EPA or DHA? Weather The Deep Waters No Further!

By Christina A. Reiter, BSN, CCN

So, you go in for the yearly visit with your physician and after a few tests, he informs you that your cholesterol is too high, your cognitive abilities are declining and, from the looks of things, your eyesight is at an all-time low. He then recommends you might consider an over-the-counter omega-3 product to help prevent further deterioration, in addition to the prescriptions that he has given you. When you ask him for specifics, he is unsure what brand is the best, but suggests you might find it at the health food store. If this sounds like you, along with having to endure the distasteful fish oil burping and aftertaste from most food-grade fish oils, then you are not alone and we are here to help! We encourage you to know that there are four levels of quality in commercially available nutritional products: pharmaceutical, national brands, house brands (food-grade), and veterinary. Your choice here can greatly determine how well a product will work for you.

A significant body of scientific evidence supports the use of fish oils for maintaining overall health. Two of the most important omega-3 essential fatty acids known to man—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are often recommended by physicians for a healthy pregnancy and the prevention of cardiovascular disease; these fatty acids are now also being studied for benefits to the aging human brain.

EPA and DHA are considered long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids (sometimes called, “PUFAs” for short), categorized by a group of fatty acids that are relatively slippery in terms of their potential for sticking to things in the bloodstream––especially when in contact with the walls of arteries, veins and neural pathways (and themselves, for that matter). Contrast their behavior to the behavior of saturated (i.e., butter, coconut oil, and cholesterol) fats in the bloodstream. (Think: Velcro)

The ratios listed on the label of EPA to DHA may seem confusing at first, but share the fact that they are both polyunsaturated fatty acids. DHA has a longer-chained fatty acid chain that adds two more carbon bonds and eight hydrogens. Its behavior in the bloodstream becomes more slippery than EPA, so much in that it slips and slides right by the blood-brain barrier, helping combat neurological and cognitive deficits, promote eye health, relieve depression, balance hormones, and forge new pathways in the brain, as studies indicate.

EPA and DHA are found mostly in deep-sea fish oils, those being mackerel, salmon, herring, sardine, and cod (liver) oil; however, they can also be found in high levels in certain types of microalgae and breast milk. Contrary to popular belief, fish in and of themselves are not just born [err, hatched] with high levels of EPA and DHA, ready for us to catch, grill, and consume at the next family cookout. The algae that comprise the diet of most fish promote these levels, similar to how the nursing mother consuming a diet rich in deep-water fish passes them to her infant.

Get even more targeted support for healthy aging with DHA. DHA helps support the healthy development of the brain, eyes, and nerves, which is why it is important for pregnant or nursing mothers and children. DHA is also the most prominent essential fatty acid in the brain—by many thousands of times over EPA. Preliminary evidence suggests that higher levels of DHA (but not EPA) are associated with a reduced risk of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and improve memory-related tasks in aging adults. Clinical studies also suggest that DHA provides targeted support to eye [retinal] health.

Higher concentration = greater DHA support. A concentrated DHA supplement (with a higher ratio of DHA to EPA) is one of your strongest weapons in your arsenal of defense against many common age-related symptoms and conditions.

If this article has “struck a nerve” with you and you find yourself at TexasStar Pharmacy without remembering why or how you got there, our friendly staff will assist you in finding the perfect ratio for your needs––without a lot of hassle and unnecessary expense. Stop by our main location at 3033 W. Parker Road, Suite #100 or call us at (972) 519-8475 to speak to our nutritionist, Christina Reiter. Our second location can also help you at 5425 W. Spring Creek Parkway, Plano, TX 75024.