New research findings indicate that the body can also benefit from very long-chain marine fatty acids when they are ingested through the diet. Previously, it was believed that these fatty acids were only effective if the body itself formed them.

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Wenche Aale Hægermark  

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Scientists have not studied the effects on humans, but they have conducted trials involving rats, mice and salmon – and they have studied how human cells react. The results from such studies give a good indication of what the results from human studies might be, but this remains to be tested.

Knowledge about the health-related consequences of a lack of very long-chain marine fatty acids, called VLC-PUFAs, is relatively new. It is known that a lack of these fatty acids can lead to infertility and the eye disease called Stargardt’s disease. Stargardt’s disease is believed to have arisen due to a genetic error, where the body is unable to convert the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA to VLC-PUFA. Screenings also show that there is less of the very long-chain marine fatty acids in the brains of dementia patients.

Strengthens the skin

“This is the first time we have investigated the bioavailability of VLC-PUFA, i.e. whether the body can utilise the fatty acids when they are ingested through the diet or dietary supplements. We have conducted intervention studies on rats, mice and salmon. They have received different concentrations of these very long-chain marine fatty acids, but all are at levels higher than in fish oil. We see a linear effect, the higher the concentration in the diet, the more is absorbed into different tissues,” says Nofima senior scientist Bente Ruyter. She has been the main supervisor for PhD student Martina Torrissen, who conducted the trials.

The scientists have seen that the VLC-PUFA fatty acids are absorbed in all types of tissue, especially in the skin and testes. The next step was therefore to take a closer look at these particular tissues.

“We have continued the intervention studies on salmon, and in these we see that VLC-PUFA generates new skin faster and further contributes to increased thickness and maturation of salmon skin, which provides protection against infections and mechanically inflicted injuries,” says Martina Torrissen.

In addition, the scientists are already using existing cell models in this new area and are studying human skin cells. The cell studies show that these very long-chain marine fatty acids help skin cells specialise in strengthening skin and healing wounds. This takes place by the cells forming a membrane over the wounds.

Strengthens bones

“In intervention studies involving salmon, we see that VLC-PUFA leads to improved mineralisation of the spine and increased bone density.  Existing human cell models are also used here.   The cell studies suggest that VLC-PUFA contributes to faster specialisation and mineralisation of bone cells. Therefore, the results indicate that these fatty acids may help to heal bone fractures,” says Martina Torrissen.

Salmon as a model for humans

All living organisms are made up of cells, and the structure of cells determines their properties and the job they do. The cell structure and structural layers of salmon skin and human skin are largely the same. The same applies to the salmon’s spine and the human skeleton, which makes salmon a good model for human research.

VLC-PUFA – new omega-3 product from marine oils

There is little VLC-PUFA in fish oil, only half a percent or even less.  It is therefore important to have technology and expertise to be able to separate these unique fatty acids from the other fatty acids in marine oils.

Martina Torrissen’s PhD is an Industrial PhD in the company Epax Norway AS. Among other things, Epax develops and produces ingredients for pure omega-3 concentrate based on marine oils. They are now in the process of developing ingredients for dietary supplements based on VLC-PUFA. 

“We are proud to have discovered that there is a small amount of these unique VLC fatty acids in fish oil and found a way to extract them as a supplement to the more common omega-3 concentrates. This PhD and Nofima’s research is very important since it documents uptake in important organs and positive health effects,” says Epax CEO Bjørn Refsum.

Facts about the PhD

Martina Torrissen defends her thesis on 15 December. The title of the doctoral thesis is Very long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids and their biological functions. The trial lecture and public defence will take place at NMBU – Norwegian University of Life Sciences.

The main academic supervisor is Bente Ruyter, senior scientist at Nofima and professor at NMBU. Co-supervisors are senior scientists Elisabeth Ytteborg and Astrid Nilsson, both from Nofima, as well as R&D Director Iren Stoknes and Senior Scientist Harald Svensen from Epax

The PhD is an Industrial PhD through the company Epax.


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