While it is common to group the eleven different types of Omega-3s under the general term of “Omega-3 fatty acids”, only three are actually important and play a critical role in good health. EPA is the shorthand notation of Eicosapentaenoic Acid, one out of the three important Omegas. The importance of Omega-3s is due to the fact that unlike other fats, instead of merely acting as energy storage venues, they actively participate in the body’s processes such as brain function, inflammation and cardiovascular health. Even though the health benefits of the Omega-3s have been well documented since the 1950s, it is only since the last decade and half that the methodology of EPA’s digestion, absorption and utilisation in the body has begun to become clear.
The primary role of EPA in the body is to make molecules known as eicosanoids, which initiate signals in many physiological pathways. Eicosanoids created from Omega-3s cut down inflammation whereas those produced from Omega-6s are inflammation causing.1 EPA is also exceptional at cutting down on the symptoms of depression.2 Furthermore, it has been found to aid with enhanced academic performance, lowering aggression, as well as maintaining focus. Adequate supplies of EPA in the body protect our genes, whereas low levels are linked with bone and joint issues, dyslexia, Parkinson’s and Muscular Dystrophy. Proper intake of EPA is associated with keeping a number of chronic ailments at bay.
In efforts to make the western diet more nutritious, many foods are now fortified with EPA and DHA. The source of such foods is usually microalgae, which adds fishy smell to the food. To mask this aroma the foods are put through numerous purifying stages which also brings down their fatty acid content, thereby making these foods inferior sources of Omega-3s. Populations consuming diets consisting of fish, fresh produce and sea vegetables (rich, natural sources of Omega-3s), like the Japanese tend to be the healthiest and live longer. Populations using the Mediterranean diet also have lower heart disease rates compared to those in the West. It is believed this is also due to the Omega-3 rich foods consumed by the people in this region.
- Martins JG. “EPA but not DHA appears to be responsible for the efficacy of omega-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in depression: evidence from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” J Am Coll Nutr 28:525-542 (2009)