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Omega 3 fish oil EPA and DHA

I am a naturopathic physician with nearly 20 years of experience developing breakthrough nutritional products.I also have extensive television and radio experience and have lectured widely to health professionals, the military and the public on all aspects of natural health.

Dr Myers, an expert who holds a doctorate in naturopathic medicine

Stephen Fry in my surgery during the making of the BBC TV program

Me with Lord Bragg, accepting my "Champion of the Year" award

After graduating, I was recognised as being the 'best young neurosurgeon in Britain'

There is no doubt that Omega 3 fish oil can not only help your heart and joints, but your brain too. Most people are aware of these benefits, but aren’t sure whether the benefits of Omega 3 fish oil apply across the board for all types of Omega 3 fish oils. There are now many different brands available on the world market, with sellers aiming to capitalise on the

Omega 3 fish oil ‘boom’. This makes for such a wide range of products and so many claims that it is hard for the consumer to sift fact from fiction.
Omega 3 fish oil contains two active ingredients: EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid).

Most fish oils on the market contain both these ingredients in various quantities – the argument that has arisen concerns which of these essential nutrients you need, and which is better than the other.

The simple answer to this is that both are vital nutrients, but they are each important at different stages of life; it is becoming clear in the scientific community that they both have different functions.

DHA

DHA is now thought to constitute the ‘building blocks’ of the brain, forming about 8% of the brain by weight – this is why it is important for pregnant mothers to ensure an adequate supply throughout pregnancy.

DHA is also added to some infant milk formulas by some leading manufacturers, as an infant requires a lot of DHA in the first two years of life to support the growth of the brain.

EPA

EPA however is different; this essential nutrient is now considered by some leading doctors and professors in the UK as being the single most vital nutrient in the functioning of the brain and nerve stimulation.

This was highlighted by the release of a very high profile book by a leading psychiatric professor, who is using a very strong form of ethyl EPA to help treat patients of his who suffer from depression and schizophrenia. Moreover, the ethyl EPA that the professor is using has had the DHA removed. In the book he explains that Ethyl EPA fish oil is not as potent, and does not give the same therapeutic effects when DHA is present.

According to the professor, this is backed up by two randomised controlled trials at the University of Baylor and Sheffield, where depressed people who were given DHA only fared slightly worse than the placebo-controlled group.

Conversion

So what happens if the body becomes deficient of DHA? The professor goes on to describe that the body can convert EPA into DHA, as it is only two steps down the chain of ecosanoids. This is a process the body can do relatively easily. The body can also convert DHA into EPA, but our bodies struggle to make this conversion and it is not a very efficient process.

A good example of this would be with flaxseed oil, that is high in the omega 3 parent fatty acid ALA (alphalinoic acid); to obtain roughly 1 gram of EPA, you would have to ingest 11 grams of flaxseed oil.

Conclusion

The simple truth is that you need both these essential nutrients. The evidence is increasingly pointing towards the two being important for various stages of life. DHA when compared against EPA in treating depression is faring no better than a placebo; however the DHA is important for pregnant mothers and children from birth to two years. Beyond that some leading doctors (Mercola, Stoll, Puri) are leaning towards EPA being very beneficial for the daily functioning of the brain.

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