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Why OmegaVia is High In EPA: Mood Benefits

by Vin Kutty, MS on February 24, 2013

Kathy Mankofsky and I recently published a 7-part series on fish oil and depression. So I won’t rehash that here. See parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

fish oil depression - EPA Omega-3 works and DHA Omega-3 does not

Pure EPA Omega-3 or formulas that contain more than 60% EPA reduce depressive symptoms while formulas that are mostly DHA Omega-3 do not appear to reduce depression.
Source: Sublette et al., 2011.

 

I want to elaborate on a couple of topics not previously addressed:

  1. If the brain is so full of DHA, then why does EPA (and not DHA) help with depression?
  2. The concept of ‘Unopposed EPA’

The best summary of the state of the science was published by Dr. Sublette of Columbia University Medical Center. She also has a website called MoodStudies.org

Dr. Sublette found that depression was significantly improved when a fish oil formula had 60% or more EPA.

If the fish oil contained equal parts EPA and DHA or mostly DHA, there was no improvement in depression.

Actually, DHA is contraindicated for depression per this publication.

But this flies in the face of two facts:

  1. DHA is the major component of the brain – there is hardly any EPA in the brain
  2. Depressed people have less DHA in their brain

So…what gives?

We don’t have all the answers yet, but here are a few possible reasons:

  1. Depression may not be just brain-related

    • We think of depression as being exclusively brain-related. I’ve argued that depression is partly gut-and-diet related. If you eat crap (sugar, wheat & vegetable oils), then your gut will be leaky and inflamed.
    • The concept of the gut-brain axis is still fairly new to western medicine. Progress is slow. Our grandchildren will hear a lot more about it than we do. Listen to Chris Kresser talk about it on his podcast.
    • Makes you rethink the term ‘gut feeling,’ doesn’t it?
  2. EPA possibly enters brain and improves function

  3. EPA indirectly increases DHA levels in the brain

    • EPA is a precursor to DHA.
    • EPA could increase production of DHA but the evidence here is weak.
  4. Depression is likely a symptom of chronic inflammation

     Depression in people with Hepatitis C

    Treating Hepatitis C involves increasing inflammation with Interferon-Alpha. 30% of patients on Interferon therapy develop depression.

    In this study, EPA reduced incidence of Interferon-induced depression from 30% to 10%. DHA reduced it from 30% to 28%. The authors state that this strategy is only effective only in the context of depression associated with inflammation.

But there’s more!

Since EPA is very effective at reducing inflammation, the inflammation-depression link is the strongest argument for EPA having a role in managing depression.

[Question: if I’m reading this pathway correctly, isn’t supplementing with 5-HTP or Tryptophan by hyper-inflamed persons a bad idea? You’d be providing additional substrate for cytokine-mediated conversion to KA and QA…bad juju, no?]

OK, but why does excess DHA hurt?

The Sublette paper suggests it could be due to EPA and DHA competing for some unknown binding site where EPA in excess helps and DHA in excess hurts. And Maes et al., says it could be because DHA induces a Th-1-like immune response, which makes DHA contraindicated for depression. (I’d love to explain that but it’s above my pay grade. :-) And I like being awake. Thanks for asking.)

What is Unopposed EPA?

The concept of unopposed EPA comes from the understanding that fish oil formulas that contained 60% or more EPA reduced depressive symptoms.

The higher the percent of EPA in the formula, the more likely it was to help.

So if your fish oil supplement contains 500 mg total Omega-3, of which 300 mg is EPA and 200 mg is DHA, then the unopposed EPA = mg EPA minus mg DHA. 300 – 200 = 100 mg of unopposed EPA.

Unopposed EPA

OmegaVia supplement facts panel: mg EPA minus mg DHA = Unopposed EPA.

More is not better. Again.

Don’t gulp down 20 fish oil pills after reading all this.

Turns out, there is a sweet spot: between 1000 mg and 2200 mg of unopposed EPA per day. One study noticed benefits with just 200 mg of unopposed EPA per day.

Too much unopposed EPA, and no benefit.

Depression can have many causes. Inflammation is just one of them. Taking EPA may not have much effect if your depression is caused by something other than inflammation, such as emotional/psychological factors.

But if you want to read more about how to reduce inflammation, read this.

 

DISCLAIMER: This website is for your education and general health information only. The ideas and suggestions contained on this website are not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your doctor for any health condition or problem. Users of this website should not rely on information provided on this website for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician.

Author Vin Kutty is an expert on fish oil About the Author: Vin Kutty, M.S., is co-founder of Innovix Pharma. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Karim July 25, 2013 at 12:51 am

Hello Vin,
First I would like to thank you for the blog ,it is really useful.
I am 24 years old and I was always suffering from being forgetfulness and bad memory . This year was the worse for me and I decided to visit a psychiatric .I was diagnosed with 1)ADHD 2)Bipolar disorder type 2 3)depression 4)Anxiety 5)impaired short and long memory ( lol )
Now that I sound totally wasteful ,I don’t believe I am having all these disorders.
the bipolar is probably the reason behind both depression and anxiety and my ADHD is not the worst.
To make a story short ,my question is:
what’s the bests EPA/DHA ratio would benefit me the most and how many gm am I supposed to take (EPA and DHA)
I know high EPA will stabilize my mood and will help with depression .However,I also want to improve my memory and my cognitive functions.
when I consume lot of tuna I feel my brain is sharp and that’s what I am hoping from getting from an omega 3 supplement.
will omegavia be my best option ?should I consider a different brand with higher DHA?do I need to combine Omega6 with Omega 3 ?
Thank you

Reply

Vin Kutty July 25, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Hi Karim – you’d be fine with a regular ratio since you’re primarily brain focused. But remember, fish oil + bad diet = bad diet. You may get greater benefits from switching to a whole foods only diet.

OmegaVia is certainly NOT the only option available to you. Experiment with both supplement and diet and see what works best. But definitely avoid Omega-6 supplements!

Reply

Karim July 25, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I am watching my diet and also trying to get a boost from a fish oil supplement.
Which is more important to me EPA or DHA ?
I have been reading all these research papers since yesterday and I am simply lost :)
Is taking a supplement with high EPA cancel the benifits of the DHA (“unopposed “DHA =0)
sorry for asking all these questions but I am just trying to get the best thing for my condition.

Reply

Vin Kutty July 26, 2013 at 12:58 am

Karim – a high EPA product would be better for you. But if you can’t find one, don’t over-think it. Just go with what you can find. That’s Step 1. Unless you like reading and interpreting research papers, it will probably send you in too many directions.

Reply

Karim July 26, 2013 at 2:23 am

I really appreciate you spending time sharing your experience with people you don’t even know !
If EPA is better for me ,I’ll go with Omegavia as 2 pills provide at least 1040 mg EPA and still get a fair amount of DHA.
Thank you very much .

Reply

Vin Kutty July 26, 2013 at 3:39 am

You’re welcome. And here’s a cheat sheet: http://www.omegavia.com/supplements-for-depression-anxiety/

I call it a cheat sheet because that’s what this is – cheating. I find that a good diet fixes 80% of chronic health issues. Shop around the periphery of the grocery store where the fresh, whole foods are. Nothing in the middle of the grocery store in boxes, bags and containers – those are delicious food-like substances, not real food. Eat eggs, liver, seafood, green leafy veggies, fermented foods, healthy fats, grass-fed meats, a few nuts and fruits as dessert. Other than nuts, everything should have been alive a few days ago. If not, you’re eating the wrong thing.

Reply

Sam October 30, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Does this mean vascepa is better than fish oil for depression as it is pure EPA?

Reply

Vin Kutty October 30, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Yes, assuming your depression was caused by Omega-3 deficiency. I know a couple of doctors who’ve put their patients on Vascepa for depression. That’s why we recently introduced this product: http://www.amazon.com/OmegaVia-Pharmaceutical-EPA-Only-Burp-Free-Mini-Gels/dp/B00D37S0HC/

Of course, there are a dozen other nutritional factors and some non-nutritional ones that cause or contribute to depression. True relief from depression requires addressing most (if not all) of those issues. Sometimes, it’s not just including some nutrients in your diet but eliminating other toxic ones like gluten that will bring relief.

Reply

locke rush July 31, 2014 at 10:46 pm

Vin – 1000 mg of epa sounds good but how much of it is absorbed? I’ve read that even though Krill oil has much smaller amounts of epa – it is absorbed 10 times better than fish oil which,if true, means that the large amounts of fish oil actually add up to less being absorbed than a much smaller amt. of Krill oil? Please help – I am confused – thanks – Locke

Reply

Vin Kutty, MS July 31, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Hi Locke – yes, 1000 mg of EPA should be fine for most people. Absorption is not a problem with any of the Omega-3s, especially if you take your Omegas with a meal. This doubt has, sadly, been injected into the public discourse by self-serving marketing folks selling one product or another. The superiority of krill oil has been established – it is about 1.6 times better absorbed than fish oil. More on that here: http://www.omegavia.com/is-krill-oil-48x-better-than-fish-oil/ So, yes, krill oil is a little better. To get the same effect of 1000 mg of fish-derived EPA, you’d only have to take 625 mg of EPA from krill. But given that most krill oil pills have less than 100 mg EPA per pill, you’d have to take about 8 pills a day.

Reply

Joe August 25, 2014 at 5:45 pm

You state: Too much unopposed EPA, and no benefit.
My goal is to lower my very high triglycerides AND improve my mood.
If I take 4000 mg unopposed EPA (to lower triglycerides), will I still get positive benefits in mood elevation? Or should i use a different dose?
thanks
Joe

Reply

Vin Kutty, MS August 25, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Hi Joe – your dose for triglyceride reduction should accomplish both tasks…assuming your mood issues are Omega-3 related, of course.

Reply

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