EPA and DHA: What Are They and Why Do They Matter?
There are many kinds of omega 3 essential fatty acids that can be derived from food sources and supplements such as fish oil and flax oil. But are they all the same? This article aims to cut through the omega 3 underbrush by differentiating 3 of the most common types of omega 3 EFAs: namely, EPA, DHA and ALA.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are two converted types of omega 3 essential fats found in fatty, cold-water fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon, herring, halibut, trout, anchovies, and tuna. Fish rich in omega 3s produce both EPA and DHA from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based precursor to other types of omega 3 EFAs. Salmon and other high omega 3 fish obtain their dietary ALA from marine phytoplankton and seaweed and convert these marine plant sources of basic ALA into more useful forms such as EPA and DHA. Flax seeds, flax oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds, hemp oil, avocado, walnuts, and walnut oil are other popular food sources of ALA but are virtually devoid of EPA and DHA. For the body to truly benefit from omega 3 fats, short-chain ALA must be converted into long-chain EFAs such as EPA and DHA first.
The problem is that this conversion doesn’t happen quickly, according to Walter Willett, chair of Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition. Certain nutrients such as vitamin A are processed by the body the same way that omega fats are. There are two types of dietary vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids. EPA and DHA are like retinoids, while ALA is like carotenes. Your body can use retinoids right away since they are pre-formed vitamin A, whereas carotenes still need to undergo conversion in the liver for them to be transformed into usable vitamin A. Like animal-derived retinoids, converted omega 3s from fish oil supplements can go straight to work and deliver the anti-inflammatory, neuro-protective, anti-aging, immune-enhancing, cardio-protective, and metabolism-boosting benefits of omega 3 fatty acids in a relatively short period of time, depending on the ingested amount and frequency of intake.
Fish oil benefits include having both naturally occurring EPA and DHA in the formula. Algae extracts usually contain just ALA and plant-based DHA, which may require the purchase a separate EPA supplement to fully obtain the wide-spectrum benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Not very practical when a stand-alone fish oil supplement will do!
DHA is well-established to be crucial in pre- and post-natal health of both mother and child, particularly in the latter’s brain development and overall immunity. EPA on the other hand is clinically known to modulate behavior and mood and may even be a natural cure for leukemia.
EPA and DHA are the dynamic duo of bio-available omega 3s. Double-blind, randomized, controlled trials carried out by the University of California, Berkley reveal that EPA and DHA have increased benefits when consumed together. These include:
* prevention of cognitive decline and early-onset dementia or memory loss that can eventually lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
* alleviation of ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity) symptoms in adults and children.
* positive effect on aggressive behavior, clinical depression, and psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and psychosis.
* decreased severity of dyslexic and autistic symptoms.
* treatment of dyspraxia, a condition marked by a complex of psychomotor problems such as delayed development of motor skills i.e., grasping objects and mind-body coordination needed in sports activities.
* improvement of Huntington disease, a genetic disorder characterized by poor muscle coordination and memory impairment.
* reversal of various food allergy symptoms such as arthritis, brain fog, asthma, edema, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), post-nasal drip, hives, acne, eczema, migraines, and depression.
Other benefits of fish oil containing both EPA and DHA are stabilization of blood glucose levels (which may help prevent type 2 diabetes), decrease in total serum cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and menstrual pain relief.
SmartyPants Gummy Vitamins for Kids and Grownups both contain optimum EPA-DHA ratios, because the quality and potency of a fish oil supplement does not depend on the amount of fish oil it has but on the high concentrations of EPA and DHA it actually contains.
SmartyPants is a high quality omega 3 supplement that is formulated with other nutrients such as vitamins A, D, and E, zinc, and B-complex vitamins that work in concert with EPA and DHA for enhanced results and benefits. Our un-fishy, organic, environmentally-friendly, all-natural fish oil supplement is fun both in appearance and taste. Because SmartyPants is a conscientious company that cares for both your health and the environment without compromising the cost and quality of our supplement’s ingredients.
Charmaine D. Mercado is a natural health writer who broke her pen as a medical journalist when she discovered the power of drug-free healing via whole foods nutrition and supplementation.