Most people are aware of the many health benefits of either consuming foods high in EPA/DHA or taking a daily EPA/DHA supplement. Since it’s difficult for most people to consume enough quantities of omega rich foods many now take some type of EPA/DHA formulation on a daily basis as a method of inexpensive prevention. This is especially true if you are using EFA supplementation for specific health conditions.
Numerous studies have shown choosing the right fatty acid supplement helps improve a range of health conditions from cardiovascular health to diabetes and neurological function. Fatty acids are critical to cell signalling and necessary for the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Essential fatty acids also help reduce inflammation, which we know is the driver of disease. I am a strong advocate of the benefits of essential fatty acids because I have seen numerous clients have a reduction in symptoms after regular, targeted supplementation with EFA’s.
What most people don’t know is that actually obtaining the desired effect from essential fatty acid supplementation requires a more targeted approach.
Each form of essential fatty acid impacts the body differently
There are Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. While we need them all, it’s the ratio’s that have become a problem for us in the last fifty years. This is primarily due to an over consumption of Omega 6 fatty acids (considered more inflammatory producing) because of feed lot raised animal products, and grains. I am focusing on the ones we need more of in this post but will be discussing the Omega 6 fatty acids and their impact on health in a future post.
While we need a range of fatty acids for our bodies to function optimally, most people do not understand that the ratio of EPA to DHA in a supplement makes a difference. Depending on what conditions you are working to address, having more or less of one or the other can help target your condition.
~ Check out the PDF link for a handy visual on the forms of EFA’s and their health benefits at the end of this post.
Further, most people don’t take high enough daily doses of EPA/DHA to achieve the full condition specific benefits from supplementation.
General health attributes by type of Essential Fatty Acid:
EPA: Targets heart health and body systems
- Supports cardiovascular health
- Promotes healthy metabolism
- Reduces joint pain and inflammation
- Supports healthy aging
DHA: Targets healthy mood, mind and memory
- Supports memory, learning, focus and concentration
- Promotes cognitive health as we age
- Supports optimal brain function
- Protects eyes from age related damage
- Supports positive mood and behavior
- Supports the developing fetus, infant and child
GLA: Targets healthy skin, hair and hormones
- Helps relieve symptoms of PMS, such as mild mood changes, cramps and edema
- Maintains hormonal balance via prostaglandin metabolism
- Supports healthy joints
- Reduces inflammation in the lungs
- Supports mental well-being
There are many condition specific EPA/DHA formulations. Here are a few examples of how different EPA/DHA formulations target specific conditions:
According to a study done by Am J Psychiatry 2002 the using a supplement with a slightly higher EPA vs. DHA from fish oil seems to reduce depression.
It appears from these 2 studies that 1000 to 2000 mg EPA is an effective dose for depression. It typically takes 3-12 weeks to see improvements in core symptoms of major depression. 
A Norwegian study of nearly 22,000 participants revealed that those who regularly took cod liver oil, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, were about 30% less likely to have symptoms of depression than those who did not. The longer the participants took cod liver oil, the less likely they were to have high levels of depression.
~ I favor using DHA from fish sourced cleanly and sustainably (not from krill or cod livers).
Cognition and dementia
Reduced DHA is associated with impairment in both cognitive and behavioral performance. Because these levels seem to decline as we age, supplementing with DHA rich oils is a logical solution to restoring DHA levels, with subsequent improvement in symptoms.
Why we need both EPA and DHA for this condition
The membranes of neurons and brain matter are known to be rich in DHA, levels of EPA within membranes are significantly lower. However, the presence and action of circulating EPA appears to not only influence the risk of cognitive decline but also has potential to moderate important regulatory functions involving cognition. Circulating levels of EPA can influence signaling cascades, neurotransmission, phospholipase A2 activity and the production of hormone-like substances called eicosanoids that regulate immune function and inflammation. All of these are roles that are vital in the maintenance of normal brain function. Since inflammation is a hallmark for the onset of dementia methods to protect the body from poorly regulated inflammation need to be considered as a viable tool to reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairment. And since EPA helps reduce inflammation it along with DHA should be helpful for warding off this terrible disease. 
EPA is an important precursor to eicosanoids, which are molecules that regulate the inflammatory response. Because of EPA’s anti-inflammatory effects they are used therapeutically (at higher doses) for both inflammatory diseases and depression
Recommendations for cardiac health suggest taking a combination EPA/DHA product and dosing ranges from 1 gram to 5 grams per day depending on other health factors.
Why this combination is more effective
Research suggests that fish oil (which contains DHA along with other active components) may prevent cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks and strokes). In people who have already had a heart attack, fish oil may decrease the risk of another heart attack and the risk of death. Additionally, taking fish oil after an angioplasty procedure or bypass surgery might help keep the blood vessels from closing back up. It is not clear if taking just DHA provides these same benefits.
An evaluation of treatment of NAFD (Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease) done by the Journal of Nutrition found that DHA was more effective than EPA at attenuating inflammation, oxidative stress, fibrosis and hepatic damage,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion. “Based on these results, DHA may be a more attractive dietary supplement than EPA for the prevention and potential treatment of NASH in obese humans.”
Triglycerides and RA :
The Omega 3 Institute recommends between 2000-3000 mg of EPA plus DHA daily in order to be effective lowering blood fat levels (triglycerides) or to help manage symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
This represents only a few examples of the ongoing research findings about the benefits of using EPA/DHA supplementation to target specific health conditions. Please note that the interactions and conversions necessary for health will vary from person to person.
Are you supplementing with EPA/DHA? Have you noticed improvements in your condition? If so I’d love to hear from you!
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