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DHA versus EPA in fish oil

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When you buy fish oil you will notice different companies tout how much  DHA or EPA  their product has. While both are beneficial, you may want to consider the unique properties of each to address different aspects of health. EPA has anti-inflammatory effects while DHA is known for boosting brain health.

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid and EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid. Both are  omega-3 fatty acids  found in cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. A vegetarian source of omega 3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body may convert to EPA and DHA. Dietary sources include walnuts and flax seed. However, some people have trouble converting ALAs to beneficial forms of omega 3, particularly if insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) is an issue. Eating a diet high in omega-6 fats, those found in chips, fried foods, processed foods, and restaurant foods, may also hinder this conversion.

DHA supports brain health

Most fish oil supplements have a one to one ratio of DHA to EPA. If your goal is to dampen or prevent inflammation—aches, pain, swelling—then standard fish oils or a fish oil with more EPA may be desirable. However, if you want to improve brain function, then consider a fish oil with a higher concentration of DHA. A higher DHA ratio can support issues such as depression, mood swings, bipolar symptoms, or poor memory. Although some fish oils offer a 4 to 1 ratio of EPA to DHA, some products go as high as 10 to 1 or even 24 to 1. Ask my office for a good source of DHA-rich oil.

How DHA helps the brain

DHA  is an important building block in the brain. It improves how fluid and flexible neurons are and enhances communication between neurons. When neurons are healthier and communicate better with each other, overall brain function improves. DHA has been shown to reduce brain degeneration, improve short and long term memory, reduce brain inflammation (which can cause brain fog), and improve quality of life.

How much fish oil should you take

Dosage recommendations seem to increase with each new study, perhaps because Americans continue to eat so poorly and are becoming less healthy.

One  study  recommends 3,500 mg for a person eating 2,000 calories per day. So if you eat 3,000 calories then you should take at least 5,250 mg of omega-3 oils daily.

This is important to realize because the average EFA capsule is only 1,000 mg, meaning many people should take at least 5 to 6 capsules of fish oil a day, versus the standard two to three. If you are on a blood-thinning medication talk to your doctor first as fish oil helps thin the blood.

Reduce consumption of omega 6 fatty acids to boost effects of DHA and EPA

To maximize the effect of your fish oil supplement, limit your intake of  omega 6 fatty acids. Although we need omega 6 fatty acids, the average American eats far too much in relation to omega 3 oils. Foods high in omega 6 include fried foods, partially hydrogenated fats, and processed vegetable oils. Healthier fats can be found in cold water fish, olive oil, avocados, and raw nuts and seeds.

Meet the Author

Dr. Matz DC

Dr. Boyle D.A.C.M., LAc., DiplOM. is the founder of the Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas where he is the Director of Functional Medicine. He holds a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine and is acupuncture physician and primary care physician in the state of Florida. His post-graduate focus has been in the fields of functional neurology, functional immunology, and functional endocrinology.

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