How to Choose a Fish Oil: EPA vs. DHA
By Sarah Axtell, ND • October 20, 2017
You’ve heard fish oil is healthy but confused on which one to take?
Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Many fish oil varieties concentrate EPA over DHA or vice versa. Here are the indications:
Indications for a Higher DHA Fish Oil
In a recent randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled trial published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Dis, DHA was found to improve cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Compared with placebo, DHA significantly improved scores in the Full-Scale Intelligence Quotient, Digit Span and other measures of cognitive function and significantly decreased the loss of hippocampal volume.
While a combination product containing both EPA and DHA is preferred, I find the most success with promoting focus, memory and learning, and calming the nervous system in hyperactive children with a higher DHA fish oil. Children primarily require DHA for growth and development.
Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the Postpartum Period:
The brain, central nervous system, and retina rely heavily on the adequate supply of DHA during growth in the womb. Thus women should emphasize DHA in their diets (salmon!) and in their fish oil supplement when they become pregnant and continue to take while breastfeeding.
There is some speculation that postpartum depression (PPD) is essential fatty acid deficiency. To prevent PPD, I recommend women supplement with a higher DHA fish oil during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.
Indications for a Higher EPA Fish Oil
Low intake of EPA is associated with higher level of inflammation.
Both EPA and DHA have been associated with associated with a reduced risk of recurrent coronary artery events and sudden cardiac death after an acute heart attack. I recommend a combination fish oil to support heart health but with a higher amount of EPA overall.
A study using EPA supplementation in combination with a statin, compared with statin therapy alone, found that, after 5 y, the patients in the EPA group who had a history of coronary artery disease had a 19% relative reduction in major coronary events.
Fish oil has demonstrated antidepressant, anti-psychotic, and mood stabilizing effects in controlled clinical trials.
Asthma, Eczema, and Allergies:
A higher EPA fish oil can be beneficial for these atopic conditions. In one study people taking fish oil equal to 1.8 g of EPA (one of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil) experienced significant reduction in symptoms of eczema after 12 weeks.
I often recommend high dose fish oil (6-12 grams, with a higher EPA content) for those with chronic, degenerative neurological conditions, such as MS and Parkinson’s. A large, two-year study followed 312 people with MS. The group taking daily 10 grams of fish oil had less disability progression and fewer relapses than those taking placebo.
General Guidelines when Choosing a Fish Oil
Choose a company that offers a third-party analysis that verifies adherence to strict standards. I like Nordic Naturals, Genestra and Carlson’s. Here are a list of purity standards that these companies achieve:
- No heavy metals.
- No detectable dioxins or furans.
- No PCB’s.
- Freshness, indicated by peroxide values. You can tell a fish oil is rancid if it tastes or smells super fishy.
- Sourced from wild-caught fish and sustainably-sourced.
- Triglyceride form to ensure optimal absorption.
Here is another blog post you may find helpful I wrote on fish oil vs. flax.
Talk to your naturopathic doctor about the right fish oil dose and formulation for you.
In addition to supplementing with fish oil, try to eat fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) at least once weekly. Here is one of my favorite (and easy!) salmon recipes- Creamy Spinach Salmon.
Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health practitioners with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.