DHA And EPA Archives

Sales of Omega 3 supplements are growing faster than any other nutritional dietary supplement in history.

Lets examine exactly what Omega 3 supplements are and what they do.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is one of the long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids known as essential fatty acids. It is, however, not the only essential fatty acid. Others include EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), and more. These are known as Omega 3 fatty acids.

They are known as essential fatty acids because scientists and health professionals who research our health consider them to be essential for the maintenance of good health, and to help prevent, or ameliorate a range of common health problems.

We have been brought up to believe that fats are bad for us. And in some cases this is true. For example saturated fat, most commonly found in animal products, is not good for our health. However it’s not true that all fat is bad for us and the Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA, are considered essential to good health. They are polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Unlike some nutrients our bodies are unable to create DHA, or the other essential fatty acids, itself. Rather we must rely on dietary intake for our supply of these Omega-3 fatty acids.

Whilst in the past there was a range of sources of DHA in our diet these sources have reduced over the past hundred years. Fish oil from oily fish was the single biggest source of DHA in our diets, however during the last century the amount of fish in the average American diet has reduced dramatically.Omega 3 Supplements

However there are other sources of DHA as well. For example meat has been a good source of DHA and EPA in the past, however is now not so. This is because most of our meat is now sourced from grain fed animals, and grain fed beef is low in these Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Grass fed beef is much higher in Omega3 fats however grass fed beef is now relatively rare in our diets.

Over the last 30 years research has established clearly that adequate supplies of  DHA and EPA, the 2 most important of the omega 3 essential fatty acids, is essential to a wide range of health issues. Research has shown that the average American diet is inadequate in Omega 3 intake and increasing our intake can offer a wide range of health benefits including a reduction in heart disease, including fatal heart attacks, a reduction in the risk of stroke, a wide range of brain benefits including improved memory and brain function and a wide range of other improvements in our health.

However to make the statement that Omega 3 supplements are possibly one of the most important health measures of our generation might be drawing a long bow. Or is it?

A study published in April 2009 performed by a group of Harvard University researchers the study examined your likelihood of dying from one or other of a series of various lifestyle factors.

Various mathematical formulas we used to estimate how many deaths occurred in one year (2005) as a result of each of these various lifestyle factors.
Lifestyle factors examined included smoking, obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, heart disease, alcohol consumption, stroke, diabetes and more.

It was estimated that approximately 467,000 deaths were caused by tobacco smoking. High blood pressure accounted for approximately 395,000 deaths. Overweight, lack of exercise and high blood glucose accounted for roughly 200,000 deaths.

But one of the interesting results of the study related to Omega 3 deficiency. There are probably not many health professionals who would list Omega 3 deficiency as one of your major risk factors, as one of the most likely causes of death.

Yet at number 12 on the list,  just behind a low intake of fruit and vegetables, came low dietary intake of the Omega 3 fatty acids. In other words a deficient intake of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids is a risk factor for dying, and one of the biggest risk factors.

Lifestyle diseases are often extremely difficult to address. Just ask any smoker how hard it is to give up smoking. Ask any drinker how hard it is to give up alcohol.

However addressing a deficiency of the Omega 3 essential fatty acids is not difficult at all, and simply involves eating more of the right type of fish or taking Omega 3 supplements. It’s simple, relatively inexpensive, and might save your life.

And when considered this way we don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Omega 3 supplements may well be one of the most important health measures of our generation.

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What are the benefits of DHA to your health, and what about EPA?

Today we want to look at the benefits of DHA, (Docosahexaenoic acid), the most important of the essential fatty acids (EFAs) known as Omega 3 fatty acids, but which sometimes go under the name of n-3 fatty acids or long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

The DHA benefits are numerous. Lets consider some of the reasons why DHA is so important to your health.

There are so many different fats, like saturated fats, trans-fats, unsaturated fats, essential fats that it all gets confusing. The bottom line is that there’s good fats and bad fats. Some are useful to your health and some are not. DHA as well as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are what is known as polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are beneficial to your health and most of us are deficient in our levels of these fats.

In the past our diet was much higher in fish and other seafoods. We got our polyunsaturated fatty acids in our diet. Now the average Western diet is too low in seafoods and as a result almost all of us are deficient in DHA and EPA.

Your body doesn’t produce essential fatty acids itself and so all of them have to come from your diet, or from high quality supplements.
DHA benefits

DHA and EPA are not the only omega 3 fatty acids. Whilst these are found in fish it is also possible to get ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from plants, however ALA is not as useful to our body as DHA and EPA.

As well as omega 3 fatty acids there are also Omega 6 fatty acids. However whilst our intake of Omega3 fats has reduced over the years our intake of Omega 6 fats has increased. That is because the main sources of Omega 6 are oils such as sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame oil and corn oil. As much of our processed food is cooked in or contains one or more of these oils our Omega 6 intake has increased.

An increase in the n-6 to n-3 ratio also has some serious health implications, we need to increase our intake of Omega 3 EFAs and reduce our intake of Omega 6 EFAs.

So lets have a look at the health benefits of docosahexaenoic acid. Somewhere around 60 % of the brain is made up of fat, and DHA is the predominant fat in the brain. It is also the predominant fat in the retina of the eyes.

An adequate supply of DHA is essential for the development of the brain and eyes, and pregnant or nursing mothers can supply of DHA to the fetus and the baby by taking DHA supplements themselves. Some infant formulas now contain DHA.

It is taken up more readily by the brain than any other fatty acid, because it crosses the blood/brain/placenta barrier more successfully. Most of the development of the brain occurs during the life of the fetus and infant. At birth the body weight of an infant is 5 percent of adult weight but the brain size is 70 percent of the size of an adult right. Most brain growth is completed by the age of 5 or 6.

There is evidence that 40% of children with ADHD have low levels of DHA. It is considered that it also has a beneficial effect on the academic performance of children in school.

It is also known that DHA has an important role in the development and health of the central nervous system.

For the adults studies are showing that it can help lower triglycerides and reduce the risks of heart disease, decrease blood viscosity thereby lowering the risks of blood clots and reduce the effects of various inflammatory diseases.

A study published in 2009 found that a deficiency of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats was one of the most important causes of premature and avoidable death in the US, with somewhere around 72000 to 96000 people dying from this deficiency.

In many cases the studies are showing that the benefits of fish oil come from the combination of DHA and EPA together, and it’s difficult to separate out DHA benefits on their own. However it’s clear that increasing your intake of DHA is very important to your health.

Fish and fish oils supplements contain DHA and EPA together. However many have way more EPA than DHA, and some are now beginning to think it should be the other way round. That the DHA is more important to your health, and that this should be the predominant n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid in the fish oil capsules.

The best Omega 3 capsules now have more DHA than EPA.

There’s no doubt now that almost all of us on the western diet are chronically short of the essential fatty acids known as Omega-3, particularly DHA. And that for some of us this could cause our premature death.

The good news is that there are excellent fish oil capsules available that allow us to take our DHA, and EPA, daily, providing a higher amount of DHA than EPA.

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If you’re not taking DHA supplements you should be.

One of the biggest breakthroughs that science has discovered in recent years in naturally improving your health is the role of DHA (and EPA) in so many aspects of our general health. Today we would like to examine exactly what DHA is, and why DHA is considered so important to many areas of health, including infant health.

DHA stands for Docosahexaenoic acid. It is what is known as a long chain fatty acid, or otherwise known as an essential fatty acid. DHA makes up a large proportion of the fats in our brain and is one of the most important fats in the development of the fetal brain.

Many people assume that eating fat is bad for you. This is far from the truth and there are a number of fats, known as essential fatty acids, that are in fact extremely important for your health. Evidence is that our diets are low in these fats, particularly in DHA, and that increasing our intake of essential fatty acids can have important positive impacts on so many areas of our health.

Certainly there is clear evidence that eating some kinds of fat is bad for you. Saturated fats for example, normally found in meat and dairy products, should only be consumed in smaller quantities than is now the case for most of us. However essential fatty acids have been found over and over again in studies to be very important to our health and our consumption of these should be increased.Omega 3 Fish Oil

The most important of these essential fatty acids is DHA, however EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) is also important. Neither of these fats is manufactured in our body and both must be taken from our food. Current science shows that the average American diet is largely deficient in both DHA and EPA.

Both of these fats are known as Omega 3 fatty acids. You may have heard of the benefits of Omega 3, this refers to the benefits of DHA and EPA. There are a number of sources of DHA and EPA but for our purposes they are primarily found in fish and in particular fish oil, and for various reasons are best taken as DHA supplements, in fact the best way is to take Omega 3 supplements which combines the 2.

Studies are showing significant health benefits, particularly for children, from increasing the intake of DHA specifically in certain circumstances, and suggest that low levels of DHA, (as well as arachidonic acid (AA), a polyunsaturated Omega 6 fatty acid), may well benefit young children with specific paediatric conditions including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cystic fibrosis, phenylketonuria, unipolar depression, aggressive hostility, and congenital metabolic disorders, amongst others.

The Omega 3 fat DHA is an unsaturated (healthy) form of fat. Other forms of fat, known as saturated fats, are not good for the health.

Lets consider in a little more detail the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats.

Probably the simplest way to differentiate between a saturated and an un-saturated fat is to consider the state of the substance at room temperature.

Saturated fats are fats which form a solid at normal room temperatures.

Think about the last time you cooked roast beef. If you left the resultant fat in the oven tray until the next morning it would be solid, and you could scrape it out. And yet when it came out of the oven it was liquid.

Saturated fats are found predominantly in animal products, including all meat.

Now think about some plant-based oils. Olive oil for example. Even if you cook with olive oil, at which time it will be liquid, it will remain as a liquid even at room temperature. It will be a liquid in the bottle in your cupboard right now.

Unsaturated fats are fats which remain a liquid at normal room temperatures.

Unsaturated fats are generally found in plants. They are also found in fish and other seafood.

As well as DHA and EPA there are other Omega 3 fats. A third one that has gained some popularity over recent years is called ALA. This is a plant-based Omega 3 fatty acid. For vegetarians who do not eat fish it is an alternative to taking DHA supplements however the research shows that ALA is not as effective at improving our health as DHA and EPA, primarily because ALA needs to be converted into DHA in the body, and particularly ineffective process. And it is now possible to get vegetarian DHA supplements anyway.

If you’re just starting to research the benefits of DHA supplements, or Omega 3 supplements generally, then please read some of the articles listed in our categories to find out more about some of the specific conditions listed above.

However if you are new to the importance of good DHA supplementation in your diet it’s important to understand that not all Omega 3 supplements are the same. The reason for taking supplements is for their DHA (and EPA) and various supplements have wildly differing amounts of these 2 essential fatty acids. The best Omega 3 supplements have around 2 1/2 times as much DHA as average fish oil supplements.

Not only that but the best Omega 3 supplements have also been shown to work more effectively. For these reasons it is important to choose you’re DHA supplements carefully. To assist we have written to article about how to choose the best fish oil supplements and how to compare fish oil supplements by price which you may find interesting.

So if you’re new to the health benefits of DHA supplements please browse our site to find out more about the importance of increasing your intake of essential fatty acids, (and also decreasing in your intake of saturated fats).

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Is flax seed oil the best source of Omega 3 fats? The flax seed oil vs fish oil debate.

There’s now little doubt that we all need more Omega 3 fats in our diets, but where is the best place to get them? There’s a big flax seed oil vs fish oil debate going on, so we’ll have a look at flax seed oil versus fish oil to see which one wins.

To do so you have to dig a little deeper into why Omega 3 fats are good for you. You see it’s not just that Omega 3 fats are good for you, it’s that specific components of Omega 3 fats are good for you.

More specifically there’s 2 important components of Omega3 fats. EPA and importantly DHA.

Now we won’t go into the chemical reasons why EPA and DHA are good for you, it gets complicated. It’s probably sufficient to say that DHA is a major component of our brain, and for this reason alone DHA is an essential fat for brain function.

However we will look at a couple of specific facts that bear on the fish oil versus flaxseed oil debate. The first is that EPA and DHA are not the only Omega 3 fats. There is another Omega 3 fat called ALA, (Alpha-linolenic acid). (Sorry for all the chemical stuff.)

ALA is present in a higher degree in plant oils like nut oils and flax seed oil, and is not as important to the body as either DHA or EPA. However it is still an Omega 3 fat.
Flax Seed Oil Vs Fish Oil

The reason why flax seed oil is considered to be a good source of Omega 3s is that it is high in ALA, however ALA isn’t so important to our body. However it was also considered that ALA is converted to DHA in our body, so ultimately works well.

For this reason there are various flaxseed oil supplements and the benefits of flax seed oil have been spruiked.

However the argument that ALA converts to DHA in the body has been debunked here, and it is now considered that it doesn’t convert to DHA in the body much at all.

So whilst there are benefits of flax seed oil they aren’t sufficient to justify taking flax seed oil in place of fish oil. You won’t be getting much DHA, the most important Omega 3 oil.

So whilst the benefits of flax seed oil are there the fish oil versus flaxseed oil debate falls on the side of fish oil. The best fish oil supplements are high in DHA. By all means take a flaxseed oil supplement, but in conjunction with a good fish oil supplement.

Flaxseed oil capules are available, so don’t ignore the health benefits of flaxseed oil, but fish oil ought to be your primary emphasis in your diet.
Of course it can’t hurt to take both.

Update on ALA July 2011

We have just been reading a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, published in September 2008. This study attempted to ascertain further how well ALA, being a precursor to EPA and DHA, converted in the human body into these 2 more important Omega 3 fats.

In this study a group of 62 firefighters from Winnipeg in Canada were given, variously, flax seed oil, fish oil or sunflower oil for the placebo group.

Firefighters were chosen for this study because they tended to have higher levels of coronary heart disease, possibly because of their high fat diets, and higher levels of stress.

Each of the firefighters took the supplements for 12 weeks, every day.

In the group who took the fish oil levels of EPA and DHA rose. In the levels who took the flaxseed oil ALA levels rose as you would expect. However these people also had a rise in level of EPA. This would suggest that the ALA found in the flaxseed oil was converting to EPA in their body, because there is no EPA in flax seed oil.

However there was no increase in DHA in the firefighters who took the flaxseed oil, only an increase in EPA.

This would suggest that in fact taking flax seed oil does result in some conversion in the body of ALA to EPA, though how much is not well understood.

And of course if you wish to increase your levels of EPA and DHA it’s much better to do so taking fish oil supplements which have both these Omega 3 fats included. However if you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish then you’re unable to take these supplements, and for those people flax seed oil supplements may result in an increase in EPA in their body.

To read the study click here.

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