Developing Vegan Omegas

What got you interested in omegas? Nutritional science now firmly recognizes the crucial role of omega fatty acids in our health through all stages of life — from infancy to...

What got you interested in omegas?

Nutritional science now firmly recognizes the crucial role of omega fatty acids in our health through all stages of life — from infancy to old age. Heart, brain, skin, and joint health suffer when we don’t get enough omegas in the right balance. Every cell in our body needs these nutrients, and we can only get them from our diet. I wanted to make a positive global impact in how people and animals source and benefit from omega nutrition.

Because of my love for the oceans and an equal love for an active outdoor lifestyle, I had an epiphany. I saw that in the long run we cannot promote nutritional wellness knowingly at the expense of our planet's oceans. Instead, we ought to take a more sustainable approach that promotes personal and planetary wellness at the same time. So I delved deeply into the plant world for a better answer.

Many mainstream omega supplements are extracted from marine sources, including fish, krill and algae. As the demand for these supplements has increased across the globe, the strain on our world’s oceans is beginning to be noted. Recent high-profile books like The Omega Principle by Paul Greenberg show how this threatens the complex web of marine life that relies on sardines, anchovies, krill and algae to thrive. It also raises a real dilemma for those looking for allergen-free omegas and vegans seeking truly sustainable omegas that still supply a nutritionally balanced profile to our bodies.

Seeing the oncoming challenges in meeting the world’s omega nutritional needs led me on a 20+ year mission to develop a plant-based source of the best omegas for vegans. One that could supplant the world’s reliance on marine-based oils while outperforming all other plant-based oils like flax, chia, hemp, walnut, or perilla.

How did you discover the nutritional potential of Ahiflower oil?
It started 20+ years ago with my botanical hunt for an as-yet-undeveloped plant variety that had the right stuff. We set ourselves a very clear mandate that the outcome of this project had to yield something that was better than flax seed oil, and not from fish. Flax seed oil was considered the most potent source of omega-3s at the time and still is widely consumed along with chia seed oil and other plant-derived sources of omega-3s. But we wanted to find something that was significantly better.

Having found some potential plant varieties around the world, the next step was to do plot trials near the company’s UK operations in Essex. We grew them on our farm. We evaluated them. We were looking to see which ones could be grown sustainably, which ones farmers would embrace, which ones could be grown under UK agricultural conditions. The list got shorter and shorter. Our experience with oilseed crop development was pivotal, and we used a “fail fast, fail cheap” mode of variety selection that would assure success when future scale-up happened.

It turned out that the best overall candidate species was hiding in plain sight. We came across one that purely fortuitously was a weed species that was endemic to the UK but in fact native to many parts of the world in temperate agricultural regions. We discovered this weed growing in a hedgerow of one of our fields in Essex. We analyzed the seeds and found to our surprise that it had very high levels of omega-3s. It also had a high level of omega-6 and omega-9. It was the ‘total deal’ for a complete and balanced vegan omega profile.

We learned how to grow it. We worked with farmers who were as committed to developing this crop commercially as we were, and who had as strong an environmental bent as we did — who were trying to grow something that was good for humans, good for animals, good for agriculture, good for biodiversity, and of course good for the planet. Developing an elite group of UK farmers who were willing to take a longer view and make substantial at-risk investments of their time, land, and machinery was pivotal.

Can you share the science behind Ahiflower?
The other part of the story was making sure it does what you think it can do. We embarked on a series of human clinical studies to test our hypothesis that the oil could be a very viable source of omegas for humans. We did our human clinicals which thankfully proved out our theory. Those studies gave us the confidence to say with a high degree of scientific validity that this plant seed oil — which we went on to call Ahiflower oil — was not only as effective as flax seed oil, it turned out to be up to 4 times more effective. We were seeing a 400% increase in the way humans metabolize the oil versus flax seed oil.

More recent published research on Ahiflower oil in humans shows evidence of novel anti-inflammatory support, for example, that which occurs after intensive exercise. Further, Ahiflower oil's unique omega-3-6-9 composition supports the body's natural ability to form longer-chain omega-3 and omega-6 fats, directing them adaptively to the cell membranes where they are needed most. Mounting clinical evidence shows that Ahiflower oil provides an ideally complete and balanced omega platform of omega-enriched tissues, not just EPA and DHA, where the body can then direct its omega resources to specific needs — i.e. brain, joint, skin support — as and when needed.

So did you accomplish your goal of helping to save marine life?
Absolutely! Ahiflower oil doesn’t have all the ecological issues associated with fish and algal oil, and it also offers a much cleaner taste and smell. Each acre of Ahiflower crop grown and turned into oil produces as much omega-rich oil as 40,000 sardines. This is good news for our friends in the ocean — the wild tuna, seals, penguins, and whales — who in some ways can appreciate our role in helping to save the lives of these sardines and restore our fragile ocean’s ecological balance back into their favor.

Can you tell us a little about NCI/the team behind Ahiflower?
Gosh, doing that question justice in just a few sentences is a challenge!

 Because we manage many different functions from agriculture to manufacturing to regulatory affairs and scientific research, we come from quite varied backgrounds, and that brings a wonderful and rich diversity of skills and experiences (and humor), which I really appreciate. However, we share a common passion in Ahiflower, and how we are impacting human health and wellness, ocean abundance and agricultural biodiversity all from this single plant. How often in one’s career do you get the chance to be deeply instrumental in disrupting and transforming something so impactful? The whole team appreciates the responsibility and opportunity this presents, and collectively they are making it happen.

At the heart of our business is the identification and commercialization of science based, plant derived ingredients from specialty crops where we can build sustainable and scalable supply chains that deliver value for all stakeholders including farmers, consumers and the natural environment upon which all health and wellness relies. Our core values best describe how we do what we do:

  •     Sustainable profit with integrity and transparency

  •     Competence with humility

  •     Accountability with maturity

  •     Progressive with realism

  •     Caring about our people, planet and products

  •     Professionalism with humor

Partnering with visionaries like Nouri is so motivating, as they take our ingredient and give life and meaning to it.

July 5, 2019

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 Article by Andrew Hebard

British agriculturalist and Natures Crops International founder + CEO, Nouri’s Ahiflower oil supplier