F is for fatty acid part 3! EPA for the win!

Fresh off the super fun talk I gave this past Thursday to the lovely BC employees of wholefoods, on omega-3s; I shall as promised, finally deliver the 3rd part of our discussion about all things fatty acid.

get it in ya!

get it in ya!

One of the points I really wanted to emphasize with the whole foods crew is that there are specific instances when we want more EPA and those during which we need more DHA instead.  Just like we talked about omega-6s and omega-3s competing for cellular absorption in part 2 of F is for fatty acid, so too do EPA and DHA compete with each other for incorporation, metabolism and use through-out the body.


The clinical benefits of daily fish oil

Omega-3s are one of THE most researched topics in medicine.  Close to 2000 papers are published per year and currently there are about 20,000 research articles on the health benefits of omega-3s.


Geeks love omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids biggest claim to fame is heart health and prevention of cardiovascular disease. It all started in Greenland, where eskimos paradoxically were living longer and had lower risks of heart disease despite consuming diets that were ridiculously high in fat.  Dr Dyerberg (considered by many to be the father of omega-3s) traveled to Greenland and discovered that their high fat diets weren’t made up of the usual fats, but were very high in omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and so the era of studying the health effects of omega-3s began.


The health effects of omega-3s:

Fish oil modifies a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure, blood clotting, triglyceride (blood fat) concentrations, irregular heart beats, heart rate and blood vessel health. Because of this,  increased intake of omega-3s is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and supplementation in at-risk patients also reduces mortality.

As mentioned in fatty acids part 2, omega-3s are awesomely anti-inflammatory. They are beneficial in any disease with an inflammatory component, such as pain, arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases, psoriasis, eczema, lupus, asthma, and basically any condition that ends in “itis”, as that means inflammation. In fact I challenge you to google any condition, especially an inflammatory one + omega-3 or fish oil and I guarantee you’ll get multiple hits.


Research also suggests that omega-3 fatty acids improve immune function,  boost metabolism and improve body composition, which can help overweight or obese people achieve weight loss.


Omega-3s have been shown to help maintain bone mass and therefore help in the prevention of osteoporosis or loss of bone density and are very involved in visual development so they can help to improve eye health.

Because omega-3 fatty acids comprise a large part of the fats in the brain, they help to improve brain health and learning processes, which therefore make them valuable in infant and childhood learning, as well as behavioral or attention issues.  They also decrease the inflammation associated with an aging brain making them great for prevention of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory decline.

Finally, research suggests that omega-3s can help to stabilize mood imbalances, which is helpful in depression, anxiety, and hostility/aggression.


Lets talk about each of these effects in more detail and specifically address which conditions EPA is of benefit, and which ones require DHA.


EPA is the best choice for any condition modulated by, or due to inflammation.  The anti-inflammatory actions of omega-3 fatty acids are mainly attributed to EPA.

When inflammation becomes chronic is destroys healthy cells and tissues in our bodies contributing to a great deal of diseases such as:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • cancer
  • allergies
  • asthma
  • eczema
  • depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • obesity 
  • arthritis and joint pain
  • ulcerative colitis
  • crohns disease and others

One of the conditions newly thought to be due to inflammation is depression.

  • In the past the etiology of depression was widely assumed to be due to serotonergic dysfunctions.  However, the current theories that rely solely on serotonin function and cortisol hypersecretion are insufficient. 
  • More then half of depressed individuals with depression relapse despite conventional management with anti-depressants. 

One of the new hypotheses for depression etiology is inflammation and several studies have been done to assess the inflammatory hypothesis of depression. 

  • Depressed patients have higher levels of inflammatory cytokines and when exogenous inflammatory molecules are administered they induce a depressed state. 
  • Chronic inflammation generates what is known as sickness behavior and signs and symptoms match those of depression almost completely.
  • Depression has been described as the “brain on fire”
  • Research reveals that EPA is actually the main effective component in omega-3 treatment of depression
  • Several meta-analysis have discovered that a ratio of at least 3:1 of EPA to DHA is required for anti-depressant effectiveness.

Inflammation is also a common factor in brain disorders, including attention deficit disorder.

You can’t feel brain inflammation the way you can feel an inflamed finger from a splinter or an arthritic joint, however, brain inflammation when present can generate a foggymind, difficulty concentrating, and an inability to focus.

An excellent way to control inflammation in the brain is to maintain high levels of EPA in the blood through the consumption of a high EPA omega-3 product


EPA is of GREAT benefit to athletes and those looking to loose weight. EPA improves body composition by accelerating fat loss and increasing muscle growth and strength; this can have important implications for athletic performance. When EPA is consumed it promotes recovery from exercise by reducing exercise-induced inflammation and soreness while also improving heart efficiency and lung function.


Next week we’ll tackle the clinical indications of DHA and GLA 🙂

If you’d like to know specifically how omega-3s modulate joint pain and arthritis, how they can generate weight loss or how they reduce and improve symptoms of colitis, IBS or poor memory, comment on the post and I’ll reply!

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)


F is for fatty acid!

My nick name at school, and pretty much in life, is miss fatty acid.

being an expert on oils extracted from fish and marine life isn’t really that glamorous……. but til death do us part; I live, eat, breathe and chug fish oil.

I owe a lot to Ascenta Health and their lovely essential fatty acids. It’s my employer, where many of my good friends work, my research for them inspired my career choice, and I get to help people every time I recommend an omega-3, or provide the research indicated for a specific medical or health concern.

F is for fatty acid

The letter F is gonna be a three parter. What can I say I’m obsessed with essential fats. We’ll get to G eventually and it’ll be Gggggreat

  1. In this first post I’ll describe what an essential fat is
    • who and what are the omega-3s and the omega-6s
  2. The second post will describe what omega-3s do in our body, how they modulate human physiology.
    • What is chronic inflammation? How do EFAs modulate the immune system
  3. The last and third post will describe the clinical indications for omega-3s!
    • What to take, how much and which product to choose for the most common diseases and conditions.

What are essential fatty acids (EFAs)

Essential fats are just that: Essential.  Humans don’t have the genes required to produce the enzymes required to make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from other fatty precursors, making it “essential” that they be consumed in our diet. Every single omega- or omega-6 fat in our body was consumed from our diet.  Throughout the course of history, both omega-3 and omega-6 were consumed in relatively similar quantities.

Historically we ate:                                                         Today we eat:

  • Berries, nuts, seeds, fish, whole foods                       Processed foods, grains, vegetable oils, grain fed meat
  • Ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 WAS 1:1 or 1:2         Ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is NOW 1: 25 or 1:40

Our food builds our cells

You really are what you eat. If you eat a lot of omega-6 fatty acids and few omega-3s from fish;  then every cell in your body will have more omega-6s then omega-3s as well.

 Why supplement?

Based on a Harvard Medical study a deficiency of omega-3 was the 6th largest cause of preventable death in the US.

  1. Tobacco smoking       467,000                   5. High dietary salt                               102,000
  2. High blood pressure   395,000                   6. Low dietary omega-3 fatty acids     84,000
  3. Overweight-obesity     216,000                   7. High dietary trans fatty acids           82,000
  4. Physical inactivity        191,000

Over the past few decades  its become clear that omega-3s are literally a cure ALL!!

Here’s a challenge: Google any medical condition or issue you can think of + omega-3, and I guarantee you’ll get a hit and that omega-3s are beneficial. One of the reasons I love omegas such much is that they are super naturopathic, because they don’t actually “treat” disease; instead they modify the body’s internal biochemistry allowing for a healthier response to mitigate or prevent disease.

Whats cool is that very few pharmaceutical drugs achieve the same level of efficiency and none provide the range of benefits and safety

Sources of short and long chain essential fatty acids

Short chain:


  • Short chain omega-3 fatty acids (with less carbons) include alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and stearidonic acid (SDA)
  • ALA is most commonly known to occur in flax, but is also found in hemp, chia, rapeseed & soy.
  • SDA is found in echium, black currant and hemp
  • Pretty much all clinical research has been done with the long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Short and long chain EFAs

Conversion to EPA and DHA from ALA is very inefficient in humans. Studies show on average that 3.5% of ALA converts to EPA and less then 1% of ALA converts to DHA

Short chain conversion to long chain fatty acid

Delta 6 desaturase is the limiting enzyme in conversion from ALA to EPA and is inhibited by aging, alcohol, xenoestrogens, cholesterol, saturated fat, sugar, low levels of Mg, Zn, B6 & C among many other things including high levels of dietary LA, since it too requires delta 6 for conversion.
see the following article I wrote a few years back if you’re interested in learning more:
Thankfully, SDA found in echium converts much more effectively to EPA–> studies in humans show it converts about 35% to EPA. Conversion to EPA bypasses the rate limiting delta 6 desaturase making SDA much more bioavailable
  • The short chain omega-6 linoleic acid is found in great abundance in our diet and occurs in safflower, evening primrose, grape seed, sunflower, corn, hemp, wheat germ, cottonseed, soybean, walnut, sesame, argan, peanut, canola, oilve & cocunut oil.  It is also found in almonds, peanuts, pistachios, egg yolks, chicken fat etc.

Long chain fatty acids


  • Long chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in marine life.  Commonly fish, squid, krill, seals etc
  • It is important to select a marine oil that is ethically sourced, strictly controlled by the environment and the smaller the animal the better since big fish eat little fish and via bio-accumulation, larger species will have higher levels of mercury, lead, pesticides and other chemicals.


  • Arachidonic acid is the BAD guy. He’s the one wreaking havoc on your health, causing imbalance and smoldering inflammation. It’s found in many parts of our diet including peanuts and grain fed meat and readily converts from LA its short chain precursor.
  • Gamma linoleic acid another long chain omega-6 fatty acid is gaining a lot of popularity as a useful essential fat to supplement along with fish oil. Ironically research has been around for decades on its usefulness in hormones, menopause, skin and joint health.
  • Gamma linoleic acid can be found most commonly in borage oil and evening primrose oil but it also occurs in hemp, chia, black currant and echium as well.
  • One concern with supplementing GLA is that it can convert to the inflammatory arachidonic acid. In clinical and in vitro research conversion to AA is inhibited by EPA.

Bioavailibility of long chain omega-3 fatty acids

  • Another important consideration is bioavailibility