Omega 3 fatty acid is one of the best known health supplements and is something that many of us look for in our diet. Omega 3 is one of the key reasons that fish is so good for us and it’s one of the most recommended additions to our health regimes.
But as with most things in our body, the precise mechanisms and benefits of omega 3 are a little more complicated than you may at first have realized. Did you know for instance that there are actually different types of omega 3 fatty acid? Or that the benefits you enjoy will depend partly on which type you use?
Animal Based Omega 3
Marine animals including krill and fish provide two different types of omega 3 fatty acid. These are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are both promoted for their benefits for the heart.
Another source of omega 3 fatty acids is from plants and seeds. Chia seeds, flaxseed, hemp and a few other foods contain another type of omega 3 fatty acid which is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA).
Why it Matters
So why does this matter? Simply put, most of the health benefits that you associate with omega 3 fats are actually specifically linked to EPA and DHA – while ALA is less potent.
In order to make the most from ALA, the body actually converts it into EPA and DHA. When you consume EPA and DHA directly then, you get the benefits directly as well. When the body needs to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, it does so at very low ratios and only when you have sufficient enzymes in your system.
Plant-based omega 3 fats are not harmful or dangerous and there’s no need to avoid them. However, if you want to buy an omega 3 supplement, always be sure to check the back and to get either EPA or DHA.
EPA and DHA
So ALA has dropped out of the race. That leaves us with EPA and DHA – so which one is superior?
That all depends on what you need the supplement for and what your goals are.
DHA is used by children for growth and development and it is particularly important for the brain and the CNS at this point. Pregnant women, children and those who are looking to give their kids a little brain boost might want to try DHA.
That said, children with learning difficulties might actually get the very best results from EPA.
After the age of five, the brain becomes less plastic and at this point EPA becomes slightly more useful. EPA can improve performance in school, behaviour, focus and attention. It is also useful for skin conditions and allergies.
If you are between the ages of 5 and 65 then most of your body’s needs can be met by EPA and you should be able to get this from your diet. EPA also reduces the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, though DHA has been shown to be particularly useful in slowing the progress of age related cognitive decline.
To conclude then, both DHA and EPA are very useful but if you’re only going to take one supplement and you are an adult between the age of 5 and 65; EPA comes out on top!