Fish Oil: What is the Difference Between EPA and DHA?

In this article, Dr. Lara talks about the importance of fish oil and the difference between EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish oil is one of the best supplements most people can take for overall health and wellness.

In fact, if a patient is on a budget and can only afford one or two supplements at a time, I generally recommend fish oil be one of them.

Fish Oil for Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The oils of fatty fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids. These “omega-3s” play essential roles in our health, starting with reducing inflammation.

Specifically, fish oil provides two primary types of omega-3s: EPA and DHA.

We sometimes hear questions from patients like “what’s the difference between EPA and DHA?” and “how much of each omega-3 should I consume?”.

Let’s take a closer look at the different benefits of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)

Along with DHA, EPA is one of the two primary omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. A key health benefit for EPA is its ability to reduce and control inflammation. Chronic inflammation is rampant in today’s world, and the links between inflammation and today’s leading diseases are well-documented(1). Reducing inflammation is a key first step to bringing our overall health and wellness into balance. EPA omega-3s are an important tool to help.

Benefits of EPA Omega-3s

  • Reduces and controls inflammation (1)
  • May reduce symptoms of depression (2)
  • Shown to reduce hot flashes during menopause (3)

    DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)

    The other primary omega-3 found in fish oil is DHA. DHA is essential to brain development and brain health, and has been shown to protect against a number of diseases.

    Benefits of DHA Omega-3s(4)

    • Important for brain development and brain health
    • Supports eye health and vision
    • Improves cardiovascular health by reducing triglycerides, decreasing thrombosis, and preventing cardiac arrhythmias
    • Has a positive effect on diseases such as hypertension and arthritis

      Good Natural Dietary Sources of EPA & DHA Omega-3s

      In my recent blog article about the importance of eating organic, I shared the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen produce lists from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). EWG also maintains a seafood guide with guidance on the best seafood to eat for maximum omega-3s with minimum mercury content.

      EWG’s “Best Bets” (very high omega-3s, very low mercury, sustainable)

      • Salmon
      • Sardines
      • Mussels
      • Rainbow Trout
      • Atlantic Mackerel

      EWG’s “Good Choices” (high omega-3, low mercury)

      • Oysters
      • Pollock
      • Herring

      EWG’s “Avoid” (mercury levels too high to eat regularly)

      • King Mackerel
      • Marlin
      • Orange Roughy
      • Shark
      • Swordfish
      • Tilefish

      In earlier times, humans naturally received plentiful amounts of fish oil and omega-3s in our diets. The reality in today’s world is that it’s extremely difficult to get sufficient levels of fish oil from diet alone. Most of us eat far less seafood than our ancient ancestors, even those who consume it relatively regularly. And, when we do consume fish, the omega-3 levels are unknown, and often come with toxic contaminants like mercury.

      For these reasons, I take a high-quality fish oil supplement daily, and I recommend that my patients do the same.

      I take Supreme Omega-3 fish oil from my Awaken line of natural, pharmaceutical-grade supplements. Each serving provides 720 mg of EPA and 420 mg DHA. I source my fish oil from the waters off Chile's remote coast, some of the most pristine waters in the world. The oil then undergoes 287 different quality and purity tests, including tests for PCBs, histamine, fatty acids, microbiology, and heavy metals.

      Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine