A groundbreaking study from the Université de Moncton in New Brunswick is providing new insights about the potential role of omega-3 rich oils in counteracting the damaging effects of pesticides on pollinators.
Led by PhD student Hichem Menail, the research indicates that an oil known as “ahiflower oil” may hold the key to shielding honey bees from mitochondrial damage inflicted by neonicotinoid pesticides.
“Pesticides are a major threat to insect populations and as insects are at the core of ecosystem richness and balance, any loss in insect biodiversity can lead to catastrophic outcome,” said Menail. He emphasized the gravity of the situation, noting that the global decline of pollinators, largely attributed to pesticides, could have dire implications for food crop production worldwide.
Neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides known for their toxic effects, have been a subject of intense scrutiny. In particular, imidacloprid, one of the most frequently utilized neonicotinoid pesticides across the globe, has received considerable attention.
Despite the European Union’s decision to ban outdoor use of imidacloprid and two other neonicotinoids in 2018, their usage persists in other parts of the world, including the United States.
“Neonicotinoids are among the most toxic and the most harmful insecticides,” noted Menail. “They are used extensively and are very persistent in the environment. Thus, it is practically impossible to prevent honey bees from being exposed and eventually poisoned.”
This leaves researchers seeking alternative solutions, such as strengthening honey bees’ immune systems and metabolic processes to better endure the impacts of these chemical pollutants.
Menail and his team executed an experiment to explore the potential benefits of omega-3 rich oils on bees chronically exposed to a neonicotinoid pesticide.
The researchers fed three distinct groups of bees with sucrose syrup, each containing a different concoction: one laced with the pesticide alone, another with ahiflower oil alone, and the final group received a combination of the two. After 25 days, the team measured the bees’ mitochondrial respiration.
The results confirmed the team’s initial theory about imidacloprid’s disruptive impact on mitochondrial respiration.
Even more exhilarating was the discovery of ahiflower oil’s immediate beneficial effect on the bees’ mitochondrial respiration. Bees that consumed a mixture of imidacloprid and ahiflower oil managed to recover their respiration rates to levels on par with the controls.
The findings suggest potential applications in the form of Omega-3 supplements that could help mitigate the mortality rates of honey bees caused by pesticides.
“We believe that this strategy is promising,” said Menail. “By improving their respiration through ahiflower oil supplementation, we believe that mitochondria can increase their ATP production and thus improve overall performance of honey bees, as well as their immune system.”
Ultimately, the research offers some hope for threatened pollinators, hinting at a sustainable approach that could potentially enhance their resilience against the pervasive threat of pesticides. The journey to understand the full benefits of ahiflower oil is just beginning, but the prospects are promising.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that are essential for various functions in the body. They are termed “essential” because our bodies can’t make them, so we need to get them from our diet.
There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
ALA is a plant-based omega-3 found in high amounts in flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, and certain oils such as flaxseed oil and canola oil. The body can convert a small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA, but not very efficiently.
EPA and DHA are marine-based omega-3s found in fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and trout, and in algae. They are more readily used by the body and have been linked to many health benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied extensively for their health benefits. They are most well-known for their heart health benefits, including reducing triglycerides, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease. However, they also play a crucial role in brain health, reducing inflammation, and may help reduce the risk of other diseases such as arthritis and depression.
Ahiflower oil, which was mentioned previously, is a plant-derived oil that contains a unique combination of fatty acids. It provides a source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically stearidonic acid (SDA), which is more efficiently converted to EPA in the body than ALA. This makes ahiflower oil a promising plant-based alternative to fish oils for getting omega-3 fatty acids.
In terms of nutritional supplementation, omega-3s are available in a variety of forms, including fish oil supplements, krill oil supplements, and plant-based supplements like ahiflower oil or flaxseed oil.