3 levels may have a negative effect on immune function – since inflammation resolution is delayed – and potentially reduce an individual’s resistance to disease and infection. This highlights the significance of optimum EPA and DHA nutritional status.

Innovating in the omega-3 space

As consumers increasingly look for nutritional solutions that are ‘good for me, good for the planet’, there is a need to look for more sustainable alternatives to fish oil that also meet the demand for plant-based options. Omega-3 innovation lies in the power of algae. Combining the health benefits of EPA and DHA in a single source, DSM’s life’s™OMEGA helps to meet the latest consumer health concerns and trends. The first and only commercially available 100% plant-based omega-3 that delivers the health benefits of EPA and DHA in a single source, life’s™OMEGA helps attract a new generation of omega-3 users; promoting a healthier, more sustainable future.

If you would like to learn more about the fast-evolving omega-3 landscape and how you can develop and market future-proof solutions you can schedule a meeting with the DSM team at the Vitafoods Virtual Expo. DSM’s Cosimo Palumbo will also be joining Vitafoods Insights for their fireside chat on Thursday 10th September at the event.

Cosimo Palumbo is Dietary Supplement Segment Lead at DSM Nutritional Products


[1] FMCG Gurus, ‘How has COVID-19 changed consumer behaviour’, July 2020
[2] Gutierrez S et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on immune cells. Int J Mol Sci., vol. 20, no. 20, pg. 5,028, 2019.
[3] Carlson SE et al. Docosahexaenoic acid and arachidonic acid nutrition in early development. Adv Pediatr., vol. 63, no. 1, pg. 453-471, 2016.
[4] Gutierrez S et al. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on immune cells. Intl J Mol Sci., vol. 20, no. 20, pg. 5028, 2019.
[5] Calder et al. Optimal nutritional status for a well-functioning immune system is an important factor to protect against viral infections. Nutrients, vol. 12, no. 4, pg. 1181, 2020.
[6] Maggini S et al. Immune function and micronutrient requirements change over the life course. Nutrients, vol. 10, no. 1531, p. 1-27, 2018.
[7] Calder P. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes. Nutrients, vol. 2, no. 3, pg. 355-374, 2010.
[8] Serhan et al. Resolvins in inflammation: emergence of the pro-resolving superfamily of mediators. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 128, no. 7, pg. 2657-2669, 2018.
[9] Calder, P.C. et al. Optimal Nutritional Status for a Well-Functioning Immune System Is an Important Factor to Protect against Viral Infections. Nutrients, vol. 12 no. 1181, 2020.
[10] Basil M.C. and Levy BD. Specialised pro-resolving mediators: endogenous regulators of infection and inflammation. Nature Reviews | Immunology, vol. 16, pg. 51-67, 2016.
[11] Carracedo et al. The resolution of inflammation through omega-3 fatty acids in atherosclerosis, intimal hyperplasia and vascular calcification. Semin Immunopathol., vol. 41, no. 6, pg. 757-766, 2019.

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