Soybeans May Sub for Fish Omega-3

SIOUX FALLS – Diners who’d prefer to skip the salmon may no longer miss out on the fish’s omega-3 fatty acids, known to reduce heart disease.

Genetically engineered soybean plants produce oil that helps boost levels of one such acid and can be added to food for a healthier diet. Results from a 157-person study of the oil’s potential benefits were presented today at the American Heart Association meeting in Orlando, Florida.

Fatty fish, such as albacore tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease because it is high in eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, omega-3 fatty acids. Heart disease is the top cause of death worldwide for both men and women, and the American Heart Association, based in Dallas, recommends eating two Servings of fatty fish a week.9

“Without the American public really having to go out of their way to develop a taste for fish, which they’re not going to do, we’ll put a healthy dietary component that’s been missing into their foods,” said William Harris, lead author of the study and professor of medicine at the University of South Dakota’s Sanford School of Medicine, in Sioux Falls, in an interview.

The oil, whose taste is undetectable, may be incorporated into breakfast bars and salad dressings, Harris said. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, based in Silver Spring, Maryland, said in October the new oil is generally accepted as safe.

Approval Needed

The modified soybeans still need approval from biotech regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sales should begin early in the next decade, he said.

Researchers  created the new soybean strain by inserting genes from a fungus and another plant. Soybeans naturally create an omega-3 fatty acid called ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid, that leads to creation of EPA. That process takes two steps in human bodies, the first being a conversion to stearidonic acid, or SDA, Harris said.  Ggenetically modified soybeans skip that step, and start with SDA, which changes more efficiently into omega-3 fatty acids.

In the study, healthy volunteers in Cincinnati, Sioux Falls and Chicago were separated into three groups to test the differences among oil from the new soybeans, unaltered soybeans and EPA derived from fish. The volunteers were given gel caps and oil to put on food. The goal was to see if the new soybean oil boosted EPA levels in participants’ red blood cells.

Study Findings

At 12 weeks, the new oil boosted EPA levels with about 18 percent of the efficiency of pure EPA, according to the research.

Subjects taking the modified soybean oil were given more than those in the fish-derived EPA group. The former took 15 grams of the new soybean oil and 1 gram of regular soybean oil in the form of gel caps a day, while those in the EPA group were given one gram of EPA in gel caps and 15 grams of regular soybean oil daily. The group given unaltered soybean oil had 15 grams of oil and 1 gram in gel caps a day.

EPA levels rose 18 percent in the group taking the new soybean oil, compared with 20 percent in the pure-EPA group, according to the report. The regular soybean oil didn’t raise cellular EPA levels at all, the results showed.

More tests are needed to ensure the oil has the same effect once put into foods, Harris said.

As the oil gets incorporated into foods, “the background levels of omega-3 in the population will rise,” Harris said. The oil will take pressure off fish populations and be free from contaminants such as mercury and dioxins that can be found in fish.

“It’s virtually an inexhaustible source if it works out,” Harris said.


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