epa dha omega3
Eye Health

EPA and DHA Omega-3

written by Vin Kutty

comments 41 comments

EPA and DHA are two types of Omega-3 fats.

Your body MUST HAVE them to survive. That’s why they’re called Essential Fatty Acids.

  • EPA stands for Eicosapentaenoic Acid.
  • DHA stands for Docosahexaenoic Acid.

But for now we’ll just call them EPA DHA.

EPA DHA Omega-3 fats can only be obtained from the foods that you eat. Oily fish like salmon, anchovy and mackerel are excellent sources of EPA DHA Omega-3.

Of course, most of us don’t eat these fish three to four times a week like we should.

It’s a lot easier to eat fish oil supplements.

Not eating enough EPA DHA Omega-3 has serious consequences.

Why is EPA DHA deficiency so dangerous?

Well, because our bodies need both Omega-3 even before we are born!

A growing fetus needs DHA to build the brain and eyes. DHA is actually used to build the brain and eyes. It is the brick or building block used to make a brain.*

More than half of the fat in the brain is DHA.

That’s why it is so important for pregnant women to get DHA.*

Even after birth, the baby needs a lot of DHA.

DHA needed by a child: 300 mg a day*
Average American kid eats: 19 mg a day

What does this mean?

This means children’s brains may not be well nourished with low DHA consumption. This means their brains and eyes are not developing, as they should.

This affects their general health.

Because of DHA’s role in the brain and eyes, DHA seems more important than EPA. But that’s not true. EPA has its own unique benefits.

What about EPA Omega-3?

Average American eats about 50 mg EPA a day. But we need at least 10X as much.

EPA is part of every cell in our body. Without it, the cells don’t communicate with each other, as they should.

Both EPA & DHA have slightly different functions. But they both help protect your heart.

EPA also helps support healthy inflammation response. So EPA is especially important if you are over the age of 50 and concerned about your heart, joints and mood.*

So how much EPA DHA should you take?

The American Heart Association says you need at least 1000 mg Omega-3 per day.

As a nation, the average American is far, FAR off that target!

Is there EPA DHA in Flaxseed oil?

Nope. Not a bit. Flaxseed has a different Omega-3 called ALA.

And ALA has some other benefits, but it is not the same as EPA DHA. Some animals are good at converting ALA to EPA DHA, but not humans.

So don’t waste your money on flaxseed oil. Flax seeds themselves are great – they have lots of nutrients and they can be added into salads and cereals. But just don’t rely on Flaxseed oil to give you any EPA DHA.

Flaxseed oil has no EPA DHA Omega-3

Latest scientific data says some DHA can be converted to EPA in the body. But EPA does not appear to be converted to DHA.

This means that you really need both EPA DHA Omega-3.


Which fish oil has the most EPA DHA?

Most fish oil pills sold in drug and grocery stores have only 30% EPA DHA combined. They usually have about 18% EPA and 12% DHA.

It is normal have a bit more EPA than DHA. The ratio of EPA DHA depends on the type of fish.

Tuna, for example, has a lot more DHA than EPA. Tuna oil typically has 25% DHA and 5% EPA. But don’t rush out and buy Tuna oil, especially if you’re pregnant. Because Tuna is a big, long-lived fish and big fish tend to have more mercury and other pollutants.

Let’s look at regular fish oil (retail-grade) from

  • 1000 mg retail-grade fish oil pill: will have 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA. That’s not bad. But you need 3 or 4 pills every day to meet the minimum recommendations for general health.
  • 1200 mg retail grade fish oil pill: will have 216 mg EPA and 144 mg DHA.

You need a lot more EPA DHA Omega-3. This means you could be popping a dozen fish oil pills daily! That’s crazy!

That’s why you need high potency, high purity Ultra-concentrated fish oils.

Look for fish oils that have over 85% Omega-3. That’s the unofficial line in the sand that distinguishes regular fish oil from Ultra-concentrated fish oil.

There are several excellent brands that I recommend:

  • Nordic Naturals
  • Minami Nutrition
  • RenewLife
  • OmegaVia
  • OmegaBrite
  • Omax3

All of them are available online. They all have different levels of Omega-3.

GNC has a product called Triple Strength Fish Oil, which is made from 60% Omega-3 fish oil. While it is a good product, 60% does not make the cut because the other 40% is unhealthy non-omega-3 fats.

You always want to reduce the percent of non-omega-3-fats.

Bottom-line: EPA DHA Omega-3 are absolutely crucial to your health. Make sure you are getting enough through your diet or through supplementation.

SCIENCE: EPA DHA Cellular Uptake

  • EPA and DHA undergo different kinetic and enrichment paths.
  • EPA is incorporated quickly into the outer membranes of erythrocytes. Incorporation is linear up to 9 grams of fish oil per day.
  • DHA is incorporated only during erythrocyte development and on the inside membranes.
  • Determination of omega-3 in erythrocytes and plasma is now recognized as a beneficial long term biomarker of heart health.
  • Red blood cell (RBC) EPA DHA index or Omega-3 Index is considered as a new risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

  1. Hello again!

    Could you give me an idea of what age would a child’s needs for DHA change to a higher need for EPA?

    • Hi Rusti – children’s brains do most of their growing in utero and in the first 3 years. But still, I would not reduce kid’s DHA intake and increase EPA at least until age 10-12. I must admit that I don’t a quotable reference for this guidance. But I think it is dangerous to start weaning kids away from DHA for several reasons. If you decide to give your child a high EPA formula due to ADHD or depression etc., make sure he or she still gets at least 250 mg of DHA per day.
      – Vin Kutty

  2. The thing is you CAN just have Pure EPA and not have to worry so much about DHA as the body converts EPA a LOT better to DHA than the other way around (DHA to EPA).

    While I agree it is important to have DHA for growing brains if your child does (or anyone else you know) has Depression, ADHD (or ADD) or mood disorders Pure EPA is recommended and tests / studies have shown it far out performs when combined with DHA.

    I myself did the test as I was popping EPA / DHA combination pills and honestly did not notice any improvement until I went the pure EPA route and noticed an improvement (finally)

    So food for thought.

    • Hi Vaughn – retroconversion of DHA to EPA is about 12%. Not particularly good. Here’s a paper by Conquer and Bruce Holub. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9001371 But from what I understand, EPA to DHA conversion is even weaker – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9280188

      This has also been shown in short chain alpha-linolenic elongation/conversion to EPA and finally DHA. Some (about 5-10% in the general population) of the ALA gets converted to EPA and very, very little of the EPA gets converted to DHA.

      If one has depression, DHA should be avoided. DHA is actually contraindicated in depression per Sublette et al. Reference: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21939614
      Our series of blogs on fish oil & depression has a detailed explanation on why EPA is key for depression.

      Unless you’re pregnant, a child or recovering from stroke or brain trauma, most people will thrive on a high-EPA and low-DHA formula. After all, daily incorporation of DHA into the brain is less than 5 mg per day – http://www.jlr.org/content/50/7/1259.long

      What product do you take for pure EPA?
      – Vin Kutty

    • Hi Vera – I have not seen compelling evidence that show that Omega-3 can increase hair growth or strength. You’ll be healthier with a little more Omega-3, but the same goes for nails.

    • Hi Natirafsu – a whole foods-only diet that consists exclusively of meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts and eggs. No sugar, grains, dairy or legumes. Too that, you may wish to add Omega-3, Vitamin D, Magnesium and phosphatidyl serine supplements. What I’m suggesting is not easy, but I suspect if you follow it, you will notice positive changes. oh, good sleep habits help too – 8 to 9 hours of sleep helps too.

  3. What quantities of EPA and DHA would you recommend in pregnancy?

    My partner is vegetarian, and there are only a few products I can find which are suitable for her.

    I found one with DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid): 120 to 140 mg
    EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid): 60 to 80 mg

    And one with 200mg DHA

    Both are algae based.

    Thanks

    • Hi Andrew – I suggest at least 1000 mg DHA per day, especially during the second and third trimesters. I highly recommend that she take a B-complex or at least a B12 supplement. B12 is found only in animal-based foods. I hope she eats eggs – there are nutrients in egg yolk that the baby’s brain needs for proper development that is difficult or nearly impossible to get elsewhere. Vegetarianism can be healthy if you cover your Omega-3 and B-vitamin needs, but I worry about combining vegetarianism with pregnancy.

    • Hi Bev – yes, that product will help. So will this: http://www.amazon.com/OmegaVia-Pharmaceutical-EPA-Only-Burp-Free-Mini-Gels/dp/B00D37S0HC/

      But supplements alone will not fix the problem. You need to put her on a whole-foods-only diet with lots of vegetables, grass-fed meats, seafood, fruits, eggs and nuts. Absolutely no sugar, processed foods, artificial colors, cereals, wheat, grains, gluten soy, dairy, vegetable oils. She needs a lot of healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil and grass-fed butter. There are studies that show most (not all!) kids lose the symptoms of ADHD on a diet like this and are able to get off medication. If your daughter developed ADHD due to diet, then only diet will fix it. Medications help to cover symptoms but do not get to the root cause of the issue.

  4. Is omega3 contain salmon oil 500 mg and vitamin E 10 mg ,EPA 90mg ,DHA 60 mg used in first three months of pregnancy ?

    • Hi Amira – this product is OK. Better than nothing, but you need something with a LOT MORE DHA, especially during the last three months of pregnancy and during breast feeding.

  5. My son is 10 and hyperactive, he uses a yoga ball as a chair at school and at home. Can you please tell me which supplements are best for him and how much? I have heard of a “drug (Rx)” called Vayarin which is an omega 3 compound and phosphatidylserine. Curious if it’s worth the Dr. Visit for an Rx. Any suggestions for that RX or doses for Omega. DHA vs. EPA for my ADHD son? Thank you so much.
    Denise

    • Hi Denise – before you start on any Rx drug, you may want to find out if your son’s hyperactivity is a result of excess sugar, juice, breakfast cereal, flour, wheat, artificial colors etc. He is not going to like it, but I suggest going cold turkey on anything he eats with the above ingredients.

      Vayarin is Omega-3 and phosphatidylserine, as you noted, both of which you can get from foods (fish and eggs) and/or supplements. I highly recommend that you take the food route first and then try supplements after that. Opt for Rx only after these two much simpler and cheaper options have failed. There was a recent study in Europe where they limited the children’s foods to meats, vegetable, fruits and water – not surprisingly, ADHD virtually disappeared.

      • Thank you for the response. We have made diet changes, including the Feingold program and protein addition. I am specifically interested in your suggestions on dosages or of you have heard of success with PS- Omega usage. I was going to begin 1 cap daily of MorEpa because that’s what we have in the house.
        Thank you so much.
        Denise

        • Hi Denise – the Feingold program is very effective at rooting out causes like artificial colors, preservatives and such. But it often tends to ignore the big ones like sugar, flour and wheat. You have to combine the Feingold method with a ‘paleo’ type eating where you are focused on vegetables, meats, seafood and fruits. I have not heard of success with Vayarin alone, but I have heard of cases where people noticed benefits with about 500 mg of EPA. I would also suggest increasing high zinc foods: beef, lamb, pumpkin seeds and cashews. Occasional zinc supplements are OK too. MorEPA would be a good place to start. We have a similar product: http://www.omegavia.com/epa-500/

  6. hi vin
    i recently started taking nordic natural high epa/dha for long term depression. it is 650 epa and 450 dha per 2 caps. i take 4 caps a day. i am also on long term anti depressant treatment but with limited benifit and thats why im really keen to try omega 3 fish oils alongside them. However after reading articles on your website and others im wondering should i be taking a pure epa supplement only and at what dose? S0me articles suggest 1000mg epa and others say 2000mg.

    • Hi Eileen – I suggest you reduce your current fish oil dosage to 2 per day and take an EPA-only supplement in addition. May be 500 mg or 1000 mg of EPA per day. It is possible that you may have other nutritional deficiencies, chronic inflammation or need to address lifestyle factors. I strongly suggest that you work with a functional or integrative MD in your area. More info here: http://www.omegavia.com/supplements-for-depression-anxiety/

    • Hi Loretta – the first thing to address for blood pressure is diet. You will have to cut out sugar, processed foods, juices and refined grains. You’ll need to eat a lot more vegetables and seafood – these foods have more potassium, magnesium and Omega-3. Increasing potassium, magnesium and Omega-3 is as important, if not more, than reducing salt intake.

    • Hi Rob – DHA probably has an effect on both depression and ADD/ADHD, but so far, what research has shown is that EPA has a large and measurable effect. For depression, however, more DHA than EPA makes the situation worse. DHA is essential for so many other functions in the body.

  7. Again ,Thank You about on EPA. As I had not mentioned believing that EPA was completely a good supplement for cardio health. But , that was some time back when i was just learning about Omega 3.

      • In your opinion (either personnel/professional ) how sure are you , on a percentage scale , would you say that EPA treats ADD/ADHD and depression ?

        • Hi Rob – hard to give a percentage scale. Here is why: ADD/ADHD is not caused just by Omega-3 deficiency alone. There have been some studies that show marked improvement in kids’ behavior when given Omega-3. And other studies where they don’t show much improvement. Some of this could be due to study design (improper dosage, multiple variables etc.) but it could also be because the root cause may be something other than Omega-3 deficiency. Same story with Omega-3 and depression. But it goes without saying that a whole-foods-only diet free of toxins – sugar, grains, processed foods with Omega-6-rich seed oils, artificial colors and flavors etc. will go a LONG way to addressing these health issues. This is basically a Paleo type diet like the one written about in the book Perfect Health Diet by Jaminet. This means doing difficult things like not eating much restaurant-cooked foods, not eating wheat and eating more seafood, liver, and finding and home-cooking fresh organic veggies etc. in safe oils like olive oil, butter or coconut oil. While depression and ADHD may seem completely unrelated, it is possible (and quite likely) that they are often a result of eating and doing thing that our bodies aren’t designed for. I’m not dismissing genetic predispositions or other medical conditions. Google ‘Paleo dietitian’ and talk to one of them…in the meantime, work with an MD to treat and rule out other issues.

  8. Hi, I am a 33 year old male. What is the right age to start taking EPA-DHA supplements? I have been taking these supplements for past 6 months but my wife keeps warning me that I am unnecessarily taking these capsules and she thinks that these supplements are required after certain age like 50 years and I am young and my body doesn’t need these supplements and moreover our doctor hasn’t recommended it . She doesn’t like the idea that I am just taking these pills by referring internet.

    • Hi Avinash – you need Omega-3 to survive. If your diet is low in Omega-3 (seafood) then you need to supplement for optimal health. Babies need Omega-3, teenagers need it and so do elders. Age has nothing to do with it. But your diet does.

  9. Hi Vin
    This is undoubtedly the best article on Omega 3 I have ever read. I am a diabetic Senior citizen with high blood pressure and lately have had trouble sleeping. And there are days I feel depressed.

    My Dr. suggested that I start taking Omega 3 (650 epa and 375 dha) combination twice a day.
    I have not been able to find the (375 dha). Is it okay to take (450 dha) combination ?
    And is this supplement a good recommendation for my health issues?

    Thanks

    • Hi Bettye – I’m glad your doctor has you on a good dose of Omegas. I don’t think it will reverse diabetes, blood pressure and poor sleep, but it will help with your mood, heart, skin and brain. Yes, the 450 DHA is perfectly fine.

  10. I am currently in my second trimester and my gynae prescribed GNC’s dha 250 dietary supplement. One capsule contain 250mg DHAand 100 mg of EPA .She asked me to take 2 capsule every morning . I am worried that in pregnancy we are not encouraged to take fish oil with EPA as it contain mercury too. Pls advise me.

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