Plenty of research exists as to why essential fatty acids are important. They're essential because your body can't make them – you must consume these fats from food or supplements.
The two most beneficial omega 3’s, backed by extensive research – EPA and DHA.
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are omega-3 essential fatty acids very difficult to pronounce, but luckily they have simple acronyms we can refer to instead! They're primarily found in fish, fish oil, and cod liver oil, and although they work together in the body, each fatty acid has very unique benefits. Let’s take a look at each of them.
What is EPA?
Research shows EPA supports heart health, immune function, circulation, and joint health. Research shows fish oil supports healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The American Heart Association recommends people with heart disease consume a minimum of 1 gram of combined EPA and DHA per day, and those with high triglycerides consume 2-4 grams per day.
What is DHA?
DHA is essential to brain function throughout life. It improves learning and memory, reduces depression and anxiety, is essential for healthy infant and child development, and uniquely benefits the brain and nerve cells. DHA also improves eye health. During pregnancy and the first two years of a child’s life, DHA is essential for the development of the brain, eyes, nervous system, and immune system. I took a Nordic Naturals Omega liquid fish oil supplement during both my pregnancies -- straight off the spoon, and it never gave me fishy "reflux."
Recommended Dosage of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
EPA and DHA are both very beneficial in different ways. Choosing to consume higher amounts of one fatty acid over the other may depend on what your health focus is.
Experts recommend 500-1000 mg EPA+DHA per day to maintain health and avoid deficiency.
Therapeutic doses of EPA+DHA range from 1 to 4 grams per day.
To support the body’s normal inflammatory response, clinical studies suggest a minimum of 3 grams of EPA and DHA. Read the supplement facts on the product to know how much individual EPA and DHA you are getting.
Dietary Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Given the wide-ranging importance and benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, it is important to eat cold-water fish or other seafood one to two times per week, particularly fatty (dark meat) fish, which are richer in EPA and DHA. If you don't have access to wild-caught, cold-water fish, or you don't eat it weekly, consider a fish oil or cod liver supplement. I like this fish oil and take it every single morning, immediately upon waking up.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Mozaffarian D, Ascherio A, Hu FB, et al. Interplay between different polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Circulation. 2005; 111:157-64.
Eilander A, Hundscheid DC, Osendarp SJ, Transler C, Zock PL. Effects of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on visual and cognitive development throughout childhood: a review of human studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2007; 76:189-203.
Oken E, Kleinman KP, Berland WE, Simon SR, Rich-Edwards JW, Gillman MW. Decline in fish consumption among pregnant women after a national mercury advisory. Obstet Gynecol. 2003; 102:346-51.