When people talk about Omega 3 Fish oils, they are really talking about the EPA and DHA content of the Omega 3s. These are the active ingredients in Omega 3 Fish oils and where the benefits come from. ALA is another ingredient often mentioned in association with Omega 3s. ALA is a primitive form of Omega 3 that your body is not able to use in its current state. First it must be converted to EPA and DHA. Many people’s bodies have difficulty with this conversion, so pure EPA and DHA formulas are preferred.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is one of several omega-3 fatty acids used by the body. The main dietary sources of EPA in the United States are cold water fish, such as wild salmon. Fish oil supplements may also raise concentrations of EPA in the body. Increased intake of EPA has been shown to be beneficial in coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, and inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
The omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA, found in fish oils have been shown to modify the immune response and may be helpful in treating inflammatory autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to improve cardiovascular health and may prevent the accumulation of plaque (cholesterol and fat) on the walls of the arteries. Fish oil supplementation may also reduce high blood pressure in people with diabetes.
The omega-3 fatty acids in proper balance are essential for normal growth and development. Nutrition experts have issued recommendations for appropriate intake of each type of omega-3 fatty acid in infant formulas and diets. According to these recommendations, intake of EPA for infants on formula diets should be less than 0.1%.
Omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA, may also have positive effects on lung and kidney diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, anorexia nervosa, burns, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and early stages of colorectal cancer.
You can obtain EPA by eating cold water fish, such as wild salmon (NOT farm-raised), mackerel, sardines, and herring. Some fish may contain heavy metals, such as mercury. Make sure you buy quality fish and do not eat it more than three times a week if you are pregnant.
The International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) recommends the following intakes of EPA:
Some commercial products may also contain vitamin E or other antioxidant to maintain freshness. For supplements, follow the directions on product labels for both dosage information and storage requirements, as some products may require refrigeration. Do not use products beyond their expiration date.
Supplements containing EPA may not be recommended for infants or small children because they may upset the proper balance with DHA, another omega-3 fatty acid needed during early development. This suggests that pregnant women should also be cautious about taking fish oil supplements.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) is a major building block of Omega 3 fatty acids. Praised for its benefits to brain health and function, new research indicates DHA has brain boosting benefits in both infants and adults. Manufacturers are even adding DHA to some infant formulas and baby foods.
With support of a large number of well-conducted studies in humans and animals, most scientists and medical authorities agree that omega 3 oils are important for good health. Omega 3 studies indicate improved brain function, decreased inflammation, reduced incidence of fatal heart attacks and ischemic strokes, improved autoimmune disease, and improved vision. These same studies indicate that the neurological benefits of omega 3 oils come from DHA.
People with Alzheimer’s disease have lower than normal levels of DHA in the neurons of the part of the brain responsible for recent memory. DHA supplementation improves memory both in cases of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related memory loss.
Animal studies in both mice and non-human primates show that DHA depleted diets impair learning and memory. Reintroducing DHA into their diet reverses the effect in both the young and old animals.
The human brain is always in a state of flux forming millions of nerve connections and replenishing and altering its biochemical makeup. This constant turnover of brain lipids can cause the release of DHA (and arachidonic acid). Unreplenished DHA in the brain can drastically alter brain lipids, which can degrade brain function.