Why OmegaVia has so much more EPA than DHA.
And why that’s important for your health.
How much EPA or DHA your fish oil has matters.
But it depends on what your age and health goals are – if you’re 25 and pregnant or 60 and achy.
You need a high-DHA formula if you’re:
- recovering from brain injury or trauma or stroke
However, the rest of us need more EPA than DHA.
If you are trying to:
- Curb inflammation
- Manage depression
- Reduce blood lipids (fats), then a high-EPA fish oil is what works.
In this post, I will explain why EPA is the right natural choice for reducing inflammation.
EPA Omega-3 is Key to Reducing Inflammation
EPA is the most critical Omega-3 for reducing inflammation.
Bear with me on the science for just a bit.
EPA inhibits the Omega-6 Arachidonic Acid (AA). Whoa, Skippy, you lost me at EPA!
OK, this goes back to why I rant about Omega-6 at every chance I get.
Your body breaks down Omega-3 into anti-inflammatory substances. And on the flip side, Omega-6 breaks down into substances that are highly inflammatory.
If you eat a regular American diet, you have an artificially high need for EPA.
If you eat a strictly ‘paleo‘ diet with only leaves, tubers, wild caught fish and game (yes that includes liver and brain,) your Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio will be hunky dory.
Then, you won’t need much supplemental EPA. Or supplemental anything.
But if you eat even an occasional french fry or a peanut, you’ve paved the path for inflammation and an artificial need for EPA. The reality is that our diets contain 10 to 20 times more Omega-6 than they should.
Too much Omega-6 causes silent inflammation that you cannot feel. Inflammation is linked to a whole bunch of chronic diseases from depression to arthritis. On the other hand, painful inflammation is something we can see and feel. This type of inflammation causes redness, tenderness, stiffness and pain. Arthritis is an example of this type of inflammation that we can see and feel.
The OmegaVia Formula: when we were formulating OmegaVia, we could have just as easily made a high-DHA formula. But we didn’t. After surveying the American nutritional landscape, it was clear and obvious that what Americans needed was a high-EPA product. So we made one that we could take ourselves.
Back to how EPA Omega-3 acts as a ‘inhibitor’ to the Omega-6, Arachidonic Acid (AA)
We care about this because AA is a source of several inflammatory cytokines. Easy with the big words, Jack!
It just so happens that EPA and AA compete for the same enzyme in your body – it’s called delta-5-desaturase.
The more EPA you have the less enzyme you have for producing AA. So more EPA means the more you inhibit or suppress the production of AA. And since AA is a key source of inflammation, EPA inhibits inflammation.
EPA nips it in the bud, so to speak. I’ve called it musical chairs before. If EPA gets the chair, AA loses.
Wouldn’t DHA work just as well?
No. DHA does not inhibit AA. Why? Because DHA is a larger molecule and its structure simply won’t allow it.
All this has to do with what’s called the Eicosanoid pathway. See nifty diagram below. Aspirin works by changing the levels of eicosanoids in your body – it blocks the enzyme that AA uses to make its inflammatory compounds. And Omega-3 and Omega-6 can affect these same enzymes.
(This stuff is mind-bogglingly complicated and even with my chemistry background, it makes me cross-eyed.)
But wait! There’s more! If you read this now, I’ll tell you about TWO ways EPA helps for the price of one!
AA is typically stored in cell membranes. To release it from storage, you need a different enzyme called phospholipase A2 (PLA2).
Once again, there is competition between EPA and AA for this enzyme. Having high levels of EPA reduces the chance of AA being released and converted to pro-inflammatory substances.
So, once again, EPA reduces inflammation by keeping a little more AA locked up in the cell membrane.
Here’s a fact to dazzle Alex Trebek with: bug bites trigger release of PLA2, which as you now know, triggers release of AA, which causes inflammation. Hence the sore, red bump where you got bit.
(Your response to Alex would be: ‘What is a little known fact about bug bites that no one gives a crap about?‘)
Besides Jeopardy, why else do we care about phospholipase A2? Well, a group of drugs called corticosteroids also reduce inflammation by inhibiting the PLA2 enzyme.
Think cortisone, prednisone and even drugs like Nasonex. Of course, they are targeted and powerful drugs.
If I get a bug bite, I’ll still reach for the Cortizone because EPA does not work well topically. (Not to mention the odor and eventual toll on my social life.)
EPA isn’t a drug. It is lowly ol’ fish oil. But isn’t it wonderful that it does similar things like these powerful drugs? Minus the side effects, I might add.
DHA does not do this.
Most doctors don’t spend much time thinking about the eicosanoid pathway, delta-5-desaturase or phospholipase A2 and how EPA can help reduce inflammation.
May be that’s one reason why Dr. Oz is always pushing DHA supplements. His across-the-board recommendation of 600 mg of DHA per day is misguided and ignores the facts above. But I applaud the intent and the focus he’s brought to Omega-3.
Taking Mega Doses of EPA is Cheating
Taking high doses of EPA works. But it’s cheating and somewhat unnatural. If you’re OK with that sorta thing…
The right thing to do is eat less Omega-6.
- Stop cooking with vegetable oils.
- Stop eating out – restaurants cook with Omega-6-rich soybean oil. Yes, even fancy ones.
- Stop eating processed foods – they are also cooked with soybean oil or corn oil.
There is a damn good chance that anything fried outside your house is dripping with Omega-6.
But soybean is a vegetable and has no cholesterol, Jack!
Once you get your Omega-6 intake under control – this may take several months – you will be less inflamed. Then you will be able to manage inflammation without mega-doses of EPA Omega-3.
What do I mean by mega-doses?
You can actually get your AA to EPA ratio measured. Not many labs offer this service, but some do. More on that in another blog.
The balance of AA to EPA in your blood determines the level of inflammation that you have. The more AA you have, the more inflammation. The more EPA, you have, the less inflammation.
AA/EPA ratios vary depending on diet. Fish-eating older Japanese have very favorable AA/EPA ratios and also very low heart disease. The two facts could be connected. An American would have to eat 5 to 7 grams of Omega-3 to match the Japanese in their AA/EPA levels. More here.
If you’re wondering, that’s between 4 to 6 OmegaVia capsules per day.
I am not comfortable recommending more than 4 OmegaVia pills per day. If you need more, for whatever reason, that tells me that a drastic diet makeover is in order – starting with cutting back Omega-6 and sugar.
No supplement can outrun a bad diet. Jack!
Unless you’re pregnant, nursing, or a child, it’s time to start taking more EPA (and less Omega-6.). Regardless of what Dr. Oz tells you.
In part 2, we’ll discuss more reasons why you may need more EPA than DHA. Including a study that revealed the shockingly low levels of DHA that an adult human brain absorbs every day.
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About the Author: Vin Kutty, M.S. is OmegaVia’s Scientific Advisor and Chief Blogger. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with over 20 years of experience.