EPA vs. DHA: What's the Difference?
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
That fish oil capsule you swallow every day does more than give you fish burps. It contains essential fatty acids that are supposed to keep you healthy. If you look at the ingredients label, you’ll probably see it contains both EPA and DHA.
Together, we’ll talk about what EPA and DHA are and how they became the most praised fatty acids to date. We’ll also talk about ALA, another omega-3 fatty acid that might be detrimental to your health in large doses.
Lastly, we’ll give you an option for supplementing with an essential fatty acid without fishy aftertaste.
Omega-3s at a Glance
There are 11 different omega-3 fatty acids, but the majority of all scientific research on omega-3 fatty acids has only centered around three. They are ALA, EPA, and DHA.
Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids. When a fatty acid or other nutrient is essential, it means our bodies need it to thrive and function properly, but can’t make it on their own. That means we have to get these fatty acids and vitamins from our food or from a supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats are fat molecules that have more than one unsaturated carbon bond. The chemical structure of these fats separates them from other fats, like saturated fats and trans fats.
Why We Need Omega-3s
The omega-3 fatty acids were discovered over ninety years ago by a husband and wife research team. Since then, we’ve discovered that omega-3s can help keep our bodies healthy and lower our risk of developing illness.
There’s a long list of benefits associated with taking omega-3 fatty acids, including:
- Lowering your risk of developing heart disease
- Ensuring proper infant health and neurodevelopment
- Preventing certain cancers
- Lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and supporting healthy cognitive function in aging adults
- Decreasing the occurrence of age-related macular degeneration
- Giving relief to some forms of arthritis
While research is still ongoing, it’s clear that we need our omega-3s, but which ones do we need the most?
Of the 11, ALA, EPA, and DHA are most essential. Because most western diets are abundant in ALA, it’s EPA and DHA you’ll find in a supplement.
What Is ALA?
ALA stands for alpha-linolenic acid. It is found mostly in plant sources and is the most abundant of the three main types of fatty acids found in our bodies. ALA is naturally occurring in soybeans, soy products, walnuts, and canola oil.
Your body can convert some ALA into EPA and DHA, but it doesn’t do this very efficiently. Thus, even though you probably have a lot of ALA in your diet, it’s likely not enough to compensate for the amount of EPA and DHA recommended for daily consumption.
ALA is used mostly for energy in our bodies. ALA that isn’t used as energy is stored as fat. Too much ALA can be bad for your health and is even associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Differences Between EPA and DHA
The two most important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA and DHA. Much research has been done to determine how these fatty acids help our bodies, and how the absence of them affects our health.
Here, we will examine them both.
EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid. EPA helps support your body’s immunity. EPA produces molecules called eicosanoids. These molecules are attributed to numerous different physiological processes and help to reduce your body’s inflammation levels.
Chronic, low-level inflammation is one of the most serious markers for disease, especially age-related diseases. By adding EPA to your diet, you can reduce your risk of carrying higher levels of inflammation.
EPA has also been studied as a possible solution for children who suffer from ADHD. Because children’s brains need EPA for development, ensuring they have enough EPA in their diets is essential for keeping their brain functioning and developing properly.
For menopausal women, EPA may even assist with hot flashes.
It’s also suggested that EPA could help with your mood, and help alleviate symptoms of depression.
Where Can I Get EPA?
EPA is found in fatty, cold-water fish. It is most abundant in salmon, herring, eel, shrimp, and sturgeon. Some grass-fed meat and dairy products contain EPA, but not as much as fish.
The recommended daily serving is two to three servings of fatty fish per week.
DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is the most important of the top three omega-3 fatty acids. This fatty acid is actually made by our bodies, but only in very small amounts. As such, we need to get the remainder of what we need from food or supplements.
DHA is especially important for infants and young children. DHA is a major component of the eyes, brain, and nervous system. Infants who do not receive enough DHA in their diets are at risk of developing learning disorders.
As a structural component of the skin and eyes, DHA helps keep your skin and eye cells functioning properly and is a good supplement for supporting skin and eye health.
DHA’s brain-boosting abilities extend to adults, too. Research shows that higher circulating levels of DHA in adults support cognitive function and can lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Where Can I Get DHA?
DHA is found in fatty, cold-water fish (the same ones that contain EPA) and some algae. Grass-fed animal products and dairy also contain a small amount of DHA.
You can take both EPA and DHA in supplement form. Remember, they are the two main ingredients of your fish oil supplement.
If you’d like to try a supplement that still supports your body the same way that EPA and DHA do, but without a fishy aftertaste, you’re in luck.
A Better Fatty Acid
Just like the omega fatty acids were discovered by a husband and wife team, a newly discovered fatty acid called pentadecanoic acid was discovered by a husband and wife physician-veterinarian team working to continually improve the health and welfare of bottlenose dolphins.
This team studied two populations of dolphins and noticed that one population had strikingly less occurrences of age-related illness than the other.†
The difference? One population was routinely eating a diet of fish that contained pentadecanoic acid (aka C15:0).
They began studying this fatty acid and its potential to prevent age-related illness in both dolphins and humans.†* An increasing volume of research now points to this fatty acid as being the first essential fatty acid to have been discovered since the omegas.†
C15:0 is an odd-chained, saturated fatty acid that research shows works to support our bodies on the cellular level.†* This sturdy little fatty acid digs into our cells to strengthen our cell membranes, repair mitochondrial function, and naturally activate PPAR (pronounced pee-par) receptors throughout our bodies that regulate metabolism, immunity, mood, appetite and sleep.†* While omega-3 fatty acids can make your cell walls flexible and flimsy, C15:0 keeps them strong, especially as you age.†*
Cells that stay healthy as we age lower our risk of developing age-related diseases. C15:0, like the omegas, supports:†*
- Heart health
- Liver function
- Red blood cell health
- Balanced immunity
- Healthy metabolism
Where Can I Get C15:0?
C15:0 is found in trace amounts in whole fat dairy products and some fish. As such, it can be difficult to get all the C15:0 you need in your diet. Just like the omegas, you’ll need a supplement. Unlike the omegas, you won’t have to suffer from large, oily doses and fish breath after taking it.
Fatty15 is the first and only supplement to give you a day’s worth of C15:0 in one easy-to-swallow, flavorless capsule. Fish oil supplements can contain some fishy ingredients; fatty15 contains just one: FA15™, a vegan-friendly, and a pure powder version of C15:0.
People only need 100 to 200 mg per day of C15:0, compared to 2,000 to 3,000 mg per day of omega-3. When you compare fatty15 with fish oil supplements, taking fatty15 just makes sense.
EPA, DHA, and Fatty15
Research supports the inclusion of both EPA and DHA in your diet, but it also supports the inclusion of C15:0.
If you want to support your total health while lowering the amount of supplements you take each day, opt for including a little more fish in your diet and switching to the only supplement that gives you a daily dose of C15:0.
With fatty15, you can give your cells a fighting chance against aging and support your health at the cellular level.*
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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