By Joelle Mintzberg CNP, EPC


The two main omega-3s that we hear most about are the long-chain fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosapentaenoic acid). These fats are found in oily fish and seafood, with small amounts of DHA found in algae.

EPA and DHA are both found in omega-3s but both offer different benefits.

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

DHA is the most abundant omega-3 fat in our brains. DHA is a long chain omega-3 fatty acid important for brain and eye development and function throughout life. It also supports heart health. DHA is the most abundant omega-3 in the brain and retina and is naturally found in breast milk. Because our bodies don’t efficiently make DHA, we need to eat foods rich in this important nutrient in order to keep our brains functioning optimally.

Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)

EPA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid important for overall health. The ultimate goal of using omega-3 fatty acids is the reduction of cellular inflammation. EPA is also a key factor for reducing neuro-inflammation. It has been shown to help treat depression, ADHD, brain trauma, and other chronic illnesses. Unlike DHA, the body does not store EPA in significant quantities in the brain or retina (DHA is found in every cell throughout the body, EPA is not).

Our requirements for EPA and DHA change throughout life and so does the optimal amount of each fatty acid in our diet.

  • Children require DHA for growth and development. The brain relies heavily on the adequate supply of DHA during growth in the womb. Therefore, it is important for pregnant women to supplement with DHA while pregnant and breast feeding.
  • Children continue to need DHA up until the age they start school. The exception is for children with developmental problems – where pure EPA or high EPA omega-3 has been shown to be most effective for supporting cognitive function.
  • Between the ages of five and 65, the majority of the body’s needs can be met by using EPA-rich oils and eating fish, marine products, organic greens and pastured animal products. EPA protects our genes and cell cycle, and helps to keep our stress response regulated, so an adequate supply of EPA throughout adult life can help prevent a range of chronic illness.
  • EPA levels are under constant demand and low EPA levels in adolescents and adults correlates strongly with development of mental health issues, including depression, dyslexia and dyspraxia, heart problems, joint and bone conditions, as well as neurodegenerative diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s. EPA also protects our genes and cell cycle, as well as helps to keep our stress response regulated, so an adequate supply of EPA throughout adult life can help prevent a range of chronic illness.

Sources:

Stuart, Annie. What to Know About Omega 3s and Fish. WebMD. October 2007