After a multivitamin, the second most important supplement
for most people to take each day is Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3, found in fish
oil, is made up of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which seems to have heart
protective effects, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) which seem to be of benefit
to the nervous system.
What is the preferred ratio of EPA / DHA?
More EPA than DHA for Cardiovascular Health
If your objective is supporting heart health, you will probably be
better off with a product that contains about twice as much EPA as DHA. This is
the ratio used in most studies that found a protective benefit of fish oil
against cardiovascular disease.
More DHA than EPA for Nervous System Health
On the other hand, DHA is more important than EPA fatty acid for
the eyes and brain, especially in children. If your concern is supporting
recovery from depression, bipolar disorder, lazy eye syndrome (amblyopia), or
macular degeneration… then you are better of using a product that contains more
DHA than EPA. This is not easy since most fish supplements contain more EPA
Another way to think of it is… EPA is for function and DHA is for structure.
How to buy Omega3 supplements
It is better to buy products that contain at least 600 mg of
total omega-3 essential fatty acids (EPA + DHA),
whether they contain more EPA or more DHA. When you buy a product that contains
at least 600 mg of essential fatty acids in a 1,000 mg capsule, there
simply is not a lot of room left for impurities.
Some low-quality products contain as little as 180 mg of omega-3
essential fatty acids per 1,000 mg capsule (that’s a total of only 180 of
EPA+DHA per 1000mg of supplement), making them three times as expensive (in
terms of available nutrients) and far more likely to trigger allergies or
stomach upset because of potential fillers.
For reference: Costco’s Kirkland brand Omega 3 Fish Oil comes as a 1200mg capsule and contains 410 mg EPA and 274mg DHA for a total of 684mg of Omega three per 1200mg total capsule size.
Their “cheaper” version they call “concentrate”, which actually has far LESS total omega-3’s. It is a 1000mg capsule that contains only 180mg EPA and 120mg DHA (total of only 300 mg omega-3) making the“higher priced” product the BETTER VALUE! As with anything, know what you’re paying for. Often the “cheaper” products actually cost more over time.
EPA and DHA are found in seafood, especially
mackerel, salmon, striped bass, rainbow trout, halibut, tuna, and sardines.
Supplements of fish oils that contain EPA and DHA are sold over the counter. Salmon oil naturally contains more DHA than EPA (often several times more) and products made only from algal oil will contain only DHA. DHA can be
found by itself, these supplements are usually from an algae source.
Note: Flaxseed oil contains ALA, which the body can convert into DHA (women more
efficiently than men). But each person seems to convert it at a different rate
so it’s hard to know for sure how much to take. Also, in one study, men with the highest
intake of ALA were about twice as likely as those with the lowest intakes to
develop advanced prostate cancer. And the risk was increased regardless of
whether the ALA came from vegetable or animal sources, according to findings
published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Vision and DHA
The rods and cones of the retina in the eyes are very rich in DHA. Hence, a deficiency in dietary fish oils will reduce the photoreceptor activity of retinal cells, and may reduce visual acuity. On the other hand, supplementation with fish oils (or flaxseed oil) could lead to visual improvement, enhanced color perception (as long as no cataract exist) and better macular health.
Since levels of DHA in the brain decline with age, it is likely that the levels of DHA also decline in the retina. Is it possible that daily intake of fish oils can improve vision in older individuals and has already been shown to aid in the treatment of macular degeneration?
Alternative Omega-3 sources
Two good plant-based sources of Omega-3 are walnuts and chia seeds (yes that’s right, the same seed used for the “Chia Pet”… yes you can eat chia seeds!)