Omega-3: EPA and DHA explained

You may have heard of the many health benefits of fish oil supplements, but you could still be wondering what makes them so powerful. Why get omega-3s from fish oil and not some other source? What is it about the source that provides your body with such a boost? Like most foods and supplements, the nutrients come from composition. The molecular structure of fish oil contains two very important things: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Here's a look at what they are and how they support your health:

What are DHA and EPA?
EPA and DHA are both essential long-chain omega fats that provide such benefits as boosting brain health, aiding in recovery from exercise-induced inflammation and contributing to a more positive mood. What's more, according to a study in the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, using EPA and DHA together may provide additional benefits. However, it is important to note that DHA and EPA are separately responsible for providing items on that list of positives. As such, you need both in your diet to get all the positive outcomes.

Where to find them
You may have heard that sources like flax and nuts contain omegas, and you'd be right. However, these sources don't have EPA and DHA. Rather, they're made up of alpha lipoic acid (ALA), which doesn't contain the benefits that DHA and EPA do.

The only source of omega-3 fatty acid that has EPA and DHA is fish. As such, you won't acquire the benefits of these two fats if you eat nuts and flax (though ALA is still good to consume). And while you can consume fish to get the nutrients you need, you may not dine on the protein often enough. Fortunately, you can supplement your diet with omega-3 fish oil to increase your intake of the nutrients.

fish oil omega-3 supplementsSardines are a good source of DHA and EPA.

Understanding oils
Omega-3s are not all created equal, as you saw with ALA vs. EPA and DHA. But the differences go further. The type of fish from which your oil supplement is sourced matters. What the fish eat, for one, impacts how nutrient-dense it is. Algae provides fish with EPA and DHA, so creatures that dine on it are better sources of omega-3s. Farm-raised fish tend to eat other foods that don't contain the same EPA and DHA content as fresh fish. Ergo, fish oil made from wild fish is better for your body.

What's more, small fish (sardines and anchovies) are good sources because they have a high EPA and DHA content and a low mercury content. Large fish live in bodies of water longer, and have a greater chance of absorbing such toxins.

Hopefully, after learning a bit more about EPA and DHA, and where these fats come from, you can make more informed decisions regarding your supplements. Remember, where your supplements are sourced and what the fish ate matter, so pick products with high-quality ingredients.

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