Most fish oil supplements contain more EPA than DHA. That’s a big mistake. Here’s why.
Fatty acid supplements typically contain more EPA than DHA because fish naturally contain more EPA than DHA. That’s fine for females because the biosynthesis of DHA is a lot higher in women than it is in men. DHA reduces triglycerides and blood pressure and, according to one study, increases HDL (the good cholesterol) by a whopping 29%. In contrast, EPA decreases HDL by 6.7%.
The problem is men have a much higher risk of heart disease. Men also have lower amounts of DHA despite eating the same amount of fatty acids as women. As such, men need more DHA than EPA. Flameout (on Amazon) fish oil is still an excellent choice for women, but unlike other omega-3 supplements, it’s formulated specifically for the physiology needs of men.
Flameout (on Amazon) DHA-rich fish oil contains five times more DHA than EPA. Here are the amounts per dose (just three softgels):
Here’s what you may not know about DHA:
Fish oil, in general, is often touted for its anti-inflammatory effects, but it looks like DHA is the one that really puts out the fire. A 34-week double-blind trial involving 21 subjects compared the effects of DHA and EPA and found the following:
- DHA lowered the genetic expression of four types of pro-inflammatory proteins, compared to EPA only lowering one type.
- DHA lowered white blood cell secretion of three types of pro-inflammatory proteins compared to EPA only lowering one.
- DHA lowered levels of an inflammatory protein, while EPA didn’t.
The results prompted Stefania Lamon-Fava, a “cardiovascular nutritionist” at Tufts, to opine the following:
“These results suggest that DHA is the more powerful of the two on markers of inflammation in the body.”
There have been plenty of studies on the combined effects on DHA and EPA on coronary heart disease, but it wasn’t until recently that scientists started teasing apart their effects.
A recent study compared the results of two daily doses of EPA (1,800 mg. and 600 mg.) to one dose of DHA (600 mg.) against plain olive oil and a control group. After 6 weeks, the DHA group showed a significant decrease in postprandial triglyceride levels. Neither the olive oil nor the EPA exhibited the same results, but EPA did decrease levels of lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2, which is an inflammatory marker.
And while both omega-3s showed that they reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors, it looked like DHA may be more effective in reducing lipid risk factors than EPA.
While cognitive function tends to peak in middle age (and then decline), episodic memory starts to slip away at about age 20. You can do something about it, though.
You know those annoyingly frequent commercials on television for that memory supplement? They were right about one thing – an ingredient originally found in jellyfish can improve memory and cognitive function in adults, but it’s not the one they’re talking about. Their supposedly active jellyfish ingredient, apoaequorin, plays no known role in human memory. However, jellyfish do contain lots of DHA, and that substance does seem to improve memory.
A meta-analysis that included results from 15 studies found that DHA supplementation above the average Japanese intake of 580 mg. a day improved episodic memory in adults 18 to 90 years old.
Another study found that 18 to 35-year-olds who took 1,160 mg. of DHA and 170 mg. of EPA every day for 6 months exhibited improvements in episodic and working memory over subjects given placebo.
While it’s not usually thought of as a prebiotic (a “food” utilized by host microorganisms), a few studies have found that DHA does indeed have prebiotic effects.
A randomized crossover trial tested the effects of 4 grams a day of a combination of DHA and EPA or 2 grams of just DHA found that both forms of DHA increased the populations of several beneficial bacteria, including Bifidobacterium, Roseburia, and Lactobacillus. These bacteria, in turn, produce butyrate, which is a vital nutrient for the colonic mucosa, playing a big role in the modulation of cell inflammation, differentiation, and apoptosis (a beneficial “culling” of senescent cells).
A global survey indicated that only about 24% of the world’s population meet their recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids through eating seafood alone, while 67% had an intake of less than 100 mg. of omega-3 fatty acids a day, which is pitiful.
It’s even worse when you consider DHA by itself. Natural fish oils contain about 18% EPA and 12% DHA, but here’s the rub, particularly, as noted above, if you’re male: Estrogen plays a role in DHA plasma levels. The more estrogen you have, the better the DHA uptake and biosynthesis. The more testosterone you have, the worse the DHA uptake and biosynthesis.
One study showed that the cognitive benefits from consuming omega-3 fatty acids were twice more effective in girls than boys (6 to 16 years old). See what I’m getting at? If you’re a normal, healthy male, you’re almost certainly low on DHA and the kind of fish oil supplements you need – those that contain more DHA than EPA – are a rarity.
Enter Biotest’s fish oil supplement, Flameout (on Amazon). While it’s great for women, too, it was made with men in mind. Each three-capsule serving contains 2,000 mg of DHA and 400 mg. of EPA.
Now, there’s a difference between how much DHA/omega-3 you need for everyday living and how much you need for therapeutic purposes. That’s why most studies of fish oil’s effects on inflammation, cardiovascular disease, etc., use doses that are considerably higher than RDIs; closer to the levels Biotest uses in its Flameout (on Amazon) product.
Aside from hormone levels, there’s something else that influences omega-3 fatty acid uptake: you need to ingest fish oil with a fat-rich meal in order for fish oil to do all of its pro-cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory, cognitive-enhancing health things. So, take your DHA/fish oil capsules with the fattiest meal of the day, which usually means dinner.
- Li J et al. Health benefits of docahexaenoic acid and its bioavailability: A review. Food Science & Nutrition. 2021 Sep;9(9):5229-5243.
- Jisun S et al. EPA and DHA differentially modulate monocyte inflammatory response in subjects with chronic inflammation in part via plasma specialized pro-resolving lipid mediators: A randomized, double-blind, crossover study. Atherosclerosis. 2021 Jan;316:90-98. PubMed.