DHA and EPA Fish Oil: What are the Differences?

When you purchase fish oil, you may observe different companies tout how much DHA or EPA is contained within their product. Although both have benefits, you may want to consider the unique properties of each to address different aspects of health. EPA offers anti-inflammatory effects while DHA is known to boost brain health. Both are omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish such as sardines, salmon, herring, mackerel, bluefish, and black cod.

For vegetarians, an alternative source of omega-3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body may convert to EPA and DHA. Dietary sources can include walnuts and flax seed. However, certain individuals can have difficulties converting ALAs to beneficial forms of omega, especially if insulin resistance is an issue. Consuming a diet with high levels of omega-6 fats, those found in chips, fried foods, processed foods, and restaurant foods, can also obstruct this conversion.

A majority of fish oil supplements have a one to one DHA to EPA ratio. If your goal is lessen or prevent inflammation – aches, pain, swelling – then stand fish oils or an EPA heavy fish oil may be desirable. However, if your goal is to improve cognitive function, then consider a fish oil with high levels of DHA.  A higher DHA ratio can support problems such as depression, mood swings, bipolar disorder, or poor memory.

DHA is a significant building block for brain function. It boosts how fluid and flexible neurons are and aids communication between neurons. When neurons are healthy and communicating efficiently with each other, overall brain function improves. DHA has been found to lower brain degeneration, boost short and long-term memory, lower brain inflammation, and improve quality of life.

To maximize the benefits of fish oil supplements, it is important that you limit your intake of omega 6 fatty acids. Although some omega 6 fatty acid intake is necessary, the average American consumes far too much in relation to omega 3 oils. Foods high in omega 6 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.