EPA/DHA: From Fish to Phytoplankton
By Juniper Devecis, M.S., R.D., C.C.N.
Decades of research highlight the importance of the essential fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) for long-term health. These omega-3 fatty acids are typically sourced from fish oil, while plant-based omega-3 sources have historically contained alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a precursor of EPA and DHA. Conversion of ALA from flaxseed and other vegetarian oils requires enzymatic conversion to EPA. A key enzyme in this process is delta-6-desaturase, however highly prevalent variability in the expression of the gene encoding this enzyme has been documented in clinical research.1 Novel manufacturing processes have recently begun to produce vegetarian, algae-sourced EPA and DHA. Supplementation with plant-sourced EPA and DHA circumvents this conversion step, providing vegetarians with the well-documented benefits of fish oils. Irrespective of the source, these essential fatty acids offer unique support for inflammatory balance, cardiovascular function, and cognitive and emotional health.*
Healthy Inflammatory Balance
Omega-3 fatty acids support a healthy inflammatory balance on a number of levels, both directly and indirectly. EPA and DHA intake helps to moderate the production of eicosanoids, cytokines and reactive oxygen species. This is due in part to omega-3 fatty acid inhibition of arachidonic acid metabolism resulting in decreased levels available for eicosanoid production. EPA and DHA also act indirectly on transcription factors to alter production at the genomic level.2 Through both mechanisms, these fatty acids provide support throughout the body, including the cardiovascular system, joints, gastrointestinal tract, lungs and skin.*
In a meta-analysis of 48 studies and more than 100,000 people, fish oil consumption provided statistically significant support for cardiovascular health and overall health.3 These benefits have been mainly attributed to its positive effects on lipid and triglyceride metabolism and healthy blood flow. EPA and DHA are believed to act as PPAR ligands, regulating the gene expression for proteins that control fatty acid uptake and metabolism. They also support hepatic synthesis of triglycerides and lipoproteins. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy blood flow, targeting platelet function, vasodilation and vascular tone.4,5*
Fish oil promotes maturation of the central nervous system, including nerve cell health and neurotransmission. Consumption of fish oil by breast fed infants and pregnant mothers has demonstrated support for mental processing and cognitive development in young children.6 Research also suggests that higher intakes may be associated with mental performance and memory, in part due to support for neuronal cell membrane function, inflammatory balance or blood flow and nutrient delivery to the brain. Research involving older individuals suggests EPA and DHA may promote synaptic and neuronal health and enhance cognitive function and memory.*
Healthy red blood cell membrane omega-3 fatty acid concentrations have been associated with emotional well-being. Specifically, higher brain DHA levels and higher plasma EPA levels have been associated with positive mood.7,8 It is theorized that cell membrane phospholipid composition could have a direct result on cell signaling, eicosanoid production, or even serotonin and dopamine neurotransmission.*
Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in overall health, and getting adequate levels through dietary sources and/or supplementation is important. EPA and DHA have long been obtained from fish and have been available as dietary supplements from fish oil. Pure Encapsulations is proud to now offer EPA/DHA Vegetarian derived from microalgae phytoplankton, providing the first vegetarian omega-3 essential fatty acid supplement offered in a liquid-filled vegetarian capsule.
EPA/DHA Vegetarian (soon to be carried at Golden Needle)
1. Baylin A, Ruiz-Narvaez E, Kraft P, Campos H. alpha-Linolenic acid, delta6-desaturase gene polymorphism, and the risk of nonfatal myocardial infarction. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Feb;85(2):554-60.
2. Kang JX, Weylandt KH. Modulation of inflammatory cytokines by omega-3 fatty acids. Subcell Biochem. 2008;49:133-43.
3. Wang C, Harris WS, Chung M, et al. n-3 Fatty acids from fish or fish-oil supplements, but not alpha-linolenic acid, benefit cardiovascular disease outcomes in primary- and secondary-prevention studies: a systematic review. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jul;84(1):5-17.
4. Tagawa T, Hirooka Y, Shimokawa H, et al. Long-term treatment with eicosapentaenoic acid improves exercise-induced vasodilation in patients with coronary artery disease. Hypertens Res. 2002;25(6):823-9.
5. Miyajima T, Tsujino T, Saito K, Yokoyama M. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid on blood pressure, cell membrane fatty acids, and intracellular sodium concentration in essential hypertension. Hypertens Res. 2001 Sep;24(5):537-42.
6. Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):e39-44.
7. Samieri C, Féart C, Letenneur L, et al. Low plasma eicosapentaenoic acid and depressive symptomatology are independent predictors of dementia risk. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Sep;88(3):714-21.
8. McNamara RK, Hahn CG, Jandacek R, et al. Selective deficits in the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid in the postmortem orbitofrontal cortex of patients with major depressive disorder. Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Jul 1;62(1):17-24.
For educational purposes only. Consult your physician for any health problems.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.