Nissui has long been involved in the research and development of beneficial compounds found in seafood. Nissui was the first company in the world to be able to successfully extract and refine highly-pure EPA from blue fish, which the Company turned into a fine chemicals business. In the interests of making the benefits of EPA available to as many people as possible, Nissui continues to develop food products readily accessible to ordinary consumers.
The potential benefits of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) first gained attention as a result of an epidemiological and health study done in the late 1960s on the Inuit people living in the frigid climate of Greenland.
This is because the indigenous Inuit people traditionally eat almost no vegetables and subsist mostly on meat from seals, but compared to Europeans, whose diet has conventionally centered on meat in the form of beef, pork, and mutton, there were far fewer cases of people dying from myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). The study results showed that Inuits had far higher blood concentrations of EPA. The EPA ingested by the Inuits originated in sardines and other blue fish, which comprise the principle diet of the seals that the Inuit people have lived on.
EPA is an essential fatty acid thought to be difficult for the human body to synthesize. This compound is critical for the maintenance of healthy blood and blood vessels, and is effective in reducing blood viscosity, lowering triglyceride levels, preventing the premature aging of blood vessels, and preventing heart disease, strokes, and arteriosclerosis, among other benefits. The Japanese diet, however, has gradually come to mirror the Western/European diet, and because of the resulting increase in the consumption of red meat, Japanese people are eating less fish. Proportionally, their intake of EPA has also fallen. There needs to be a qualitative balance in dietary fat intake to maintain regular health. The kind of fat that most modern Japanese people need to make a conscious effort to ingest in their current dietary environment is the EPA abundant in blue fish.
When the results of the study on Inuits and EPA were published in 1978, Nissui was one of the first companies to take notice. In tandem with group companies, the Nissui Group began research into EPA. Nissui began collaborative research with university institutions in 1979, and in 1980 Nissui became the first company in the world to develop the technology to extract and refine highly-pure EPA from fish oil.
In 1981, Nissui partnered with a pharmaceutical company with the aim of transforming highly-pure EPA into a pharmaceutical product. In 1990, approval was obtained for a new drug to treat of arteriosclerosis obliterans (ASO), resulting in the release by a pharmaceutical company of Epadel, whose primary agent was EPA. The approved clinical uses of Epadel were then expanded to include hyperlipidemia, and the drug was later recognized as effective for the prevention of coronary artery disease. Even today, more than two decades since its commercial launch, the sales of EPA ingredients continue to rise.
At present, Nissui is the world's largest manufacturer of high-quality EPA that is capable of supplying the chemical for use as ingredients in pharmaceuticals and health foods.