The biggest challenge when it comes to food and supplements is that there is SO much information available. Fish oil supplementation has been highly recommended for it’s heart-healthy effects, but understanding how this happens is important, because you might be using the wrong type of fish oil for your needs.
Most common fish oils available on the market (Two great ones on Amazon are at the end of the article) have a balance of the fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They both have benefits, but the impact on your body is different, specifically in reference to their impact on high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and low-density lipoproteins (LDL).
This quote from Gurevich in Labdoor magazine breaks down the difference nicely:
“It is important to note that LDL carries cholesterol and triglycerides from the liver to the body’s tissues. HDL, which is known to be a cholesterol scavenger, picks up excess cholesterol in the body and takes it back to the liver for breakdown. Therefore, while lowering LDL may slow down or prevent further plaque buildup, it may not reduce the risk of heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. On the other hand, increasing HDL levels will decrease levels of LDL and may reduce the risk of developing heart disease.”
Yikes, that’s a lot of information right there. The basic jist is this: it might be more beneficial to work on increasing HDL levels in the blood, as it has the dual function of picking up extra cholesterol lying around AND lowering levels of LDLs. This idea is really important in that most people struggle getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids into the system to promote HDL cholesterol in the body while keeping LDLs in check.
With that in mind, lets break it down.
- EPA has been shown to significantly reduce LDL levels (good), but had no impact on HDL cholesterol (not as good)
- EPA has an impact on the body’s stress response by addressing stress-induced immune activity during more stressful times.
- EPA has also demonstrated anti-depressive effects (about 1g EPA was most effective).
- DHA increases both HDL (good) and LDL cholesterol, with LDL levels increasing by twice the amount of DHL (bad).
- Has been suggested to be effective in improving cognition and preventing cognitive decline, particularly in aging adults.
- DHA has been shown to significantly reduce adrenaline levels during periods of stress, with no impact on cortisol.
So what does it all mean? As always, it really comes down to what you’re looking for. The benefits of DHA are more numerous and impactful than EPA, but EPA does a far better job of reducing LDLs in the bloodstream. Realistically, it serves the general population well to take a mixture of both, with special consideration for those struggling with elevated levels of LDL's in the bloodstream being mindful to take a more EPA-heavy brand of fish oil.
Blood tests are still the best bet at determining what you need from your fish oil supplementation. The next time you get one, check your levels and make the adjustments accordingly.
Here are the two I recommend (these links will take you directly to www.amazon.com for purchase!):
Gurevich, P. (2014, July 09). EPA To DHA Ratio: a Benefits and Risks Analysis. Retrieved May 16, 2017, from https://labdoor.com/article/epa-to-dha-ratio-a-benefits-and-risks-analysis
Wei, M. Y., & Jacobson, T. A. (2011, December). Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid versus docosahexaenoic acid on serum lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Retrieved May 16, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21975919
Hamazaki, T., Itomura, M., Sawazaki, S., & Nagao, Y. (n.d.). Anti-stress effects of DHA. Retrieved May 16, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11237197
Martins, J. G. (2009, October). EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Retrieved May 16, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20439549