EPA vs. DHA: Which Supplement Should I Take?

man drinking water in the kitchen

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the body, acting as building blocks for cells and supporting many of the body’s most fundamental processes. However, many people do not receive an adequate amount of these healthy fats in their daily diet. Taking a supplement is a great way to ensure that you get enough of these vital nutrients. 

At iwi, our goal is to provide you with the nutrients you need to feel your best and maintain your overall health.

When choosing supplements, you may find multiple forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Two of the most important omega-3 fats are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Each type of omega-3 offers its own benefits. Understanding the differences between EPA and DHA, and the health benefits of each, can help you decide which supplement may be the best choice for you and your body’s needs.

What Is Omega-3?

iwi omega supplement

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of long-chain, polyunsaturated fats that support the body's healthy function. Omega-3 fats provide a long list of benefits that contribute to overall health and wellness — however, the body does not produce omega-3 fats on its own. Therefore, it is important to ensure that you strive for a regular intake of these fatty acids to receive all of the benefits.

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered an essential part of cell membranes and have a vital role in the function of cell receptors and cell behavior. Omega-3s can support essential components in the body, like genetic function, inflammatory response, and cardiovascular health. The three forms of omega-3s are:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the human body must convert into EPA and DHA
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

Your body needs all three nutrients to maintain proper functioning in its most important systems. However, it is harder to obtain some of the nutrients than others. 

For example, ALA is abundant in most diets since it is found in many seeds and plant-based oils, but the body can only convert small levels of ALA into EPA and DHA.

What Are the Benefits of Omega-3?

A proper intake of omega-3 fatty acids can help support several of the body’s key systems. Omega-3 is known for supporting immune health and relieving tension in the body, which helps aid several main bodily functions and keep them running normally, even as you age. Taking omega-3 can help maintain healthy function in the following systems.

Heart Health

man checking heart rate

Omega-3 fatty acids support a healthy heart in several ways, as a consistent intake of omega-3 supports healthy blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Foods or supplements rich in EPA and DHA omega-3s are great for maintaining overall cardiovascular function by supporting a regular heartbeat and arterial health. 

Brain Health

A consistent intake of omega-3s helps support healthy brain cells and maintain regular brain function. Omega-3s, specifically DHA, help support healthy cognitive function, with the potential to maintain memory, motor function, and processing speed.

Omega-3’s benefits for the brain also support mental health. Receiving omega-3 through diet or supplementation helps support a healthy mood and overall emotional wellness.

Additionally, omega-3s are recognized as important for a healthy pregnancy by supporting normal brain development in a fetus. Taking omega-3 supplements or receiving a steady amount of nutrients through diet can have several benefits for a baby, setting the foundations for healthy development.

Eye Health

The eye contains significant amounts of several fats, which control the ability to see in different lighting conditions. Part of these essential fats is omega-3, which has high concentrations in the eyes. 

In fact, omega-3 accounts for 50% of the fats in the eye. Omega-3, specifically DHA, has a powerful role in maintaining normal eye function. Regular omega-3 intake can provide relief as you age, helping to support healthy eye function.

Joint Health

Including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet also supports improved joint health. Omega-3 fatty acids are excellent at soothing tension in the body, and the joints are no different. Including these essential fatty acids in your diet helps maintain healthy joint tissue, leading to support for mobility. This is key for aging individuals, who may start to experience challenges with their joint health.

How Much Omega-3 Do You Need?

The recommended daily intake of omega-3s varies depending on age. For the average adult male, experts recommend a daily intake of 1.6g. For the average adult female, experts recommend 1.1 g

One point to consider here is that all science on daily recommended intake of omega-3 is built on the absorption rate of fish oil, since that is the most widely-used source of omega-3 in human clinical trials. If you obtain your EPA and DHA from non-fish sources, the daily serving size may vary — more on that later in this article.

Adults can receive their omega-3 intake through any of the three main types of fatty acids since they can convert ALA into DHA or EPA. However, the body only converts a limited amount of the ALA it receives, making it essential to include DHA and EPA in a complete diet.

For mothers, experts recommend a higher-than-average intake of omega-3s, both during pregnancy and lactation. During a child’s first year of development, they cannot convert ALA, making it crucial that the mother has a healthy intake of omega-3s to provide these nutrients to the child through breastfeeding.

What Is EPA?

iwi epa supplement

EPA is one of the most important omega-3 fatty acids. In the body, EPA is used to produce signaling molecules called eicosanoids. EPA is found most abundantly in fatty fish and various supplements. The body can convert ALA into EPA on its own but can only convert a small percentage of ALA at a time — namely around 7% of ALA. Therefore, you should include rich sources of EPA into your daily diet or take a supplement regularly.

What Are the Benefits of EPA?

EPA offers several benefits in supporting overall wellness in the body, largely thanks to the production of eicosanoids. EPA and its ability to produce eicosanoids do the following:

Science indicates that EPA is beneficial to proper cognitive functioning when taken alongside DHA.

What Is DHA?

iwi dha supplement

DHA is a second, but just as necessary, omega-3 fatty acid. Unlike EPA, the nutrient cannot be directly converted from ALA by the body.The body can convert EPA into DHA, but not in large amounts. Therefore, it is important toreceive DHA directly through diet or supplementation. DHA has an important role in supporting functions of the brain and eyes, making up some of the building blocks of these two systems.

What Are the Benefits of DHA?

DHA has a positive impact on several of the body’s important functions, both for adults and developing fetuses. High levels of DHA in the body may:

  • Support cognitive function, such as memory and motor skills.
  • Help maintain healthy eye function.
  • Support healthy fetal growth and brain development.

In some cases, DHA provides additional benefits over EPA. For example, according to a study, DHA is considered to be better at soothing tension in the body than EPA. This is particularly beneficial for aging adults who may need extra support with cognitive function as time goes on.

Is It Better To Take EPA or DHA?

Ultimately, both EPA and DHA are vital nutrients, and you should have a healthy intake of both. There are many valuable benefits to each type of omega-3, but they are not always the same. For example, DHA may play a stronger role in cognitive function, while EPA has a stronger impact on overall mood.

If you are deciding between taking an EPA or DHA supplement, your decision will likely come down to your lifestyle and specific needs. It will be crucial to weigh your body’s needs to reap the most significant benefits from omega-3s. For example, a pregnant woman would likely benefit from a DHA supplement to support the healthy development of her baby. 

On the other hand, an individual seeking to support cognitive function throughout the aging process could benefit more from an EPA supplement. Consider the potential benefits of each source so you can decide which is more likely to provide you with the support you are looking for. In some cases, an individual might benefit from taking a supplement that includes both if they receive very little omega-3 in their daily diet. 

What Are Good Sources of Omega-3?

Each type of omega-3 exists in a variety of sources. Some sources offer only DHA, EPA, or ALA, while others offer a combination of EPA and DHA. Whether you prefer to receive your omega-3 intake through foods or supplements, you have many options.

Diet

Several foods are rich in omega-3s. Fish are a rich source of omega-3, with some fish even providing thousands of micrograms per serving. Mackerel contains the highest concentration of any fish and provides both EPA and DHA. Other nutrient-dense options are salmon, sardines, and herring, while oysters and caviar also provide considerable amounts of fatty acids. All of these options consist of a combination of DHA and EPA.

Although fish are an abundant source of omega-3s, they are not the only source — foods like flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts all have very high concentrations of omega-3s. These foods all contain high levels of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. The body can use the ALA found in these founds and convert it to the DHA and EPAnutrients that are key to your overall health, but it can not convert all of it.

Other foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids include eggs, meat from grass-fed animals, and vegetables like spinach or brussels sprouts. However, they do not contain nearly as much omega-3 as the others, and typically not enough to meet our daily need for omega-3.

Supplements

For many, it is difficult to obtain all the recommended omega-3 from food alone. Supplements allow individuals to ensure they receive enough omega-3 outside of their diet. Since fish is one of the best sources of fatty acids, fish oil is the most commonly used omega-3 supplement.

Supplements are also a great option for individuals on specialized diets. Because fish is a main source of DHA and EPA, it can be difficult for individuals on a plant-based diet to obtain enough of these fatty acids. Fortunately, we at iwi have a solution: our algae-based omega-3 supplements. 

Algae are the most significant contributor of omega-3 to aquatic ecosystems. Fish are such effective sources of omega-3 fatty acids because microalgae are at the bottom of the food chain — the fish don’t make omega-3 themselves… they get it from the original source, algae!

Many consider algae to be a “power plant” because it contains high amounts of omega-3 and supplies your body directly with both DHA and EPA. Since algae provide true DHA and EPA, no conversion process is necessary, unlike other plant-based sources. As a result, omega-3 derived from algae also has a higher absorption rate than other sources, allowing your body to metabolize and efficiently use the fats.

Support Your Overall Health With Omega-3 Supplements

Taking omega-3 supplements is an excellent way to support healthy brain, heart, joint, and eye function while helping you maintain your overall health. With all of the great benefits that omega-3s offer, it is important not to neglect these healthy fats in your diet. To strengthen your diet with beneficial omega-3 nutrients,explore the iwi inventory of plant-based omega-3 supplements.

iwi offers an extensive selection of omega-3 supplements, including EPA and DHA supplements, giving you the power to choose the supplement that best fits your needs. All iwi omega-3 supplements are made from algae, the best plant-based source for EPA and DHA fatty acids, offering a fantastic option for everyone from vegans to keto dieters. Try iwi omega-3 supplements today!

Sources:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution | The Nutrition Source

The Role of Eicosanoids in Angiotensin-Dependent Hypertension | American Heart Association Journals

New study finds fish oil omega-3s EPA and DHA work differently on chronic inflammation | Tufts Now.

Two omega-3s in fish oil may boost brain function in people with heart disease | Heart.org

Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders | Harvard Health

Acute appearance of fatty acids in human plasma--a comparative study between polar-lipid rich oil from the microalgae Nannochloropsis oculata and krill oil in healthy young males | NCBI

 

 

  Reviewed by Dr. Eneko Ganuza

  VP of Research and Development at iwi


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