What you need to know about EPA and DHA in fish oil


Have you noticed how different fish oils have different amounts of DHA or EPA? Each has unique properties that address different things: EPA has anti-inflammatory effects while DHA is known for boosting brain health.

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid and EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid. These omega-3 fatty acids are found in the cold water fish salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. Vegetarians can get omega 3 from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body converts to EPA and DHA. Vegetarian sources include walnuts and flax seed. However, some people have trouble converting ALAs to omega 3, particularly if they have insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) or diabetes. Also, a diet high in omega-6 fats can also hinder this conversion. Omega-6 fats are found in chips, fried foods, processed foods, and restaurant foods.

DHA supports brain health

Most fish oil supplements have equal ratios of DHA to EPA. If your goal is to quench inflammation—aches, pain, swelling—then standard fish oils or those with more EPA are best. However, if you want to improve brain function, then consider a fish oil with a higher ratio of DHA, which can help with depression, mood swings, bipolar symptoms, or poor memory. Some fish oils offer a 4-to-1 ratio of EPA to DHA while some go as high as 10 to 1. I carry a fish oil that has a 24-to-1 ratio of DHA to EPA.

How DHA helps the brain

DHA improves neuron flexibility and communication. When neurons are healthier and communicate better with each other, overall brain function improves. DHA has been shown to reduce brain degeneration, improve short and long term memory, reduce brain inflammation (which can cause brain fog and depression), and improve quality of life.

How much fish oil should you take

Studies vary in their recommendations of how much fish oil you should take. One study suggests 3,500 mg for a person eating 2,000 calories daily. So if you eat 3,000 calories you should take at least 5,250 mg of omega-3 oils daily.

This is quite a bit more than most people take. The average EFA capsule is only 1,000 mg, meaning many people should take at least 5 to 6 capsules of fish oil a day, versus the standard two to three. However, if you are on a blood-thinning medication talk to your doctor first as fish oil helps thin the blood.

Eat fewer omega 6 fatty acids to boost DHA and EPA

To get the most out of your fish oil, limit your intake of omega 6 fatty acids. Although we need some omega 6 fatty acids, the average person eats too much in relation to omega 3.

Foods high in omega 6 that should be limited include fried foods, partially hydrogenated fats, and processed vegetable oils.

Healthier fats can be found in cold water fish, olive oil, avocados, and raw nuts and seeds.

Dr. David B. Tuchinsky, D.C., PLLC
St. Augustine Functional Medicine Practitioner, Speaker and Author
(904) 342-2783

Direct any questions to: info@floridafunctionalmedicine.com

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Dr. Tuchinsky

Dr. Tuchinsky has been “health coach” to thousands of local residents. He has been a popular author and lecturer and has been featured in print media and local TV.