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epa vs dha what is epa and dha  epa or dha dha brain function which omega is best is dha omega 3

EPA vs DHA – Which Omega 3 is the key to maximise brain power?

Published Oct 6, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024
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Your brain is a wonderfully intricate organ that enables you to experience emotions, solve complex problems, and guide every function of your body. To stay physically fit until your old age, you work out and eat good protein to fuel muscles. Similarly, nourishing your brain to keep it functioning smoothly for longer requires that you nourish it with the right nutrients. 

What is EPA and DHA

Your brain is 60% fat [1]. In fact, the whitish appearance of the brain is due to its fat content [2]. The most important fats in the brain must be provided through the diet since they support the brain’s structure and boost its function. There are different types of dietary fats, some of which are beneficial to the brain. A class of fats called omega 3 fats are particularly known to have health benefits. There are 3 types of omega 3 fats [4]: 

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) found in plant foods like nuts, soybean, flaxseeds, and canola oil.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in fish, seafood, algae, and seaweed.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) found in fish, seafood, algae, and seaweed.

Though small amounts of ALA can be converted to DHA, your brain needs more for optimal functioning. So which omega is best? If you are looking for brain benefits, it would be wise to focus on DHA. What makes DHA special?

Is it better to take EPA or DHA?

If you are looking for brain benefits, the optimal answer is DHA. Evolution studies provide an interesting connection. Among early modern humans, where up to 50% of the protein came from seafood, brain sizes were bigger [3]. Fishes obtain their high levels of DHA by consuming algae [11], the original DHA source. So when modern humans increased seafood consumption, their DHA intake also increased. This is noted to boost advanced cognition among modern humans. 

It is now known that 25% of the brain’s structure is composed of DHA [5].

It also makes up for 90% of the omega-3 fats found in the brain, making it the dominant fat [6]. The brain relies on dietary intake to ensure adequate levels of DHA in the brain with normal growth and development promoted by the regular intake. Brain function is also improved by DHA because of the structural and functional benefits it provides. It is important to take DHA in its current form to support brain health as only a small amount of ALA (≤0.5%) is converted to DHA [8]. Wondering where to find DHA ? brain feed has produced a double concentrated DHA derived from algae that  provides 500mg DHA in a single vegan capsule. Read more here

 


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How does DHA improve brain health?

Due to its structural role, DHA is primarily involved in production of different types of brain cells and the connections between the cells. This allows for efficient message transfer between cells [8]. All the information your brain processes is through transfer of information between cells- making this process the quintessential need for brain functioning. Other notable benefits include:

  • Increased size of brain areas that are involved in memory and learning [9]. Bigger brains equate a more developed brain. This was seen in young adults with low intake of DHA. When supplemented with DHA on a regular basis, their memory function showed a marked improvement [14].
  • Increased production of beneficial brain compounds that help process information faster [9], leading to a smarter brain.
  • Reduction in inflammation to increase brain protection. DHA helps to produce beneficial compounds to resolve this issue [10].

How does EPA improve brain health?

The body can convert small amounts of EPA to DHA to ensure adequate DHA availability for the brain [12]. EPA can help promote adequate supply of DHA, the brain’s primary omega 3 fat. Like DHA, EPA also helps reduce inflammation in the brain [12]. Though many studies involve supplementation of EPA with DHA, currently, EFSA has limited use of EPA alone for normal brain function [13]. It would be feasible to advocate for DHA over EPA for brain benefits. 

Is DHA omega 3’s best fat for brain health? Yes. With a wealth of evidence citing its clear benefit for improving cognition and supporting normal function of the brain, DHA clearly has the upper hand as one of the best fats for brain health. 

 

References

  1. Chang, C. Y., Ke, D. S., & Chen, J. Y. (2009). Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta neurologica Taiwanica18(4), 231–241.
  2. Bae, H. G., Kim, T. K., Suk, H. Y., Jung, S., & Jo, D. G. (2020). White matter and neurological disorders. Archives of pharmacal research43(9), 920–931
  3. Bradbury J. (2011). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): an ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. Nutrients3(5), 529–554.
  4. National Institutes of Health. (2022). Office of Dietary Supplements - Omega-3 Fatty Acids. [online]
  5. Guesnet, P. et al. (2011). Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the developing central nervous system (CNS) - Implications for dietary recommendations. Biochimie, [online] 93(1), pp.7–12.
  6. Weiser, M. J., Butt, C. M., & Mohajeri, M. H. (2016). Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan. Nutrients8(2), 99.
  7. Lauritzen, L., Brambilla, P., Mazzocchi, A., Harsløf, L. B., Ciappolino, V., & Agostoni, C. (2016). DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function. Nutrients8(1), 6.
  8. DiNicolantonio, J. J., & O'Keefe, J. H. (2020). The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders. Nutrients, 12(8), 2333
  9. Witte, A.V. et al. (2013). Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids Improve Brain Function and Structure in Older Adults. Cerebral Cortex, 24(11), pp.3059–3068. 
  10. Moro, K. et al. (2016). Resolvins and omega three polyunsaturated fatty acids: Clinical implications in inflammatory diseases and cancer. World Journal of Clinical Cases, [online] 4(7), p.155. 
  11. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/algae-oil
  12. Metherel, A. H., Rezaei, K., Lacombe, R. J. S., & Bazinet, R. P. (2021). Plasma unesterified eicosapentaenoic acid is converted to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the liver and supplies the brain with DHA in the presence or absence of dietary DHA. Biochimica et biophysica acta. Molecular and cell biology of lipids1866(8), 158942.
  13. https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.2903/j.efsa.2011.2078
  14. Stonehouse, W., Conlon, C. A., Podd, J., Hill, S. R., Minihane, A. M., Haskell, C., & Kennedy, D. (2013). DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 97(5), 1134–1143

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