Fertility, Glow Foods, HomePage Slider, Uncategorized, Wellness

This Plant-Based Nutrition Start-Up Is Tackling Omega-3s

Shannon Walsh | November 23, 2019

Our foods are nothing like they used to be 50 years ago. There are a number of nutritional gaps in our diets related to modern farming practices, a surging rise in pesticides and antibiotic use and scientific advances bringing on the rise of GMO foods.  Julie Sawaya and Ryan Woodbury, co-founders at Needed, set out to bridge that gap with an Omega-3 supplement. Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants. Omega-3s are fatty acids that are crucial for brain growth and development in infants, fighting depression, improving cardiovascular health and fighting inflammation among other incredible health benefits.

Needed has created an Omega-3 Liposomal Powder that is vegan, sustainably-sourced, and clinically shown to be up to 5x better absorbed than standard fish oil pills. The health benefits of this supplement are endless.

Recently, Mama Glow caught up with the founders of Sawaya and Woodbury’s company, Needed, to discuss nutrition, health, and pregnancy. 

Here’s what they had to say:

You’ve developed an Omega-3 (DHA+EPA) supplement that is plant based, what makes this product different from the capsules we see on store shelves? 

We started Needed as a result of our struggles to find a trusted nutrition company with products that worked as well in the body as they were easy to take. Most supplements fall into one of two categories: 1) proven to work, but not pleasant to take, or 2) fun/easy to take, but no proof that it works. Knowing how important Omega-3 is during the pre-conception / pregnancy life phase that we and our friends were in, and that we were both deficient in this key nutrient, we set out to create a high quality Omega-3 supplement without the usual hang-ups with fish oil pills. The solution turned out to be at the intersection of nature, science, and real consumer needs.

It turns out that nature is quite intentional in its nutrient delivery. In breast milk, phospholipids (a type of fat present in all cells in the body) pair with Omega-3 to create liposomes, nature’s preferred way of delivering crucial, fat-soluble nutrients. Liposomes protect nutrients and ensure they are delivered optimally, enabling us to achieve a 90-95% absorption rate (the same rate you’d get with wild salmon). We source our Omega-3 from vegan, sustainably-harvested microalgae. Algae actually is where fish-like salmon and sardines- get their Omega-3 from. It’s an environmentally friendly choice, without the risk of toxins and heavy metals present in fish and fish oil.

To create our Omega-3 product, we partnered with the leading scientific experts on liposomal delivery. Our product benefits from 10+ years of research and development in partnership with this team. We’ve studied the bioavailability absorption of our product through a third-party clinical study that found our product is 5x better absorbed than standard fish oil pills. Clinical research and proving our products work is critical. But we don’t stop there.  

We designed our product to be a powder, not a pill, because we heard from so many pregnant and breastfeeding women that they hated having to swallow a handful of pills, especially when nausea sets in! In addition to offering a big absorption benefit, liposomes protect nutrients from oxidation (a big issue with most Omega-3 pills), taste buds and stomach acid. This means no fishy burps or taste–a huge advantage when trying to create a healthy daily habit. We test our products in the lives of our practitioner community and their patients to ensure that our products work as well in real life as they do in the body. 

What benefits might a pregnant person experience as a result of regular intake of Needed Omega 3? 

Omega-3 supports both expectant and postpartum mamas and their babies in myriad ways–from brain, eye, and skin health, to maternal mood and cognitive support– as this fatty acid is an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and a regulator of numerous bodily processes.

Leading research on Omega-3 status in pregnancy has shown positive health outcomes for both mom and baby. Healthy prenatal Omega-3 status reduces the risk of early preterm labor by as much as 42% and increases the likelihood of normal birth weight (two factors that play a significant role in additional health risks that often lead to a longer period of hospitalization for mothers and babies after birth). The beneficial effects of optimal prenatal and breastfeeding DHA supplementation continues beyond gestation, with studies demonstrating improved visual acuity in infants at 4 months, and higher IQ levels of children aged 4 years. Omega-3 also has been shown to reduce certain prenatal inflammatory markers (inflammation has been associated with many complications of pregnancy). Alternatively, low prenatal Omega-3 index is related to higher incidence of postpartum depression, and low prenatal Omega-3 intake is shown to be associated with a higher risk of asthma as compared to proper maternal Omega-3 supplementation. 

Despite these clear, clinically-validated benefits, as few as 20% of pregnant women obtain the recommended minimum 200mg of daily DHA intake during pregnancy (the average prenatal intake is ~60mg per day). This is due to several factors, including lack of awareness about this nutrients’ importance, a fear of and/or resistance to fish consumption during pregnancy, and the challenges of incorporating Omega-3 supplements into a prenatal routine (often a big fishy, hard-to-swallow pill). As few as 10% of pregnant women take a DHA supplement.  We hope to change this through our educational efforts and by delivering a far more palatable Omega-3 made especially for new and soon-to-be mamas.


What’s the biggest misconception about supplementation? 

It’s important to keep in mind that supplements vary significantly in quality and usability by the body. Unfortunately, the quality and bioavailability (absorption) of most supplements is really, really low. This is because many supplements utilize ingredients that are not found in nature, that are in a suboptimal form for nutrient absorption (for example, the ALA plant-based form of Omega-3 that is very poorly converted to the DHA and EPA your body needs), or that are extracted from their natural context and therefore missing important nutrient interactions found in natural nutrient pairings. As an example, research is now showing a positive link between omega-3 and choline. Taking one without the other is suboptimal. Yet, most fish oil does not include this much-needed helper nutrient. The same is true with fat-soluble nutrients and phospholipids. Taking fat along with a fat-soluble nutrient can greatly improve its usability by the body. 

Only a select few supplements, including our Omega-3, actually work in the body as well as real food does. We do this through selecting ingredients that are as close to their natural form as possible, by pairing nutrients with their natural “helper nutrients” for maximum usability, and through delivering nutrients in the same molecular form as nature intends. 

Beyond usability in the body, it’s essential to pay attention to the brand behind the products. Supplements manufacturers vary significantly in their commitment quality testing of ingredients and end-products. We test and verify every product batch we make to ensure quality and safety, and go above and beyond the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) standards established by the FDA. 

How did you two meet and decide to become business partners? 

We were next door neighbors at Stanford’s graduate business school. We met at a similar point in our lives and personal nutrition journeys. We had both studied some nutrition in school and through outside certifications, and we paid a lot of attention to the food we ate, including shopping at farmer’s markets and through direct-from-farm programs, and preparing much of our own food. In spite of this care and attention on our diets, we were shocked to realize through nutrition testing that we had significant nutritional deficiencies. Once we began properly supplementing, we both felt a lot more energized and less prone to rundown (a common side effect of depletion).

There are systemic reasons for these nutritional deficiencies, and the more we learned, the more we realized we were not alone in our need for proper supplementation. Our food is nutritionally depleted, due to poor soil quality, the time it takes food to reach our plates, and more. And, our bodies are overtaxed due to constant bombardment by environmental toxins, leading to an increased micronutrient need. 

Among the most common deficiencies in the US is Omega-3, due to relatively low consumption of Omega-3 rich fish in our diets, and how poor the conversion from plant-based sources (chia/flax seeds, walnuts) is to the DHA and EPA forms of Omega-3 that are bodies need. Omega-3 was one of the nutrients we were both most depleted in–Julie due to her mostly vegan diet, and Ryan due to genetic and environmental factors.

Around this time, many of our friends were starting to get pregnant and struggling nutritionally with what information to pay attention to, what foods to eat and to avoid, and how to properly supplement. Needed grew organically through our own nutrition and supplementation challenges, and that of our peers. 


 What self-care practices keep you sane while you expand your new business? 

We both love to return to nature as much as possible, whether through hiking one of LA’s many trails, a swim or surf in the ocean, or a weekend getaway outside the city. Yoga also plays a big part in our lives outside of work (we are both certified instructors), as does spending quality time with family and friends. And, playing with our pups! 


Are there other products in the pipeline? 

Motherhood is on the horizon for both of us, and we are very invested in optimally meeting a woman’s holistic nourishment needs from the time she decides to start a family, through pregnancy, breastfeeding, and postpartum recovery. We do this through creating better nutrition products, fundamentals-focused education, and a community of fellow learners. 

On the products side, today we are delivering Omega-3 better than anyone, in terms of how it works in the body and the experience of taking it –we plan to create similarly next-level multivitamin/mineral blends (containing folate, iron, magnesium, and other key nutrients) to round out what she needs. Formulating products from the ground up takes time, which is why most supplement companies take shortcuts, simply “white-labeling” their products. We don’t do this! Our Omega-3 is the result of 10+ years of R&D from our scientific partners, and 2.5 years of “real world testing” through our community of health practitioners and real women. We hope to launch our next suite of products in the near-term, but game-changing products take patience and time. 


Do you use Needed yourselves? How do you incorporate it into your daily routine?

Everyday! Our perspective is that if we can’t create a product that we enjoy taking every day, how can we expect our consumers to do the same? One of the best things about the powder is that it is so easy to take at any time of day. Some mornings we throw the powder into our morning smoothie, or in a lunchtime salad dressing. But, most often, we enjoy it as an afternoon pick-me-up. It has become a tradition at the office to make an Omega-3 “latte” (cacao, almond milk, +our powder) when the mid-afternoon snack craving hits. We find that it gives a little boost of energy and holds us over nicely until dinner.

What’s next for you both? 

Beginning this fall, we are partnering on a research study with one of the leading researchers on Omega-3 status for prenatal and fetal health. Unfortunately, the researchers overseeing the study have been faced with challenges of patient compliance, especially in lower socio-economics populations, given the very real palatability issues with most Omega-3 supplements. Our liposomal Omega-3 powder offers a promising alternative for research studies and real families to use everyday. This study is the first of (hopefully) many opportunities for Needed to help close the gender health research gap, as there is a significant lack of research on women’s health, particularly at the prenatal and postpartum life stage. 

Proving our products can help women through clinical validation and real-world testing is absolutely vital to our mission. But, we don’t stop there. We feel strongly that creating a nourishing community is equally as essential to create lasting positive health change. 

We are excited to expand our movement for thoughtful nutrition and broader nourishment through educational, grass-roots community events that bring together local health practitioners (from MDs, to doulas, to acupuncturists, midwives, nutritionists, and more) and mamas. We think one of the best ways to empower real nourishment is through education about the fundamentals, and through community (creating reassurance that we are not alone in our needs). Through our community, we bring together new and soon-to-be mamas, and health practitioners (MDs, doulas, lactation consultants, nutritionists, health coaches, and more) to interact meaningfully and learn from one another. Our experiences of nourishment are all unique, yet interconnected. These events have been warmly received throughout communities in our home state of California, and this fall we are expanding to cities throughout the country–because better nourishment is needed in every corner of our country. 


Can you share 3 Glow Tips for Luminous Living (3 things that help you maintain optimal wellbeing and a life well lived)

  1. Harnessing nourishment from other areas of our life to show up fully in the work we do.
  2. Building a company is not without its setbacks and challenges. We try to have fun and celebrate the wins–whether big or small–along the way.
  3. Go back to where it all began – nature. We like to be outside as much as possible, whether it be walking our dogs, or hiking with friends. 

Visit NEEDED to order your supply and learn more!

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